Before the 1970s and 80s, police officers regularly patrolled different communities, rarely spending too much time in one place.
Nowadays, however, community policing is the norm.
This law enforcement strategy is a popular way for the police to build stronger relationships and trust with the public.
It allows police officers to remain in the same area to develop connections within the community. It also promotes ongoing partnerships between law enforcement and private businesses, other government agencies, and the media.
The idea is that the more connected the police are within a community, the easier it will be to prevent crime rather than respond to it once it happens.
And to accomplish this mission, community policing consists of three key components, which we’ll explore below.
1. Community Partnerships
COPS explains this component as collaborative partnerships between the law enforcement agency and the individuals and organizations they serve to develop solutions to problems and increase trust in police.
In short, when law enforcement partners with local points of contact, they can serve and protect the community better.
Let’s take a look at some of the partnerships involved in community policing.
Community Members & Groups
Have you ever seen a Neighborhood Watch sign outside a neighborhood? You may even have one in yours.
This is a prime example of law enforcement agencies working together with community members and groups.
When police officers spend time building relationships with local residents and workers, they become a beacon of trust and unite the community to help prevent and respond to crime.
Other Government Agencies
In addition to building community relationships, police departments also partner with other government agencies, including:
- Probation offices
- Parole offices
- Health & human services
- Public works departments
- Child support services
- Legislative bodies
- Ordinance enforcement
- Other law enforcement agencies
Private for-profit businesses can be valuable resource centers for the community. In times of trouble, law enforcement agencies can work with these companies to identify problems, perform community outreach, and provide unique resources only they can provide.
Teaming up with local newspapers, television stations, and radio networks is crucial to community policing.
It’s an excellent way for law enforcement to share vital information with the community, bolster their public image, and build trust.
Nonprofits & Service Providers
Much like with private businesses, law enforcement agencies frequently coordinate with local churches, support groups, service clubs, and advocacy groups to share resources and provide services to communities in need.
2. Organizational Transformation
According to COPS, Organizational Transformation refers to the alignment of organizational management, structure, personnel, and information systems to support community policing and proactive problem-solving.
It’s all about making sure the law enforcement agency embodies the purpose and values of community policing from top to bottom. That way, they can serve the community to the best of their ability.
Below, we’ll be breaking the components of organizational transformation down one by one — starting with agency management.
Community policing often requires law enforcement agencies to make key changes in their operational and cultural standards.
These changes can include leadership, formal labor relations, increased transparency, decision-making and accountability, policing and procedures, and organizational evaluations.
From top to bottom — from the police chief to local volunteers — the values of community policing must be a part of a law enforcement agency’s culture.
This goes for hiring, training, supervising, and evaluating agency employees.
This component is where assigning police officers to the same community comes in.
Also known as long-term assignments, this strategy allows officers to build lasting relationships with local residents and business people, which would otherwise be impossible with short-term assignments.
Information Systems & Technology
Community policing requires much more transparency, accountability, and information, making technology a critical part of the process.
In times of crisis, agencies need to spread information to the community fast and effectively, and vice versa.
If someone goes missing or there’s a wanted person in the area, having a clear two-way communication system will make problem-solving much easier.
And things like body cams can help law enforcement agencies encourage accountability and build trust with the community.
3. Problem Solving
In terms of community policing, problem-solving is defined as the process of engaging in the proactive and systematic examination of identified problems to develop and evaluate effective responses.
Every community is different, so problem-solving naturally looks different from place to place. But the following four principles, known as SARA, are cornerstones of the process:
- Scanning – Identifying and prioritizing problems.
- Analysis – Researching what’s known about the problem.
- Response – Developing solutions to bring about lasting reductions in the number and extent of problems.
- Assessment – Evaluating the success of the solutions.
The SARA system acts as a kind of scientific method for law enforcement agencies, allowing them to fluidly adjust the way they handle issues based on accurate information, in-field testing, and results.
The Crime Triangle
In addition to SARA, community policing agencies use the Crime Triangle to make sense of a problem and how to approach it.
The Crime Triangle is a way to analyze a crime based on possible links between the victim, offender, and location, which are the three sides of the triangle.
Check it out below:
Then, as you can see, officers on the case consider the factors that may affect the inner three sides.
In many situations, victims have guardians, such as teachers, security guards, and neighbors…
Offenders will have handlers, i.e., friends, parents, and parole officers…
And locations have managers, like property owners, employees, groundskeepers, etc.
COPS describes the Crime Triangle as an alternative to “addressing the root causes of a problem,” saying:
“…the police focus on the factors that are within their reach, such as limiting criminal opportunities and access to victims, increasing guardianship, and associating risk with unwanted behavior.”
Fostering Safe Communities Nationwide
When you put all these key components together, community policing is one of the most powerful and effective law enforcement strategies.
Involving every aspect of the community makes sure that information and resources are spread quickly, response times are low, and collaboration between officers and locals becomes the norm.
When there’s trust between the police and the public, it can have an incredibly positive impact on the general safety and security of everyone involved.
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