Why Community Oriented Policing?


By David M. Sullivan, Police Officer, Northeast Patrol, Dallas Police Department

Why Community Oriented policing? Simply put; Reform Era, Traditional Policing standing on its own merit is not enough to effectively reduce crime, provide for safe communities, and reduce the fear of crime within neighborhoods. The goal of traditional policing is efficiency, but unfortunately when the focus is on efficiency, effectiveness is not a guarantee. So how do we achieve both efficiency and effectiveness? The best answer, Community Oriented Policing.

In reality, traditional policing separates the police department from the community. Traditional policing assumes that the problems of society are not within the realm of the police department. Traditional police departments are strictly reactive and don’t look beyond efficiently resolving the immediate incident at hand. This creates a “you call, we haul” mentality. Police officers are tied to the dispatcher and rarely have time to do more than answer one call after another. The police department, as an organization, separates itself from the city’s infrastructure and from city services such as Code Enforcement, Health and Human Services, and Parking Enforcement. Yet day after day the police department must deal with those entities from outside law enforcement that indirectly contribute to crime. The police department must also deal with the shortcomings of the court system, the corrections system, legislative decisions, and politics.

It has been suspected since the 1950s and the early days of the civil rights movement that Traditional Policing, a product of the Reform Era, had flaws. Police officers became “enforcers” who were tasked with dealing with the ramifications of riots and social disorder as they were happening. As we look back we see where city governments ignored the plights of the intercity, allowed the infrastructure to deteriorate, and did very little to provide for safe neighborhoods. When things went wrong police officers were dispatched to handle the incident, be it a small disturbance or a major riot. Police departments became overwhelmed and it seemed community leaders, elected officials, and community agencies were not prepared to deal with what was happening. As the civil rights movement continued to grow, city officials and community agencies were still slow to respond. But as always, the police department was tasked as the enforcer, but again, not looking beyond each incident. Through it all the police department received the brunt of the criticism for not being prepared, for out of control crime, and social disorder.

We have come a long way since the early days of traditional policing but unfortunately the concept has not changed. The police are still relegated to being enforcers. Over the past 50 years we have become more aware and more responsive to the plights of the inner city but improvements are still too slow in coming. The police have evolved into very efficient enforcers, but other city agencies and elected officials still fail to adequately respond to the social needs of all citizens and a failing infrastructure. Most community agencies seem to be working alone with no coordination or cooperation with each other. We are going on 50 years of this type of social response and as the population grows, unfortunately, so does crime.

Not until the “philosophy” of Community Policing is understood and accepted will permanent, more positive change begin to happen. The catalyst for this change must come from law enforcement. The police department must take on the duel role of “enforcer” and “community advocate” while bringing the community policing partners together to stabilize the infrastructure and create safe communities.

Unfortunately, police departments include little training in the area of community oriented policing and other city agencies provide no training at all. Most police officers prefer to embrace the role of enforcer. It allows them to respond to an incident, deal with that incident with an arrest, a stern lecture, or advise, and then it’s on to the next incident needing a resolution. Tomorrow is just another day of the same.

Several factors regarding police leadership have to be considered. Some top police officials would rather keep the “status quo”, making very few changes, hoping crime will stay within “acceptable” limits as they look to the next step up the career ladder. Others simply lack the leadership ability to force change within the police department and coordinate changes within the communities. Still others fail to grasp the concept of community oriented policing and simply don’t use the tools at their disposal necessary to change the role of the police department. The training is out there, but indications are many departments have failed to respond to this training advantage.

Regardless of the reasons, police departments and city governments fail to bring the community partners together in what is absolutely essential to prevent future crime and provide for safe neighborhoods. Community leaders and city officials, both elected and appointed, find it easy and convenient to focus the blame on police commanders and the police department as being responsible for an unacceptable crime rate. These officials fail to realize that the crime rate is also affected by the leadership decisions they make and the leadership and management failures within other city agencies.

The role of the police chief in the community policing effort cannot be overstated. The police chief must be the catalyst and lead player who shares the vision of the city’s future with elected officials, civic leaders, and individual communities. The chief must be able to recognize and effectively utilize the collective input and talents of all community policing partners. The chief can’t be satisfied with the “status quo” and must have the courage to change the direction of the police department. Community policing will be the most ambitious endeavor any city government and police department will undertake in the interest of public safety and community growth.

Police departments can no longer accept the full responsibility for the short falls and the failures of other city services, community agencies, and legislative decisions. The city budget process must include all aspects of the community, not just the areas that “showcase” the city. Elected officials must focus on what benefits the entire city and not just their own constituents, their election, and re-election bids. Elected officials at the state level must be made aware of how the decisions they make as lawmakers and the laws they pass are impacting the communities and neighborhoods they are tasked to make safe.

Finally, community policing must extend from law-abiding citizens in each neighborhood to the highest levels of the government responsible for making the policies, decisions, and laws that will affect the public welfare. Each entity must also accept the responsibility entrusted to them. The police department alone can no longer be the “scapegoat” for high crime, unsafe neighborhoods, and a deteriorating infrastructure. Sir Robert Peel said it best in 1829; “The police are the public and the public are the police, the police being the only members of the public paid to give full time attention to what is incumbent on every citizen”.

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