IACP 2011: What did 'community policing' teach us?
If ‘community policing’ isn’t already completely dead, let’s kill it and move on
The term ‘community policing’ was never a good label — it lacked cache from the very beginning. We needed a marketing specialist more than we needed criminologists with that idea. When I first heard all the hullaballoo about this newfangled revolutionary concept I greeted it with a yawn. I might have harrumphed. Had I been a tobacco chewer, I would have punctuated my thought with a well-aimed ‘ptooey’ into the nearest potted plant.
Then Bill Clinton gave me a few hundred thousand dollars for my claim that I was hiring cops for COPS and not just because there were bad guys that needed to be found and put in jail. It was the kind of enthusiasm that Nixon generated for educating cops to stop bashing the heads of hippies, that Reagan generated for drug enforcement, that Bush generated for terrorist-hunting, and that Obama generated for economic recovery. In other words, if you want to give me guns, cars, and payroll I will love whatever you want me to love.
It sounds almost immoral when you say it out loud.
Questions & Answers
There was something, however, in the core of all the CP silliness that appealed to me. After all, I had been ‘Officer Friendly’ to the school kids, the voice of public service announcements on the local radio station, and the face of the police department when some frightened senior citizens wanted a safety talk. I liked solving problems and working with the public and doing things besides arresting knuckleheads.
I tried to ride the CP train as far as it went, even including making it the subject of my doctoral dissertation research. I became, by some measures, an expert in the field of community policing. I flash those credentials during interviews because the public still thinks CP is cool. Then again, some people are sad that Ford doesn’t make the Pinto and Edsel anymore.
Was the emphasis on CP a total wash?
No — it did shake up thinking and may have forced some police leaders to come out of their shell and cause their people to talk to people.
Did CP have some ill effects?
Yes — it got uniformed police officers picking up trash in the park, took cops away from traditional police work, and created a nation of police sycophants pretending to do CP with no heart or head for it.
Could CP have been the revolution in public safety that it was touted to be?
No — its effectiveness has never been proven by research and it was founded on weak presumptions in the first place.
Can we move on? Yes. The nugget of CP that involves collaboration on challenges of crime and disorder is solid gold. Collaboration skills are definable and teachable even though, with few exceptions, we really aren’t doing that kind of training in our academies or in our continuing education.
When we do collaborate, we need to narrow our focus to those objectives that are likely to produce results that are in line with our purpose. We must distill the purpose of policing down to its essentials and stop trying to be all things to all people under the guise of doing community policing. Our specialty is quick response with trained personnel who have been given unique tools and — let’s be honest here — a monopoly on use of force that remains the driving component of our effectiveness.
The best way to police our community is to be good at what we do best.