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Community Policing: A Model for Today's Society

Polaroid - Law Enforcement

What accounts for the increasing appeal of community policing? Understanding Community Policing, a 1994 monograph developed by the Community Policing Consortium, cites several reasons, including: decreased effectiveness of certain traditional policing strategies increased social instability heightened municipal and law enforcement budgetary constraints rising gang activity and violent crime

Community policing attempts to counter these developments primarily through proactive crime prevention. "Community policing operates on the premise that if you solve the health, safety and security problems within a community, you enhance quality of life," notes David G. Walchak, chief of the Concord, New Hampshire, Police Department and past president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). "And when you do that, you reduce crime."

True community policing requires two complementary core components, according to the Community Policing Consortium: community partnership and problem solving. Community partnership involves integrating the police into the community culture so that officers and community members can work together to control and prevent crime. Problem solving is a strategy for trying to determine the underlying causes of crime so that lasting solutions may be found. Since residents often have a valuable perspective on the causes of crime in their neighborhoods, their insights are solicited as part of the effort to address problems within the community.

Because it runs counter to long-established, centralized models of law enforcement, community policing involves a fundamental shift in the way police officers view their role. "Departments that have implemented community policing have had the courage to change their traditional service delivery methods," notes Darrell L. Sanders, chief of the Frankfort, Illinois, Police Department and also a past president of the IACP. "That's a must if community policing is to work."

Today, community policing takes many forms and serves many purposes. Two organizations that have experienced particular success with community policing are the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Police Department and the Hillsborough County, Florida, Sheriff's Office.

Restoring Pride by Removing Graffiti

"I grew up in District Six and started my police career as a beat cop there 20 years ago, and I was appalled by what I saw when I was reassigned to the area in 1993," says Captain Peter Pochowski of the Milwaukee Police Department. "It had become Milwaukee's worst area for graffiti."

Pochowski wasn't the only one fed up--citizens of Clarke Square, a 12-square block area of District Six, had formed the Clarke Square Community Association early in 1993 to combat rising crime and neighborhood deterioration. Through observation of Clarke Square, Pochowski had identified a promising solution for the graffiti problem. To help motivate the community and add impact to his conclusions, he took instant photos of garages throughout Clarke Square and shared them with residents. "My photos showed that garages painted white were virtually certain to get nailed by taggers, while those painted other colors had significantly lower odds of getting hit," he says. "It was a simple step we could take to minimize a reoccurrence of the problem."

Together, the Milwaukee Police Department and the Clarke Square Community Association launched an anti-graffiti program that included an organized "paint-out." Using donated materials, Captain Pochowski, Chief of Police Philip Arreola, Mayor John Norquist, off-duty police officers and hundreds of other volunteers painted hundreds of garages in a single day. Other paint-outs and neighborhood beautification projects followed, and today, Pochowski estimates that graffiti has declined 75% in the Clarke Square Area while community pride has risen considerably.

A Community Policing Tradition

In central Florida, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has followed a program of community policing for several years, often with the assistance of grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and COPS. In 1992, the sheriff's office developed a community policing model that could serve the rural, suburban and urban areas within its jurisdiction. "We assigned a full-time community policing officer in each of two target areas--Wimauma, a rural community, and Nuccio Park, a Tampa-area subdivision," notes Captain Carl Hawkins. "At the same time, we formed a group of community stake-holders--including local business leaders, community residents, school principals and representatives of local government--who met monthly at our local substation. We wanted residents to feel like they own their community and have input into its problems and solutions. People who own things tend to take care of them."

Three years later, the sheriff's office began deploying community policing officers throughout Hillsborough County. "We had divided the county into beat areas, but within these areas were localities that recognized themselves as communities," explains Hawkins. "So we established community groups in 26 locations and stationed a dedicated community resource deputy in each. As a result of community policing, we have developed closer relationships with our communities and seen an overall decrease in crime."

In September 1996, the sheriff's office turned its community policing efforts to domestic violence prevention. It identified 300 families with a record of frequent domestic disturbance incidents and has been working closely with a local women's shelter to develop case files on each family.

As part of its domestic violence program, the sheriff's office provides a Polaroid Instant Spectra Law Enforcement Kit to each of its 40 domestic violence investigators, as well as to each of 46 patrol supervisors. Officers use the cameras to document fresh injuries on victims, as well as the presence--or absence--of injuries on alleged abusers. Just as important, investigators rephotograph victims two or three days later to document the progression of injuries. "It's more effective to show a jury a bruise than a red mark on the skin, which is what you normally see right after a domestic assault," says Sergeant Rod Reder, head of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office domestic violence unit and a member of the Governor's Domestic Violence Task Force.

Reder, who also conducts national COPS domestic violence training programs, notes that domestic violence homicides have declined 69% in Hillsborough County over two years, and could drop by 80% over three years. "Obviously, something's going right," he says. "We think it's training, community partnership and the support of our department's administration in the fight against domestic violence."

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