The Concept of Community
The goal of community policing is to reduce crime and disorder by carefully examining the characteristics of problems in neighborhoods and then applying appropriate problem-solving remedies. The “community” for which a patrol officer is given responsibility should be a small, well-defined geographical area. Beats should be configured in a manner that preserves, as
much as possible, the unique geographical and social characteristics of neighborhoods while still allowing efficient service.
Patrol officers are the primary providers of police services and have the most extensive contact with community members. In community policing efforts, they will provide the bulk of the daily policing needs of the community, and they will be assisted by immediate supervisors, other police units, and appropriate government and social agencies. Upper level managers and command staff will be responsible for ensuring that the entire organization backs the
efforts of patrol officers.
Effective community policing depends on optimizing positive contact between patrol officers and community members. Patrol cars are only one method of conveying police services. Police departments may supplement automobile patrols with foot, bicycle, scooter, and horseback patrols, as well as adding “mini-stations” to bring police closer to the community. Regular community meetings and forums will afford police and community members an opportunity to air concerns and find ways to address them.
Officers working long-term assignments on the same shift and beat will become familiar figures to community members and will become aware of the day-to-day workings of the community. This increased police presence is an initial move in establishing trust and serves to reduce fear of crime among community members, which, in turn, helps create neighborhood security. Fear must be reduced if community members are to participate actively in policing. People will not act if they feel that their actions will jeopardize their safety.
Although the delivery of police services is organized by geographic area, a community may encompass widely diverse cultures, values, and concerns,particularly in urban settings. A community consists of more than just the local government and the neighborhood residents. Churches, mosque, schools, hospitals,social groups, private and public agencies, and those who work in the area are also vital members of the community. In addition, those who visit for
cultural or recreational purposes or provide services to the area are also concerned with the safety and security of the neighborhood. Including these“communities of interest” in efforts to address problems of crime and disorder can expand the resource base of the community.
Concerns and priorities will vary within and among these communities of interest. Some communities of interest are long-lasting and were formed around racial, ethnic, occupational lines, or a common history, church, or school. Others form and reform as new problems are identified and addressed. Interest groups within communities can be in opposition to one
another—sometimes in violent opposition. Intracommunity disputes have been common in large urban centers, especially in times of changing demographics and population migrations.
These multiple and sometimes conflicting interests require patrol officers to function not only as preservers of law and order, but also as skillful mediators. Demands on police from one community of interest can sometimes clash with the rights of another community of interest. For example, a community group may oppose certain police tactics used to crack down on gang activity, which the group believes may result in discriminatory arrest practices. The police must not only protect the rights of the protesting group, but must also work with all of the community members involved to find a way to preserve neighborhood peace. For this process to be effective, community members must communicate their views and suggestions and back up the negotiating efforts of the police. In this way, the entire community participates in the mediation process and helps preserve order. The police must encourage a spirit of cooperation that balances the collective interests of all citizens with the personal rights of individuals.
The conflicts within communities are as important as the commonalities.
Police must recognize the existence of both to build the cooperative bonds needed to maintain order, provide a sense of security, and control crime. Police must build lasting relationships that encompass all elements of the community and center around the fundamental issues of public safety and quality of life. The key to managing this difficult task is trust.