Community policing, its advantages and effectiveness
Community Policing, as the term implies is a collaborative effort between the community and the police to control crime. The aim of this collaborative effort is to identify and solve community problems. When community embers actively partner with the police to control crime, neighborhoods are safer. However, there are other far reaching implications of community policing too that will be discussed in this article. With time, the nature and structure of communities in America has changed a lot and so have the characteristics of crime and violence. This has led to a need for community policing. The 1994 Crime Act set community policing in motion. By 2004, more than two thirds of local police departments as well nearly 62 percent of Sheriff’s offices had police personnel on full time duty in community policing. The philosophy behind this collaborative effort is to include the elements of traditional law enforcement with community partnership and problem solving in the delivery of police services.
Community policing has two main factors at its core. The first one is community partnership and the second is problem solving. Better prevention of crime requires stringer partnership with community. Community is an important stakeholder and community policing recognizes this factor and therefore focuses on community participation. If the police is to effectively prevent crime and violence in the society, it must form strong relationships with the community and invite its participation. By community, here we mean small clearly defined geographic area. A police officer holds the responsibility of a community. However, community policing is not confined any more to just the cities but has touched the rural areas too. The community policing programs started seeing success when police officers started using innovative approaches to find solutions to the community’s problems with support from members. Time has seen the strategies employed in community policing getting better and better. Police began with general strategies that were replaced by innovative ones as it gained deeper insights.
The frontline police officers or the patrol officers are the main providers of police services in this case. These patrol officers are in regular contact with the community members to serve their policing needs. However, the patrol officers also get support from their supervising officers, government agencies and police units. The concerns of one community may be widely different from another which mainly happens because cultural, ethnic and other differences. Several surveys have showed that community policing has been able to generate satisfaction. Police and community collaboration in several US cities brought the crime graph down successfully. Washington DC saw a remarkable decline in the crime rate during the period from 2000 to 2009. Among the most important drivers of this change was community policing.
Some of the most common strategies used in community policing include foot patrol, store front mini stations, door to door visits and similar more strategies. These strategies have been effective at providing the community residents with a heightened sense of security and reducing crime’s fear. When police presence is increased in a certain community, it does not just reduce the fear of crime in that area but also brought police in closer contact with the community. The residents and especially the business owners also feel more secure. A survey showed that the Newark Foot Patrol experiment had successfully brought the residents’ level of fear down. A similar experiment in Houston done a few years later showed that people felt safer by increased police presence. Other types of strategies in community policing have also found success. For example store front minis stations established at the request of community members have been found to elevate the sense of safety in the local people. Apart from decentralization of police services, the aim of such strategies has been to bring the police closer to the community. Surveys regarding the effectiveness of store front mini stations in Houston, Newark and Birmingham showed that they brought the citizens’ fear of crime down. Similar surveys found that door to door visits successfully reduced the overall rate of household victimization.
Community policing since its beginning has focussed on two things – raising community’s involvement in safety issues and making them stringer against crime. The Boston Gun project was focused at two pints. On the one hand, it followed the strategy of identifying youth most likely to use guns and on the other it mobilized government and social institutions to address the concern systematically at several fronts. Similar intervention programs have been found to effectively reduce the community’s fear of crime. Surveys conducted regarding the effectiveness of these intervention programs in Oakland, Birmingham, Baltimore, Madison, Wisconsin and Newark showed they affected the fear of crime the most.
One noteworthy case is that of San Diego where Youth violence had become a major challenge when in 1997 they started making efforts to tackle it. A team of 200 made of police, school and community representatives was formed to handle the task. The program led to a major drop in the rate of homicides. Residents also felt satisfied at police’s response to their concerns. They not just felt safer but also showed their satisfaction over the way police was devoting time to address their concerns. The impact of such efforts has been that it has not just changed the police’s image in public but also made the community more willing to work in tandem with police and its faith in police’s services stronger. It made them feel like police was genuinely trying to address their concerns.
Other programs like neighborhood watch, business watch and worship watch are also a part of community policing. Neighborhood watch programs are aimed at keeping the neighborhoods protected. Watch teams watch the neighborhoods and report any kind of suspicious criminal activity. Business watch involves managers and business owners to grow their confidence against crime. As a part of this program, members of the business community are involved in the business watch program to report any kind of suspicious activity. Managers, business owners and employees are provided training so that they can identify and report any kind of suspicious activity. These training programs help them learn how to prevent shop lifting, robbery and be a good witness. Surveys have found these programs effective and not just in the urban areas but the rural areas too.