What is Community Policing?

Written by Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.

Community policing is the first substantive reform in the American police institution since it embraced the professional model nearly a century ago. It is a dramatic change in the philosophy that determines the way police agencies engage the public. It incorporates a philosophy that broadens the police mission from a narrow focus on crime and law enforcement to a mandate encouraging the exploration of creative solutions for a host of community concerns— including crime, fear of crime, perceptions of disorder, quality of life and neighborhood conditions. Community policing, in its ideal form, not only addresses community concerns, but it is a philosophy that turns traditional policing on its head by empowering the community rather than dictating to the community. In this sense, policing derives it role and agenda from the community rather than dictating to the community. Community policing rests on the belief that only by working together with people will the police be able to improve quality of life.

This implies that the police must assume new roles and go about their business in a very different way. In addition to being law enforcers, they must also serve as advisors, facilitators, supporters and leaders of new community-based initiatives. The police must begin to see themselves as part of the community rather than separate from the community. In its ideal form, community policing is a grassroots form of participation, rather than a representative top-down approach to addressing contemporary community life. In this sense, police become active participants in a process that changes power configurations in communities. It empowers the police to bring real-life problems of communities to those governmental authorities with the capacity to develop meaningful public policy and provide needed services to their communities (see Reisig & Parks, 2004).

Community policing consists of two primary components: community partnerships and problem solving. It is a partnership or enhanced relationship between the police and the community they serve. It is a partnership in that the police must assist people with a multitude of problems and social conditions including crime, and it is a partnership because the police must solicit support and active participation in dealing with these problems.

It is an enhanced relationship, since the police must deal with substantive issues. They must go beyond merely responding to crime and calls for service. They must recognize and treat the causes of these problems so that they are resolved. When problems are resolved, there is a higher level of civility and tranquility in a community. Thus, the two primary components of community policing are community partnerships and problem solving. Community partnerships are the engagement by the police with the community to cooperatively resolve community problems. On the other hand, problem solving is where community policing officers attempt to deal with the conditions that cause crime and negatively affect the quality of life in a community. Problem solving is an important part of community policing.

Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.
Associate Dean and Foundation Professor
School of Justice Studies


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Published on October 15, 2012