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This research paper deals with the characteristics of community policing, discusses its varieties and its problems and possibilities. Subsequently, the following aspects are examined: historical backgrounds, related police models (such as problem-oriented policing, disorder policing and reassurance policing), the Chicago Alternative Police Strategy, implementation, governance and accountability, and the effectiveness of community policing.
Community (or community-oriented) policing has been a very popular term during the past few decades in many parts of the world. It has even been described as the new organizing paradigm in public policing, a revolution in police work, or even a new orthodoxy (Bayley and Shearing 1996). However, despite its popularity, community policing has a multitude of meanings (Rosenbaum 1998; Ponsaers 2001). This has given some authors occasion to describe the concept as vague or as nebulous, one that seems to justify more or less any police program or activity. Brogden and Nijhar (2005) describe community policing as a buzzword that comes in all shapes and sizes.
Three factors are relevant to understanding why it proves so difficult to have an unequivocal definition of community policing, one that is generally recognized and accepted. First, the vagueness of the concept is probably one of the factors that contributes to its popularity. As Rosenbaum (1998) said, community policing seems to be something that everyone can identify with. Who would be against “community”? Secondly, in practice, the activities known as community policing do not rest on one single model of policing, but on a multitude of them (Ponsaers 2001). Finally, it is often assumed that community policing does not represent a more or less coherent or identifiable set of practices and activities; rather, it is a more general organizational strategy for the police. In line with this, it is seen more as a sort of police philosophy, which cannot be reduced to certain specific activities. In Skogan’s (2006) terminology, community policing is more a process than a product.
Nevertheless, there have been many attempts to define community policing. One of the best C known is the one by Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux (1990): “Community policing is both a philosophy and organizational strategy to allow community residents and police to work together in new ways to solve problems of crime, physical and social disorder and neighborhood decay.”
In addition to this definition, there have been many other endeavors to describe what community policing is and what should be seen as its main ingredients. Many of these broader definitions, however, lack a certain coherence, for example, because they not only concern police strategies, but also the organization of the police force. For instance, both elements can be found in the well-known definition by Skogan and Hartnett (1997), who make a distinction between five central elements of community policing: organizational decentralization, a two-way communication between the police and the public, a broadly focused, problem-oriented policing strategy, responsiveness to citizens’ demands, and a commitment to helping neighborhoods solve crime problems on their own.
Another factor that may contribute to a lack of coherence is that definitions of community policing may also contain elements of other police models. An example of this is the definition of community policing given by Bayley (1994), who speaks of CAMPS: consultation, adaptation, mobilization, and problem solving. However, the latter element can better be seen as belonging to the problem-oriented police model (see also below).
If elements of other police models and organizational features are left aside, there remain five elements of community policing that are often referred to in the international literature. Despite all kinds of varieties in the organization and practice of community policing, there seems to be a general consensus about the relevance of these elements: bridging the distance between the police and citizens; a focus of the police on a broad range of problems in the neighborhood (not only crime, but also social disorder and feelings of insecurity); a preventive approach in addition to a reactive one; cooperation with other agencies in the prevention and control of crime, disorder, and other neighborhood problems; and the promotion of citizen involvement. The question of whether or not these five elements are achieved in practice is a matter for empirical research.
Community policing started in the United States in the 1970s as a reaction to the failures of the dominant police styles of those days. Kelling and Moore (1988) divide the history of American policing into three different eras. First there is what they call the Political Era, which continued until the early 1900s. In those years, American police forces gained their authority from local political leaders and were adjuncts to local political machines. The police provided a wide range of services to citizens. The primary tactic of the police was the foot patrol. Although the police were organized at a local level, their organizations were highly centralized and quasi-military. This political strategy had significant weaknesses, such as the rise of police corruption, discrimination against strangers, and relative inefficiency.
The second era is called the Reform Era, which started in the early decades of the twentieth century with the work of A. Volmer and later on O.W. Wilson, who wanted to reform the police organization and strategy. These reformers rejected politics as the basis of police legitimacy. Instead, the law and police professionalism were presented as the new basis for the legitimacy of the police. As a result, police departments became relatively autonomous organizations. The reform policy narrowed the main function of the police to law enforcement and control of crime. The police officers’ work became standardized and uniform. The relation between the police and citizens came primarily to be defined in neutral and remote professional terms. Citizens were seen as passive recipients of professional crime control services. Preventive patrol by car and rapid response became the main strategies of this reformed police force.
In the 1960s and 1970s, it became clear that this professional police model (as it was called, although it was not at all very professional, as Stone and Travis (2011) have argued), had serious shortcomings. Several factors contributed to this: the rising level of crime and fear of crime, complaints – especially from members of ethnic minorities – about the way they were treated by the police, and the new critical awareness as a result of civil rights and antiwar movements. Moreover, scientific research revealed that many of the central strategies of this professional police force (such as preventive patrol by car or standardized criminal investigation) proved to be highly ineffective.
The third era, starting in the 1970s, may be seen as a reaction to the failures of the standard police model. In this Community Policing Era (Kelling and Moore call it a Problem-Solving Era), there is a renewed emphasis on close relations with the community and the citizens. The definition of the police function broadens into a community strategy. According to Kelling and Moore (1988), organizational decentralization is inherent to community policing. The involvement of police officers in the diagnosis of and response to community problems makes it necessary to locate the power of operational and tactical decision making at lower levels within the organization. Community policing requires intimate relations with citizens and instead of a claimed monopolistic responsibility for crime control, there should be strategic alliances with neighborhood and community groups. Community policing is based on a wide variety of strategies, such as foot patrol (rediscovered as an important instrument for regaining citizens’ trust and promoting feelings of security), information gathering, problem solving, victim services, and others.
Although this analysis by Kelling and Moore deals with developments in the United States, there are certainly similarities with the background to the rise of community policing elsewhere. The failures of the standard police model, a loss of police legitimacy and citizens’ trust, and higher levels of crime and feelings of insecurity contributed to the adoption of this new police model, in addition to the wish of police organizations elsewhere to imitate and follow the American police models, which enjoyed a high reputation.
The historical backgrounds to community policing are even more complex than this standard view of the history of American policing reveals. The shift from a standard police force to community policing is also related to changes in the prevailing views on democracy and the relation between the state and society. Moreover, in some cases, especially in the United States, the model of community policing may be related to more or less romantic notions of community (Herbert 2006). This seems to be of less relevance in some European countries, for example, where community or neighborhood is more often viewed as relatively neutral scales for the organization of the police and police-citizen relations.
Related Police Models
For the past few decades, community policing has become a dominant policing perspective in many countries. Other policing models were introduced, which are often seen as related or even integral to this community policing perspective. These models may also be viewed as responses to the failure of the (so-called professional) standard police model, but they diverge in their strategies and priorities. Nevertheless, such models are conceptually close to community policing and often they are assumed to be innovations in community policing. Three such models are briefly discussed here: problemoriented policing (Goldstein 1990), disorder policing (or broken windows policing) (Wilson and Kelling 1982), and reassurance policing (Innes 2004).
The concept of problem-oriented policing was introduced by Goldstein (1990). In his view, much police work suffers from what he calls a means-over-ends-syndrome: police work is often defined more in terms of the “means” of police work (such as rule enforcement, surveillance, or rapid response) than by its goals. According to Goldstein, the work the police do requires them to deal with a wide range of behavioral and social problems that arise in the community.
Often police work mainly consists of ad hoc responses to a seemingly endless stream of isolated and recurring incidents. A problemoriented approach is meant to make an end to this unproductive process. The police should conduct a detailed, systematic analysis of the causes and factors underlying a series of comparable events and incidents. Interventions by the police should be based on such detailed analyses and will differ for each problem (Goldstein 1990). This should contribute to a more preventive form of policing. Problem-solving strategies should not only be based on the traditional instruments and resources available to the police, but also on those of other agencies. In this respect, problem-oriented policing is a form of partnership or multiagency policing.
Several reviews of studies that evaluate police work have concluded that community policing may only be effective if it is applied in combination with a problem-oriented approach (Eck 2004; Skogan and Frydl 2004). In spite of this, there are also important differences between problem-oriented and community policing. First, the relevance of a problem-oriented approach is not confined to community policing (Tilley 2003). Moreover, one of the main goals of community policing is to contribute to an improvement in or restoration of the relations between the police and citizens. Insofar as citizens are involved in a problem-oriented approach, there is only a functional relation between the police and the citizens, who primarily are seen as the “eyes and ears” of the police (Tilley 2003).
According to the model of disorder policing, the police should focus on the restoration of physical and social order in neighborhoods. In this way, the police might reduce feelings of insecurity among citizens, enhance their trust in the police, and prevent and counter crime. This theory achieved recognition, thanks to a classical article by Wilson and Kelling published in 1982, entitled “Broken Windows.”
The broken windows theory assumes that forms of physical and social disorder (such as incivility, physical deterioration, or disorderly social conduct), especially if they accumulate and persist for a relatively long time, will result in feelings of insecurity and the breakdown of informal social control in the community. Wilson and Kelling (1982) explain that a broken window acts as a signal to potential offenders that people living in this area are indifferent to what is happening in their neighborhood. As a consequence, one broken window (which is not speedily repaired) will result in more broken windows and more serious forms of crime in the neighborhood. Instead of reducing the police to playing the role of the criminal justice system’s “front end,” keeping the peace and maintaining social order should be restored as the force’s main tasks (Kelling and Coles 1996). The main goal for the police should be to promote informal social control.
Many scholars view broken windows policing and community policing as opposites. Broken windows policing is identified as an aggressive approach to minor offenses and disturbances. In that case, community-oriented policing is associated with a more “gentle, friendly, concerned, or low-key method.”
According to a second view, disorder policing is a specific instantiation of community policing. According to this line of thought, the broken windows theory is considered a source of inspiration for the well-known form of community policing that was developed in Chicago in the 1990s.
In the last decade, a new model of policing has come to the fore, called reassurance policing. A central assumption in this model is that the presence of visible, uniformed authorities will reassure citizens, reduce feelings of insecurity, and restore trust in the police. This model was presented in the UK in reaction to the fact that since the mid-1990s, the objective level of crime had improved, while many citizens still perceived public safety as a serious, even worsening problem (Tuffin et al. 2006).
According to this model, the police should focus on problems that have the greatest impact on citizens’ feelings of security (“signal crimes”). According to Innes (2004), visible and troublesome incidents are occupying the “collective memory” of residents; they function as warning signs for future threats. The police should develop “control signals,” actions that communicate a sense of regained peace and order. These signals convince citizens that police officers are concerned about local security.
Although this model places great emphasis on the importance of visibility, accessibility, and proximity of the police, these conditions, although perhaps necessary, are not seen as sufficient to promote feelings of security and trust in the police. Evaluations of reassurance policing in the UK show that, in addition to police visibility, other important factors are problem-solving strategies, citizen involvement, and the promotion of citizen initiatives (Tuffin et al. 2006). Extending the notion of reassurance with problem-solving strategies, cooperation with other agencies, and the focus on “signal crimes” makes this theory quite complex.
The Chicago Experiment: CAPS
Disorder policing takes the “community needs” of residents as its starting point. In Wilson and Kelling’s terms, the neighborhood indicates what the “appropriate level of public order” should be. The police should make use of the “preventive capital” of citizens. In Disorder and Decline (1990), Wesley Skogan reflected on the problematic nature of determining order. In heterogeneous neighborhoods, neither the police nor citizen-organizations can claim that their vision of order is authoritative and liable to impose compliance. In these conditions, Skogan says, it is a challenge to involve citizens and other relevant parties explicitly in determining and selecting disorder problems that should be tackled. Order is negotiated rather than imposed. In this way, policing becomes the object of an open, deliberative process.
Actually this view formed the starting point of an ambitious, intensive police innovation program, the Chicago Alternative Police Strategy (CAPS). This program “reinvented” some of the core features of earlier community policing approaches (prevention, cooperation, problem solving, etc.), but added some “new” aspects: encouraging residents and other stakeholders to find solutions for local security problems and giving priority to problems of disorder.
Since 1993, CAPS has been implemented in all of Chicago’s 279 police beats. All beats have monthly meetings attended by residents, police officers, and other professionals, the aim being to identify and prioritize local problems together, and to develop plans for dealing with them.
The police explicitly accepted the broken windows philosophy, and consequently also the expansion of the police mandate. Nevertheless, CAPS was launched by the city administration. The most difficult task was to recruit the police force’s support for the program (Skogan 2006). The innovative element of CAPS lies not so much in its methods of citizen participation, but rather in the rigorous, long-term organization and political will to establish and maintain partnerships in every neighborhood.
Evaluation studies (Skogan and Hartnett 1997; Skogan 2006) show that the monthly beat meetings are attended by an average of 20 citizens. CAPS attracts residents who had not participated earlier in other programs. Increased participation of women, blacks, and poor citizens was noted. A remarkable finding is that participation in black neighborhoods is just as high as in white ones, even in high crime districts where the police were unpopular.
Between 1994 and 2003, confidence in the police increased considerably. Citizens’ views of police effectiveness, responsiveness and demeanor within the “three Chicago’s” (white, black, and Latino) improved substantially (Skogan 2006). After studying Chicago beat meetings, Fung (2004) pointed out several problems. Some beats failed to address priority problems. Police resources were often allocated inequitably. The “natural” course of participation led to “conflictual paralysis” in one beat and domination by wealthy and well-educated residents in another. Often, energetic facilitators succeeded in breaking through this “laissez faire, first come, first served” style, managed to put problems of under-represented subgroups on the agenda, and called in intervention teams to take action against drug houses (for example). Thus, beat meetings need powerful facilitators. Fung argues that even in neighborhoods that lack resources or have serious internal conflicts, citizens gain more from the new deliberative arrangements than from the bureaucratic organizational forms that existed prior to the introduction of CAPS.
In a case study of a neighborhood watch group in Beltway, a suburban district in Chicago, Carr (2005) shows that citizens received support from the police and other local public services only after CAPS had been introduced. As a result, small groups of active citizens were able to mobilize resources and initiate partnerships. Carr challenges the assumption that neighborhoods need strong social cohesion in order to get crime and disorder under control. Without CAPS, Carr stresses, Beltway activism would have been impossible. The main factor that drives citizen participation is trust in public professionals. Even in poor ethnic neighborhoods, consultation and partnerships may be successful. What is important is to overcome “legal cynicism” and the tendency of residents to tolerate antisocial behavior (Carr 2005).
A recurrent complaint about community policing concerns its implementation. In Mastrofski’s (2006) view, police work in the United States still does not meet the high ambitions of community policing, despite more than two decades of reform and the formal commitment of many police organizations to this model. In practice, there are many obstacles to full and effective implementation. According to Mastrofski, community policing in the United States did not transform the police in the way that was originally envisaged. Klockars (1988) was still more pessimistic, even in the early days of community policing. In his view, the rhetoric of community policing wraps the police in romantic, powerful, and unquestionably good aspirations, which the police, however, cannot realize in practice but only in what he calls “ersatz terms.”
Although the past few decades have seen many studies on community policing, there is a shortage of detailed research on the practical implementation of this police model. Often its implementation is treated as a black box. Many studies focus on formal or organizational aspects of this form of police work, while seemingly disregarding the reality of community policing at street level.
One of the main findings in the limited number of studies that have focused on the street level of community police work is that community police officers often continue to spend a great deal of time doing traditional police tasks. This may be the result of several factors, such as the prevailing police culture (Greene 2000) or limited expertise (Eck 2004). Police leaders may be rather cynical about community policing or may fear that the increased discretionary room allowed to community officers may have adverse implications for their own position. However, the most serious problems in the implementation of community policing may arise in improving relations between the police and citizens, especially in those urban areas that most need community involvement.
Studies in other countries reported comparable results. For example, in Denmark, Holmberg (2002) found that in practice, many of the community policing principles are often embraced only very partially or in unintended ways. The main impediments in this country included large working areas, the burden of a lot of paperwork, and the priority of other tasks.
In the Netherlands, the five main ambitions of community policing (proximity, focus on a wide range of problems in the neighborhood, preventive strategies, cooperation with other agencies in the control of crime and disorder, and promotion of citizen involvement) were only carried through to a limited extent (Terpstra 2010). In contrast to the United States, these problems were not so much caused by a (supposed) police culture nor by romantic notions of community (Herbert 2006). More important was the fact that the concept of community policing still has a vague professional image, even among Dutch community police officers themselves. Moreover, community police work is often rather open and indefinite in nature. Although community policing usually has high ambitions, the officers involved often have only limited resources, skills, and expertise to achieve them. In addition, the support they receive from their management, superiors, and colleagues is often quite meager, and sometimes contradictory.
Governance And Accountability
A common element of community policing initiatives is attempting to bridge the distance between the police and citizens. It is often assumed that community policing may encourage local governance and accountability of the police (Skogan and Hartnett 1997; Somerville 2009). A main argument underlying CAPS was that it would enable citizens to provide local knowledge and resources to the police and that they would be better able to monitor police officers and hold them accountable. Following this line of argument, community policing may even be presented as a form of democratization.
However, community policing is not always seen as beneficial to police accountability. Organizational decentralization, a growing intimacy between police officers and citizens, and the increased use of discretion by police officers may also be viewed as potential threats to police accountability (Brogden and Nijhar 2005; Herbert 2009).
In fact, community police officers are confronted with very divergent forms of accountability, reflecting hierarchical, egalitarian, and more individualist cultures. This complexity results from the fact that a multiplicity of actors, each with their own views and interests, have a stake in the implementation of community policing. The (local) government, (internal) superiors, colleagues, external partners and (representatives of) the public try to “govern” the community officers and hold them accountable. As a result, these officers are not only held accountable within the traditional hierarchical relations, but also horizontally and vertically downward by partners or citizens (Somerville 2009).
In countries where the police organization is not strictly local (which is generally the case outside the United States), it is useful to distinguish between nonlocal and local forms of governance and accountability in community policing. Nonlocally initiated forms are mainly bureaucratic and managerial, representing hierarchical and individualistic cultures, respectively. In addition, community police officers may not only be accountable to the local government and politicians, but also to other police professionals, partners, and (groups of) citizens. These latter local forms of governance and accountability are usually more egalitarian (although there may also be some hierarchical elements). The traditional culture of command-and-control is hard to align with the complexity of community policing, the need for a flexible, tailor-made approach, and the need for officer discretion.
In the 1990s, new managerial forms of governance and accountability were introduced in many police organizations, such as systems of performance management with quantitative targets. These forms do not fit in with the localized nature of community policing work. They often create unintended consequences that are difficult to combine with community policing, such as a standardization of the work or a fixation on those activities that can more easily be quantified and measured.
Professional types of governance and accountability are often presented as a solution to the problems associated with hierarchical and managerial forms. Here the professional discretionary power of the community police officer is highly valued. Community police officers are not only asked to follow rules and procedures, but also to use their autonomy in a professional way and to show their moral involvement with local problem solving. However, these professional forms of governance and accountability are scarcely ever realized in practice, despite being what many community police officers would prefer in their relation with their superiors.
For the past few decades, many countries have witnessed a growing interest in citizen participation in relation to policing and public safety. However, citizen participation scarcely contributes to local police governance/accountability. Control over the police by partners or citizens may be perceived as conflicting with the views, routines, and priorities of the police (Terpstra 2011). In the United States, Herbert (2006) interpreted this as the result both of a police culture that emphasizes police self-protection combined with lofty and unrealistic expectations about “community” and local democracy. Comparable problems were reported in the Netherlands, where more modest and pragmatic meanings of community and the relation between community policing and local democracy prevail. Here the minimization of citizen influence on the police was used by community police officers to reconcile conflicting demands and expectations about their work.
The issue of effectiveness of community policing raises several important questions. First, what should be meant by the effects of community policing? Generally it is assumed that an evaluation of the impact of community policing should not only focus on the question of whether it results in a reduction of crime and social disorder, but also whether it contributes to feelings of security and to greater levels of citizens’ trust in the police. Secondly, how are the (potential) effects of community policing to be measured? Studies evaluating the impact of complex programs like community policing require a longitudinal and quasi-experimental research design. An adequate interpretation of the results of such an impact evaluation demands in addition that a detailed process or implementation evaluation should be used. If there is a shortage of reliable information about the implementation of the intervention or program, the effects or impact will be hard to interpret.
The internationally best known evaluation of community policing is that of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) done by Skogan and his colleagues. This study shows that opinions about the police in Chicago steadily improved in the years that CAPS was implemented. An increasing number of citizens feel that the police in their area are dealing with problems that concern residents and that the police are prepared to cooperate with residents in solving these problems. The increasing visibility of the police (partly a result of more frequent foot patrols) improved citizens’ evaluation of the police. Moreover, many residents feel less insecure, partially because they see the police more often. Fear of crime declined substantially among the groups experiencing the greatest levels of fear. In Chicago, many forms of crime (both violent crime and property crime) declined sharply. However, in general, the fall was comparable to trends in other American cities. The evaluation of CAPS also showed that residents in certain areas reported sharp improvements in neighborhood conditions. African-American residents in particular reported improvements in relation to, for instance, abandoned buildings or graffiti, and different forms of social disorder. In summary, community policing according to the CAPS model had a positive impact on citizens’ opinions about the police, feelings of security, and neighborhood problems and disorder (Skogan and Hartnett 1997; Skogan 2006).
Since the late 1990s, especially in the United States, there have been several metaevaluations of the effectiveness of community policing, often comparing it with other police models and strategies. Sherman et al. (1997) showed that community policing which does not explicitly focus on specific risk factors, generally, has no impact or only a minor one on the level of crime. According to this review, the effectiveness of community policing may be improved if it is supplemented with a problem-solving approach or if residents are involved in the assessment of police priorities in their area.
Skogan and Frydl (2004) concluded that in general, the effectiveness of community policing is hard to determine because this concept is used for a wide variety of police practices and strategies. They found no evidence that methods that are often associated with community policing, like neighborhood watch, general foot patrol, storefront offices, or community meetings, contribute to a reduction of crime. However, community policing may have a positive impact on neighborhood problems. Improved relations between the police and residents may also diminish fear of crime and may cause residents to perceive less social and physical disorder in their neighborhood. According to Skogan and Frydl (2004) community policing may have a greater impact on the reduction of crime if it is supplemented with elements of two other police models: hot spot policing and problem-oriented policing.
Although available research gives important indications of the potential impact of community policing, there are still major questions left. Community policing is an internationally heterogeneous concept and practice. It is often unclear if conclusions from mainly American studies may be generalized to other jurisdictions. There are also indications that the effectiveness of community policing may differ between different types of neighborhoods and for different categories of citizens.
The conclusions of studies on the implementation and effects of community policing have raised serious questions about the value and practical feasibility of the community policing model. They have tempered na¨ıve and optimistic ambitions that were sometimes connected to the model (Herbert 2006). In some countries, such as Norway, community policing never gained a dominant position. The reform of policing in that country for the past two decades was more strongly motivated by a problem-oriented approach (Larsson 2010).
In addition, in some European countries like the Netherlands, both an increasing emphasis on managerial discourse and a shift to a more repressive and punitive political climate meant that community policing lost much of its dominance (although it remains an important part of police work) (Terpstra 2011). Moreover, since the introduction of this model, police organizations were confronted with other fundamental changes that did not fit neatly within the framework of community policing (such as cybercrime). As a result, community policing lost some of its attraction as an overarching framework for the police (Stone and Travis 2011).
Despite these developments, one might expect that community policing is here to stay, although perhaps in a more pragmatic, modest way. The fundamental notion was and remains that for the promotion of a legitimate, fair, and effective police, it is essential to close the distance between citizens and the police and to create different forms of cooperation between them at the neighborhood level. It may be expected that as a result, community policing will continue to be an important element in the future, although adapted to very different and changing circumstances.
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