§ 1.08. Community Policing

Policing agencies should work in partnership with their communities to jointly promote public safety and community well-being. Agencies should adopt a comprehensive organizational strategy that promotes and facilitates police−community partnerships through officer training, patrol assignments, metrics and performance evaluation, and department programs and initiatives.


a. Community policing. This Section adopts the view—shared by many within the law-enforcement community—that policing agencies and their communities jointly share in the responsibility for promoting public safety and community well-being, and should work in partnership to identify and address community problems and concerns. Although community policing has come to mean many things to many people, most definitions of community policing embrace several core, overarching ideals, each of which is discussed in the following Comments.

b. Community policing as an organizational strategy. The principles of community policing should inform policing-agency decisionmaking at all levels of the organization—including decisions about hiring, deployment, and evaluation—and should not simply be seen as an adjunct of the primary law-enforcement mission. As many law-enforcement professionals have recognized, some of the core aspects of community policing are incompatible with more traditional approaches to agency management and organization. For example, so long as officers are evaluated primarily on the basis of metrics like stops and arrests, they are unlikely to invest time and energy into working with residents or developing alternative strategies for dealing with public-safety concerns. Likewise, few of the problems that community members identify can be addressed effectively by patrol officers alone—most require cooperation from others in the department or from other units and departments in a municipality.

c. Patrol. Officers who spend their days responding to calls for service in different parts of the city will not have time to become familiar with local neighborhood conditions or to follow up on persistent neighborhood concerns. One alternative is to assign officers to specific neighborhoods and to structure patrol assignments in ways that give officers an opportunity to get to know residents and to become familiar with local problems and concerns. Doing so encourages officers to take responsibility for problems within their communities, and can make community members more comfortable reporting crimes or bringing public-safety issues to the attention of police.

The form these assignments take ultimately will have to be left to each department and its community to decide, and will be informed by each jurisdiction’s resources, geography, and needs. There are any number of approaches that agencies can take. A number of agencies, particularly in larger jurisdictions, have introduced more compact patrol sectors that match existing neighborhood boundaries. Others have experimented with a variety of alternatives to motorized patrol, from substations to bicycle or foot patrols. Agencies also have adjusted their staffing models in various ways to ensure that officers have time in the day to engage with residents in a non-enforcement capacity and to follow up on the problems they identify. Many jurisdictions now use non-sworn civilian officers to take complaints of minor crimes such as burglary, to prepare accident reports, and to assist in other enforcement activities. Others have developed alternative mechanisms for dealing with nonemergency calls for service—including dedicated nonemergency complaint systems like 311, as well as other delayed-response protocols.

d. Collaborative decisionmaking. If policing agencies and community members are to work together to “co-produce” public safety, it is essential that residents have meaningful input into the priorities, strategies, and practices that shape how their communities are policed. Members of the public know best the difficulties and challenges they face. They can provide valuable insight into which practices are likely to be successful in their communities, and can alert agencies to the unintended consequences of rules, policies, and procedures they wish to adopt. Policing a community without involving its residents may lead to mismatched priorities, a loss of trust, and, ultimately, a loss of legitimacy. For these and many other reasons, agencies should engage residents in an ongoing dialogue over all aspects of agency practice, including officer training, hiring, and evaluation; use of new technologies; crime-reduction strategies; and new community-policing programs and initiatives. See also § 1.05. Agencies should consider using a variety of mechanisms to engage the community—including forums, questionnaires, small-group meetings, conversations with various stakeholders, and the agencies’ social-media presence—and should tailor their approaches to the needs of the various communities they serve. In particular, agencies should consider establishing more formal organizational structures—such as police commissions or citizen advisory boards—that ensure that members of the public have a clear and consistent role in articulating the needs of communities and in identifying strategies to address them.

e. Community partnerships. To facilitate collaborative decisionmaking and implementation, agencies should establish and maintain partnerships with a variety of community organizations and other government agencies—including faith-based organizations, local businesses, and social-service organizations—as well as with individual members of the community. In identifying partners, agencies should not rely solely on established stakeholders, but should look for individuals and organizations who may not have a history of working with the police but who can offer valuable guidance and assistance. Agencies also should be open to overtures from community organizations that approach them. City officials should encourage and support these efforts by assisting policing agencies in identifying and forming partnerships with both private and public entities, and by ensuring that there are structures in place to facilitate collaboration among different agencies all working toward a related set of goals.

f. Opportunities for positive interaction between officers and community members. To facilitate meaningful partnerships and improve police–community relations, agencies also should ensure that there are opportunities for positive interaction between officers and community members. Interacting with one another in a setting outside of official duties gives officers and community members an opportunity to get to know one another as individuals and as people with whom they have something in common. Thus, although athletic leagues, block parties, and community police academies should not be the sum total of an agency’s community policing plan, they can be an important component of a broader engagement strategy. In choosing among various initiatives, policing agencies should consult with community members about the programs they would most wish to see in their neighborhoods. Agencies also should look for opportunities to partner with community organizations in sponsoring programs and events—which can both help to ensure broader turnout and create a foundation for more meaningful collaboration on matters of substance.

g. Equity. In pursuing the goals of community partnership and responsiveness, it is essential that police officials not lose sight of another important value: equity. The unfortunate reality—one that affects not just policing but all government—is that some groups are better organized than are others to ensure that their voices are heard. In looking to the community to identify problems and participate in implementing solutions, policing agencies should ensure that they do not simply advance the interests of some community members at the expense of others, but that they engage with and address the needs of all members of their communities. See also § 1.12 (Interacting with Vulnerable Populations).

Reporters’ notes

There is wide acknowledgement, both in and out of law enforcement, that effective policing requires close collaboration between the community and the police. The need for something like “community policing” was recognized as early as the 1960s, when national commissions studying the violence and rioting in American cities recognized that police departments had grown aloof and estranged from the communities they were charged with keeping safe. The concept was given full voice in a widely acclaimed Harvard Executive Session on policing in 1989, particularly by Houston’s Police Chief, Lee P. Brown. In 1994, President Bill Clinton established the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in the Department of Justice and committed 8.4 billion federal dollars to assist departments in adopting a more community-focused approach. And although “community policing” has come to mean many things and have many elements, there has been wide agreement on the importance of its core ideals.

Nonetheless, in the aftermath of racial tensions around policing in Ferguson, Missouri, in the summer of 2014, it became clear that in too many jurisdictions community policing had been given lip service, while the reality on the ground was quite different. Studies showed that “many police departments [had] not embrac[ed] these approaches with fidelity to the original ideas” and that “community policing has been unevenly implemented” at best. Anthony A. Braga, Crime and Policing Revisited, New Perspectives in Policing 17 (2015). See also Malcolm Sparrow, Handcuffed 18 (2006). And it is easy to see why. It can be resource intensive. It requires collaboration, both between the police and their communities and between the police and other social-service organizations. It is painstaking.

Still, the consensus of many well-respected policing leaders is that the legitimacy of law enforcement ultimately depends on forging close ties between the community and the police. The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing called for police and communities to “co-produce” public safety. President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing: Final Report 3 (2015). The International Association of Chiefs of Police likewise urged departments to “reevaluate, reinvigorate, renew, re-instate, rebuild, and restart department efforts to build meaningful police-community relationships.” IACP National Policy Summit on Community-Police Relations: Advancing a Culture of Cohesion and Community Trust 13 (2015). The task is not an easy one—but it is essential.

1. Background. Although “community policing” entered the law-enforcement lexicon in the 1980s, the idea itself goes back to the founding of modern policing—and to its founder, Sir Robert Peel. In his 1829 Principles of Law Enforcement, Peel declared that “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police.” The police, he stressed, are “only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

In the United States, however, the structure of municipal governments in the late 1880s and early 1900s led to an unhealthy relationship between police and their communities. Many cities, particularly in the north, were governed by political machines. The police became tools of those machines, beset by patronage and—in the words of police reformer August Vollmer—“ignorance, brutality, and graft.” August Vollmer & Albert Schneider, The School for Police as Planned at Berkeley, 7 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 877 (1917). In 1931, the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement commented on the “loss of public confidence in the police of our country,” which it attributed to the “control which politicians have” over the nation’s police. Wickersham Commission, Wickersham Report on Police, 2 Am. J. of Police Science 337 (1931).

As a result, the objective in the early-middle 1900s was to “professionalize” the police and make them autonomous from politics. Samuel Walker, A Critical History of Police Reform: The Emergence of Professionalism (1977); Stephen J. Schulhofer et al., American Policing at the Crossroads: Unsustainable Policies and the Procedural Justice Alternative, 101 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 335, 339 (2011).Officers received civil-service protection and the only clear tether to politics was the appointment of the chief of police by the mayor or other city officials. Nothing quite captured that notion of the professional and autonomous model of policing so much as radio-dispatched police cars racing around the city to answer calls.

By the 1960s, however, it had become clear to the nation that the move to autonomy had created a rift between the community and the police. In its 1967 Report—in words that undoubtedly will sound familiar today—the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Observance lamented that in “the very neighborhoods that need and want effective policing the most . . . there is much distrust of the police, especially among boys and young men.” The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society: A Report by the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice 99 (1967). The Commission noted that “too many policemen . . . misunderstand or are indifferent to minority-group aspirations, attitudes, and customs, and that incidents involving physical or verbal mistreatment of minority-group citizens do occur and do contribute to the resentment against police.” Id. at 100. It described the hostility and mistrust between police and communities of color as “as serious as any problem the police have today.” Id. at 99; see also The Kerner Report: The 1968 Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (1968) (noting same).

The President’s Commission called upon policing agencies to invest in what it termed “police–community relations”—to endeavor “to acquaint the police and the community with each other’s problems, and to stimulate action aimed at solving those problems.” President’s Commission, supra, at 100. It encouraged agencies to make community relations “the business of the department from the chief on down” and to ensure they “play a part in the selection, training, deployment, and promotion of personnel.” Id. And it urged police officials to involve neighborhood advisory committees and other citizens’ groups in setting policing practices and priorities.

It took another decade for these ideas to catch on, but by the mid-1980s, law-enforcement leaders had come to embrace a new model of “community” or “neighborhood oriented” policing. In a 1988 study, David Bayley and Jerome Skolnick cited the “growing and extraordinary consensus [that] has arisen among selected police executives around the globe that the movement toward community policing is a positive development.” Jerome H. Skolnick & David H. Bayley, Theme and Variation in Community Policing, 10 Crime & Just. 1-2 (1988). Houston Police Chief Lee Brown declared community policing to be “the most appropriate means of using police resources to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the country.” Lee P. Brown, Community Policing: A Practical Guide for Police Officials, Perspectives on Policing 10 (1989). By 1997, more than 85 percent of law-enforcement agencies claimed to have implemented “community policing” or to be in the process of doing so. Lorie Fridell, The Results of Three National Surveys on Community Policing, Community Policing: The Past, Present, and Future 39, 42 (2004).

Yet, in 2015, a new presidential task force made many of the very same observations as the ones made almost 50 years earlier. It highlighted the profound mistrust between police and community. President’s Task Force, supra, at 5. And it urged policing agencies to embrace community policing as organizational strategy, to work collaboratively with the public to “co-produce public safety,” and to give community members a real voice in how their communities are policed. Id. at 3.

As it turned out, although many agencies purported to engage in “community policing,” the reality was that most had adopted only “a relatively modest version of community policing.” Gary Cordner, The Survey Data: What They Say and Don’t Say about Community Policing, Community Policing: The Past, Present, and Future 59, 65 (2004). In many police departments, community policing had been “relegated to specialized units composed of a small number of officers rather than spread across police departments.” Braga, supra, at 17. Agencies were quicker to embrace the related principle of “problem-oriented” policing which emphasized the need to address underlying community problems as opposed to focusing narrowly on criminal enforcement. But what was largely absent from the initial rush to community policing was what Lee Brown described as “‘power sharing’—the idea that “responsibility for making decisions is shared by the police and the community.” Brown, supra at 5.

There are a variety of explanations for the failure of community policing to take hold. Community policing is resource-intensive, and there is a perception, at least in some communities, that it diverts attention away from responding to calls for service. Wesley G. Skogan, Community Policing: Common Impediments to Success, Community Policing: The Past, Present, and Future 159, 165 (2004). Community policing also has encountered resistance from officers who may see it as “social work” that is divorced from real policing. Michael L. Benson & Kent R. Kerley, Does Community-Orientated Policing Help Build Stronger Communities?, 3 Police Quarterly 46, 62 (2000). Finally, community policing asks a lot of the community. Absent genuine power sharing and a sense of collective ownership of policing decisions, it may be difficult to sustain. Schulhofer, supra, at 343; Skogan, Community Policing, supra, at 166; Benson, supra, at 63.

In addition, this notion of close collaboration often conflicted with other pressing items on the agenda. As crime rates continued to climb through the 1980s and early 1990s, a more assertive vision of policing took hold. In a number of jurisdictions, agencies turned toward “order maintenance policing” or “broken windows” policing—which likewise “made it a priority for police to address local problems,” but typically “assigned to the police themselves the responsibility for identifying” what those problems were. Schulhofer, supra, at 340. These trends were fueled and amplified by the national “war on drugs” and later the “war on terror,” both of which shifted emphasis and resources away from a community-oriented approach. See, e.g., Sue Rahr & Stephen K. Rice, From Warriors to Guardians: Recommitting American Police Culture to Democratic Ideals, New Perspectives in Policing Bulletin 2 (2015); David C. Cooper, Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off about Protest, Racism, and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police 2 (2011).

Today, there is growing consensus that effective policing requires a renewed commitment to community policing and its core ideals. And, commendably, some departments across the country have begun to take tangible steps toward giving communities a greater say in how they are policed.

2. Elements of community policing. Over time, community policing has come to be seen as a catch-all term for a variety of programs and strategies, from foot patrols and collaborative problem-solving to youth programs and citizen−police academies to a variety of enforcement tactics, including hot-spots policing, order-maintenance policing, and focused deterrence. Braga, supra, at 17; Cordner, supra, at 61; Implementing Community Policing: Lessons from 12 Agencies at xv (2009).

The emphasis in this Section on close partnership and collaboration between police and the communities they serve reflects what many have identified as the defining feature of community policing. See, e.g., Bureau of Justice Assistance, Understanding Community Policing at vii (1994) (“Community policing is, in essence, a collaboration between the police and the community that identifies and solves community problems.”); President’s Task Force, supra, at 41 (“Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues.”); Wesley G. Skogan, Community Participation and Community Policing, in How To Recognize Good Policing at 88 (Jean-Paul Brodeur ed., 1998) (“Every definition of community policing shares the idea that the police and the community must work together to define and develop solutions to problems.”). This Section recognizes that partnering with the community often means partnering with community organizations and other government entities, which requires agencies to both proactively seek out those relationships and to be open to overtures by other groups. Often, addressing community problems will require a coordinated response by both governmental and nongovernmental actors. See, e.g., Developing Coordinated Community Response Teams, UN Women, http://www.endvawnow.org/en/articles/‌319-developing-coordinated-community-responses-.html (last visited May 22, 2017). This Section also is consistent with research on procedural justice, which underscores the importance of transparency and voice, not only in the context of individual encounters but also for the agency’s relationship with its community. See, e.g., Tom R. Tyler & Yuen J. Huo, Trust in the Law: Encouraging Cooperation with the Police and Courts (2002); Tracey L. Meares & Peter Neyroud, Rightful Policing 5, Nat’l Inst. of Justice 11-12 (2015).

Likewise, many of the core components of community policing identified here—including organizational transformation, collaborative problem-solving, community participation, and police–community interaction in social and other nonenforcement settings—are consistent with what law-enforcement professionals have long emphasized as essential components of the community-policing approach. See, e.g., Community Orientated Police Services, Community Policing Defined (2012) (identifying the three components of community policing as “community partnerships,” “organizational transformation,” and “problem-solving”); Wesley G. Skogan, The Promise of Community Policing, in Police Innovation: Contrasting Perspectives 27, 28 (David Weisburd & Anthony A. Braga eds., 2006) (noting that community policing has “three core elements: citizen involvement, problem solving, and decentralization”).

However, more so than some of the earlier resources on community policing, e.g., Bureau of Justice Assistance, Understanding Community Policing (1994); Community Orientated Police Services, Community Policing Defined (2012), these Principles underscore the importance not only of partnering with the community to identify and address public-safety problems, but also of giving community members a meaningful voice in the discussions and debates that determine how their communities are policed. This element of community policing—what Lee Brown called “power sharing”—was one of the central recommendations made by the President’s Task Force throughout its Final Report. President’s Task Force, supra, at 3, 45, 93. In order to achieve the sort of cultural transformation and trust-building that community policing promises, this last component is essential.

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