Policing | Section 6.2

Fundamentals of Policing by Adam J. McKee

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Core Components of COP

It has been suggested by many observers that most agencies that claim to have implemented community policing in reality only pay lip service to the idea to gain advantages associated with the philosophy.  When a police department really changes over to community policing, fundamental changes in the structure and management of the organization must happen. Community policing is dramatically different from traditional models of policing in how the mission of the department is viewed and how the community is perceived.  The traditional mission of crime prevention and control must remain priorities within any policing organization, community policing expands the mission as well as the tools available to achieve this expanded mission.

At the very core of the community policing philosophy is the idea that the community becomes partners with police in addressing community problems.  Despite its lack of empirical validity, Broken Windows theory has been very influential in the community policing literature, and, as a result, there has been a focus on problems with disorder and neglect (e.g., broken windows, burnt out street lights, and abandoned vehicles) within communities.  Note that while many of these “disorders” are prohibited by law, their less serious nature led them to be classified differently by Broken Windows researchers. The theory holds that signs of disorder and decline (viz., broken windows) lead to serious crime. Simply put, the Broken Windows thesis holds that if disorder can be curbed, then future serious crime can be averted.        

Helpful information will be forthcoming from community members when police have established a relationship of trust with the community they serve.  Establishing this trust will take time, particularly in communities where internal conflicts exist or where relations with the police have been severely strained. Community policing offers a way for the police and the community to work together to resolve the serious problems that exist in these neighborhoods. Only when community members believe the police are genuinely interested in community perspectives and problems will they begin to view the police as a part of that community.

Experience and research reveal that “community institutions are the first line of defense against disorder and crime.” Thus, it is essential that the police work closely with all facets of the community to identify concerns and to find the most effective solutions. This is the essence of community policing.

The Newark Foot Patrol Experiment suggested that police could develop more positive attitudes toward community members and could promote positive attitudes toward police if they spent time on foot in their neighborhoods.  Foot patrol also eased citizen fear of crime, “persons living in areas where foot patrol was created perceived a notable decrease in the severity of crime-related problems.” Experimental foot patrols in Flint, Michigan, also elicited citizen approval. Residents said foot patrols made them feel safer and residents “felt especially safe when the foot patrol officer was well known and highly visible.”  In addition, it is worth noting that in both cities the use of foot patrols increased officer satisfaction with police work.

The fear reduction studies provided empirical data on the effectiveness of key community policing tactics (e.g., community organizing, door-to-door contacts, neighborhood mini-stations, and intensified enforcement coupled with community involvement) in reducing fear among residents, improving community conditions, and enhancing the image of the police.  Driving this study was the notion that if fear could be reduced, community residents would be more inclined to take an active role in preserving safety and tranquility within their neighborhoods.

The foundations of a successful community policing strategy are the close, mutually beneficial ties between police and community members. Community policing consists of two complementary core components, community partnership and problem-solving. To develop community partnership, police must develop positive relationships with the community, must involve the community in the quest for better crime control and prevention, and must pool their resources with those of the community to address the most urgent concerns of community members. Problem-solving is the process through which the specific concerns of communities are identified and through which the most appropriate remedies to abate these problems are found.

Community policing does not imply that police are no longer in authority or that the primary duty of preserving law and order is subordinated. However, tapping into the expertise and resources that exist within communities will relieve police of some of their burdens. Local government officials, social agencies, schools, church groups, business people—all those who work and live in the community and have a stake in its development—will share responsibility for finding workable solutions to problems that detract from the safety and security of the community.

Defining 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, 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.


Partnerships are a core element of community policing. The basic rationale is that the police cannot accomplish crime control or their other important missions by themselves. It therefore makes sense for police to seek assistance from others, whether in the form of “eyes and ears,” helping hands, resources, or influence. This line of reasoning is completely consistent with the Anglo-American tradition of self-government and civic responsibility. Sir Robert Peel, founder of the London Metropolitan Police in 1829, famously stated that the creation of police departments delegated day-to-day policing duties and authority to a group of paid, full-time officials, but did not absolve citizens of the responsibility for helping protect their communities from crime and disorder.

Establishing and maintaining mutual trust is the central goal of the first core component of community policing—community partnership. Police recognize the need for cooperation with the community. In the fight against serious crime, police have encouraged community members to come forth with relevant information. In addition, police have spoken to neighborhood groups, participated in business and civic events, worked with social agencies, and taken part in educational and recreational programs for school children. Special units have provided a variety of crisis intervention services.

So how then do the cooperative efforts of community policing differ from the actions that have taken place previously? The fundamental distinction is that, in community policing, the police become an integral part of the community culture, and the community assists in defining future priorities and in allocating resources. The difference is substantial and encompasses basic goals and commitments.

Community partnership means adopting a policing perspective that exceeds the standard law enforcement emphasis. This broadened outlook recognizes the value of activities that contribute to the orderliness and well-being of a neighborhood. These activities could include: helping accident or crime victims, providing emergency medical services, helping resolve domestic and neighborhood conflicts (e.g., family violence, landlord-tenant disputes, or racial harassment), working with residents and local businesses to improve neighborhood conditions, controlling automobile and pedestrian traffic, providing emergency social services and referrals to those at risk (e.g., adolescent runaways, the homeless, the intoxicated, and the mentally ill), protecting the exercise of constitutional rights (e.g., guaranteeing a person’s right to speak, protecting lawful assemblies from disruption), and providing a model of citizenship (helpfulness, respect for others, honesty, and fairness).

These services help develop trust between the police and the community.  This trust will enable the police to gain greater access to valuable information from the community that could lead to the solution and prevention of crimes, will engender support for needed crime-control measures, and will provide an opportunity for officers to establish a working relationship with the community. The entire police organization must be involved in enlisting the cooperation of community members in promoting safety and security. Building trust will not happen overnight; it will require ongoing effort. But trust must be achieved before police can assess the needs of the community and construct the close ties that will engender community support. In turn, this cooperative relationship will deepen the bonds of trust.

To build this trust for an effective community partnership police must treat people with respect and sensitivity.  The use of unnecessary force and arrogance, aloofness, or rudeness at any level of the agency will dampen the willingness of community members to ally themselves with the police.

The effective mobilization of community support requires different approaches in different communities.  Establishing trust and obtaining cooperation are often easier in middle-class and affluent communities than in poorer communities, where mistrust of police may have a long history. Building bonds in some neighborhoods may involve supporting basic social institutions (e.g., families, churches, schools) that have been weakened by pervasive crime or disorder. The creation of viable communities is necessary if lasting alliances that nurture cooperative efforts are to be sustained.  Under community policing, the police become both catalysts and facilitators in the development of these communities.

Community policing expands police efforts to prevent and control crime. The community is no longer viewed by police as a passive presence or a source of limited information, but as a partner in this effort. Community concerns with crime and disorder thus become the target of efforts by the police and the community working in tandem.

The close alliance forged with the community should not be limited to an isolated incident or series of incidents, nor confined to a specific time frame. The partnership between the police and the community must be enduring and balanced. It must break down the old concepts of professional versus civilian, expert versus novice, and authority figure versus subordinate. The police and the community must be collaborators in the quest to encourage and preserve peace and prosperity.

The more conspicuous police presence of the long-term patrol officer in itself may encourage community response. But it is not sufficient. The entire police organization must vigorously enlist the cooperation of community residents in pursuing the goals of deterring crime and preserving order. Police personnel on every level must join in building a broad rapport with community members.

Many of the specific elements of community policing, including geographic focus, permanent beat assignment, citizen input, and personal service, are designed to encourage and support this type of neighborhood partnership.  Since our typical notions of community policing tend to incorporate this one neighborhood based form of partnership, it is crucial to recognize other forms as well. The COPS Office publication Community Policing Defined (2014) identifies one of the key components of community policing as “community partnerships between the law enforcement agency and the individuals and organizations they serve to develop solutions to problems and increase trust in police.” The report goes on to explain that the range of potential partners is quite large, including  other government agencies, community members/groups, nonprofits/service providers, private businesses, and media.

For the patrol officer, police/community partnership entails talking to local business owners to help identify their problems and concerns, visiting residents in their homes to offer advice on security, and helping to organize and support neighborhood watch groups and regular community meetings. For example, the patrol officer will canvass the neighborhood for information about a string of burglaries and then revisit those residents to inform them when the burglar is caught. The chief police executive will explain and discuss controversial police tactics so that community members understand the necessity of these tactics for public and officer safety. The department management will consult community members about gang suppression tactics, and every level of the department will actively solicit the concerns and suggestions of community groups, residents, leaders, and local government officials. In this police/community partnership, providing critical social services will be acknowledged as being inextricably linked to deterring crime, and problem solving will become a cooperative effort.

Problem Solving

This dimension is considered a central aspect of community policing.  The concept was introduced in Herman Goldstein’s 1990 publication, Problem-Oriented Policing, describing what were then radically new ways of thinking about the police function, police effectiveness, and the use of police authority. Goldstein was dissatisfied with the amount of attention that police were focusing on their internal operations, while neglecting day-today effectiveness and end results. His new concept was adopted in various forms in police agencies throughout the United States and abroad.  Problem solving requires innovation, using tools other than those traditionally employed by police. Generally, police respond when called, rarely questioning whether and how several apparently unrelated incidents might possibly arise from a common problem. The idea behind problem solving is straightforward: Police could be more effective if they attended systematically to underlying conditions that might be contributing to those incidents.

Problem solving represents a change in the way police think about their work, and it calls upon local communities to contribute their insights and ideas. Successful community policing agencies rely on problem solving as a guiding principle. They spread the problem-solving philosophy and practice through all levels of their organizations. Police have long attempted to solve substantive community problems. Community policing offers them a framework for doing this that includes a systematic process; it characterizes what police generally do and involves the efforts of many officers.  In a successful community policing agency, problem solving becomes the way that police think about all of their functions, and all agency members engage in problem solving as the fundamental approach to their daily routines.

Community policing allows police to use their knowledge of the nature of a given situation and to use a systematic process for identifying, understanding, and responding to problems. The best known problem-solving method is the SARA model: police scan for problems that require their attention, analyze the situation for a detailed understanding of the problem, respond with an approach directly linked to the problem, and assess the outcomes. Assessment, the most often neglected element in the process, is necessary so that responses that prove ineffective can be reworked or replaced, or the problem can be redefined.  The process is complete only when the problem has been resolved to an acceptable level.

Organizational Adaptation

Organizational change managers agree that for reformed programs and practices to succeed, the parent organization from the top down needs to embrace and support them. Worthwhile “orphan” programs may survive for a while, but they rarely remain healthy and stable for long. Consistent with that line of thought, policing reformers have insisted that for community policing to thrive, agencies must be fully invested in the philosophy; they must be deeply committed and willing to change.

Changes in organizational management, structure, and culture are necessary and inevitable.  An agency that supports community policing will look quite different from one designed to support traditional policing. For the external dimensions of community policing—that is, problem solving and community partnerships—to do well, the agency must adapt itself internally in several ways.  Reformers offer two reasons why such organizational change is necessary. The agency’s first challenge is to equip and encourage community policing among its officers: to train and motivate them. The second challenge is to remove unintended obstacles to make the organization flexible and amenable to new demands imposed by problem solving and community partnerships.

Organizational transformation is a pillar of community policing.  The basic rationale is that the manner in which police organizations have traditionally been structured and managed was principally designed to support reactive and enforcement-driven policing. In order to put significantly more emphasis on partnerships and problem solving, then, it is necessary to make organizational changes that support and facilitate new and different police strategies and tactics. The COPS Office publication Community Policing Defined (2014) describes it this way: “the alignment of organizational management, structure, personnel, and information systems to support community partnerships and proactive problem solving.”

Community Education

Another way for the police executive to establish effective leadership in the realm of police-community violence is to educate the community in the expectations they should have of the department and the expectations the department has of the community. This function addresses the “community cultures” dimension of effective leadership. No matter what the internal functions of effective leadership within the department, positive change in the police-community violence cycles will occur more easily if the community is involved in the change process. Police-community partnerships and the engagement of the community in solving problems of violence enhance police effectiveness.

There are several questions the law enforcement executive can ask to determine the extent the community is likely to be involved in helping retard the police-community violence cycle. These questions are based on the premise that the police and the  community share ownership, responsibility, and accountability for reducing these incidents of violence:

      • What programs does the department have that assist officers in understanding
        community attitudes towards police use of force?
      • What programs does the department have that assist officers and the community
        to reduce incidents of police-community violence?
      • Do all officers engage in interactive meetings with community groups and
      • Does each officer consider himself or herself responsible for building policecommunity
      • Are there existing mechanisms for “taking the pulse” of the community on key
        issues involving police-community violence?
      • Does the department periodically schedule formal meetings with community
        groups and leaders to review the issue of police-community violence?
      • Do all the parties involved in reducing police-community violence (police, courts,
        probation, prosecutors, schools, and the community) meet regularly to review
        strategy and results?

These questions help the executive identify areas or concerns that should be addressed in managing the police-community partnership. The extent to which this connection is well managed will, to some extent, dictate the degree of success the police executive can expect.

In summary, the “effective leadership” of a police organization’s attempt to control the police-community violence cycle cannot be accomplished by a one-dimensional approach to the problem. A leadership plan which focuses merely on one aspect of the problem is most likely a plan that will not achieve its objectives. What is required is a multidimensional approach which focuses on both internal and external factors, an approach which addresses operational problems as well as administrative processes, and which addresses the need for change within the informal leadership of the department as well as the need for change within the community.

Through the development of an “interactive” model of professionalism which focuses on the four stated areas of change within the department and its environment, police executives can develop the effective leadership necessary to have an impact on the cycle of police-community violence. Until an approach is developed that is multidimensional, interactive, and fully pupported by the chief executive, reliance on the “leadership model” to reduce the police use of force will bear little fruit.

Using Community Resources


Defining the police role within a community should not be solely the responsibility of a law enforcement agency. The entire community, represented by traditional and nontraditional agencies and groups alike, should be called upon to identify local concerns that fall within the purview of the police department. Suggestions should be carefully weighed and freely debated in an atmosphere which recognizes that no single element or agency has exclusive jurisdiction or authority for determining what the posture or reaction should be towards problems that have an impact on the entire community.

Within every community, there are business and professional groups, social service agencies, religious and civic organizations, and non-law enforcement city agencies, all of which are potential resources for dealing with many of the problems that confront the police. Such organizations have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to donate time and effort in support of programs that improve the quality of life in a community. An effective police executive researches the community and develops a “resource bank” of organizations willing to donate time and effort in support of police initiatives to improve services to the community.


The assistance and interaction that these groups afford can be of great benefit in offering cultural, language, direct service, and training opportunities for police officers. In an era of tight fiscal control and dwindling budgets, these organizations can help law enforcement agencies develop specialized programs that address current and future needs. The police and community groups should establish areas of mutual concern, analyze points of disagreement that call for resolution, and reach a consensus on how all parties concerned can work together effectively in crisis situations. CRS can provide technical assistance in implementing meetings with the community to build a partnership with the community.

Police Accessibility

A police department’s effectiveness in making itself accessible to the community will invariably depend on whether there is a plan or program to promote and enhance involvement with citizens. Whether the purpose is to inform citizens about police initiatives, to inform them about general police department progress or conditions, to secure their input in a specific area, or to discuss the effectiveness of the department and its personnel, most police executives depend on three basic avenues. They are: direct dialogue with citizens and representatives of organizations, use of the news media, and communication of selected information through various means, including speeches and assignments to designated personnel. At the same time, all department personnel and all means of communication should be focused on making the department “approachable” to citizens.

The most common standard for measuring a department’s effectiveness with respect to accessibility is the number and attitude of citizens who freely approach the department to make inquiries, complain, or volunteer their assistance. If the attitude of citizens demonstrates confidence in the department and pride in performing a civic function, it can be surmised that a substantial level of departmental accessibility has been achieved. On the other hand, if citizen contacts or encounters with the police are characterized mostly by a mixture of fear, rancor, and general distrust, then the police executive and the department’s personnel have a lot of hard work ahead of them.

Key Terms

References and Further Reading



Modification History

File Created:  08/15/2018

Last Modified:  08/15/2018

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

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