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Community Policing and Community Safety and Security

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2724 words Published: 14th Dec 2016

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What, if anything, can community policing do to reduce crime and improve community safety and security?


While an original concept of community policing may be found in what is referred to as the Peelian Principles (the police are the people and the people are the police[1]) modern definitions have become much more complex. A comprehensive definition developed by the United States Department of Justice, describes it as “a philosophy that promotes operational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder and fear of crime[2]“.

In this essay an attempt is made to evaluate current community policing practices to determine if they present a viable strategy to reduce crime and improve community safety and security.

Policing in the 21st Century

What has made implementation the community policing philosophy difficult has been that, while the words “serve” and “protect” appear in the mottos of many police forces/services throughout the world, the changing social order of the mid 20th century coupled to advancing technology saw the police become more isolated and disconnected from the communities they were ostensibly serving and protecting. At the same time, crime and social disorder left society feeling threatened and, to an extent, abandoned leading to an “us and them” scenario emerging within both the police and society. The police were seen, at best, as crime fighters and, at worst, instruments of the state attempting to enforce order.

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Academic papers in the late 20th century saw the emergence of Zimbardo’s broken windows theory[3] and Wilson and Kelling’s (1982) work distinguishing between crime and the fear of crime leading to what was ultimately termed “zero tolerance policing”. While successful in certain areas, this approach further entrenched the “us and them” mindset and served to alienate large portions of certain communities. Furthermore, by the end of the 20th century the increased global focus on human rights, transparency and accountability required a more holistic approach to addressing crime, safety and security.

Fundamentally, the works conducted by Zimbardo and Wilson and Kelling correctly identified psycho-socio aspects of modern living but, at that time, the response by authorities failed to take into consideration that the issues could not be dealt with solely by the police acting in an enforcement or crime fighting role. Furthermore, while law enforcement and crime fighting remain important functions of the police, recent research indicates that one third of incidents that police respond to are social work as opposed to crime related (Karn, 2013)[4].

In considering responses to these issues it was recognised that collective efficacy needed to be developed with the community reinforcing informal control mechanisms over itself in partnership with the police that could, when required, act as a law enforcer, mediator or conduit to other means of assistance. Community policing has thus emerged as a mechanism through which collective efficacy can be developed or reinstated in communities.

In essence, public safety, security and policing change from being police business to being everyones’ business[5]. Building this collective efficacy through a community policing programme is, however, both complex and time consuming requiring a fundamental change in both the philosophy and practice of policing using a decentralised and proactive, problem solving approach to the work carried out by the police which, in turn, is supported by community engagement and through partnerships with other agencies (Mackenzie and Henry, 2009). More specifically, the changes that are required cannot simply be a modification of existing practices but rather requires actual changes to be made from senior management through to front line officers.

Requirements for effective community policing

For community policing to be effective, the priority has to be the establishment of mutual trust which is required for effective interaction. Where this trust is missing, no amount of legislation or policy documents will be able to progress effective police/community interaction.

For example, in South Africa, the Interim Constitution requires the establishment of Community Police Forums (CPF)[6] which is further strengthened through the South African Police Service Act of 1995 which formally directs the functions of the CPFs at station level. So while there appears to be intent at the highest political level to implement community policing, the implementation has been described as largely symbolic (Pelser, 2000)[7] with little being done to ensure the establishment of close mutually beneficial ties between the police and community. This stems partially from the history of the country which saw a paramilitary force acting as law enforcers for the government thereby alienating much of the population. The transition to a police service saw some key elements required for community policing to be enacted, such as decentralisation of authority, but the police service has of yet been largely unable to effectively engage with the majority of communities.

Establishing this trust with the community cannot however take place unless there are changes changes brought around to the traditional bottom-down management styleapplied in the police. While strategic implementation requires policy decisions to be made at senior levels and directed downwards, a bottom-up approach is required if meaningful community engagement is to be achieved. This requires a restructuring to empower and support the front line officer who interacts with the community on a daily basis so that the officer is in a position exercise initiative and make decisions that are both relevant to the community and supported by police management. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to ensure that the officers engaged in community policing receive specialised training in a variety of non-traditional law enforcement disciplines such as conflict resolution, mediation and engagement in culturally diverse environments.

In addition to human resources, financial resources are also required to ensure an effective community policing programme. Government funding is imperative to ensure that problems identified by the community are met in an effective and timely fashion. If this does not occur, the trust required will be eroded and the perceived usefulness of the community policing officers to the community will be undermined. At the same time, community resources can also be tapped to supplement government funding, whether these resources are human, financial or other in-kind contributions. By mobilising the community to accept some element of financial responsibility collective efficacy may also be catalysed.

The Impact of Community Policing on Crime, Safety and Security

Recent studies have shown that higher numbers of police does not necessarily lead to a reduction in crime (Bradford, 2011)[8] indicating that more focussed interventions, as opposed to to sheer numbers, are required. This along with overall moves to professionalise the police has led, internationally to a move away from reactive policing towards a more proactive approach with a focus on problem orientated policing (POP) and intelligence-led policing (ILP) and being observed.

Problem orientated policing fits with community policing strategies as it focusses on tackling problems identified by local communities and developing an understanding of these problems[9]. This includes determining why they are occurring and identifying appropriate courses of action that can include actors beyond the police. This approach has been recognised as being effective in reducing victimisation and perceptions relating to antisocial behaviour (Quinton and Tuffin, 2006)[10].

The approach most often used to drive POP is known as SARA (scanning, analysis, response and assessment). SARA has proven effective in problem solving as it breaks a complex concept down into easy to manage steps. In the scanning phase, problems are identified, prioritised and stakeholders identified thereby providing a valuable opportunity for the community engagement. In the analysis phase the dynamics, cause and effect of the problem are identified which leads to a response being developed that is specific to the issue at hand. Finally, the actions taken need to be assessed to determine if the problem has been permanently resolved and that the response contributed to the resolution (Clegg et al, 2000)[11]. By following this model, in addition to resolving issues of concern, trust with the community can be developed and strengthened. Importantly, police attention is focussed on issues that are of community concern and not based on political priorities received from central government or one-sided analysis and prioritisation by the local police force/service itself. Recently, the civil unrest that developed in Ferguson, Missouri following the killing of Michael Brown could have possibly been avoided if effective police community engagement mechanisms based on POP/SARA had have been in place.

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While POP has proven effective in addressing crimes that directly and visibly impact a community, organised crime poses no less of a threat but, due to its often clandestine nature, communities may not be aware of its existence within their neighbourhood. From a policing perspective, intelligence-led policing has proven an essential and effective tool in addressing organised crime. The investigative techniques applied to ILP such as telephone intercepts, informers and undercover operatives may appear, at first glance, to run contrary to the goals of community policing. However, where effective community/police interaction takes place, the community can be made aware of the existence of crime of this nature and local knowledge may prove useful to investigators, be it from victims, witnesses or even perpetrators. The goal however should not be to turn the community into informers but, based on shared interests, provide a service to the benefit of their community.

Once again, the issue of trust is of paramount importance with the community feeling free to share information and confident that the police will act on that information in a responsible and effective manner.


Community policing is a complex and time consuming endeavour however there are clear benefits to be gained from the implementation of functioning programme. Through the development of trust with the community the police will gain access to a larger amount of information that can be useful in the identification of and arrest of offenders. That however cannot be the sole purpose of community policing or where the key value lies.

Through the promotion of collective efficacy, communities can start acceptinggreat responsibility for issues of their own safety and security, leading to the police not always being the first or only responder to a variety of problems. In this way, many social order issues can be dealt with through informal mechanisms that may or may not involve the police which as a result can allow the police more opportunity to focus on criminal issues raised by the community. Furthermore, the police are also in a strong position to raise criminal issues, whether petty or of a more serious nature with community, explain the police response and, if possible, devise a course of action that is effective and agreeable to all.

Increased police community contact can also be used to diffuse a variety of local issues whether they be of a political, social, ethnic or cultural nature, there by reducing intra or inter community tensions and creating a greater feeling of safety and security for all involved.

[1] Police Reform: Power to the People, The Economist, 2 December 2010

[2] Community Policing Defined, US Department of Justice at www.cops.usdoj.gov, e030917193 accessed on 02 September 2014

[3] Zimbardo, P.G. 1969 The Human Choice: Individuation, reason and disorder versus indivduation, impulse and chaos, Nebraska Symposium on Motivation Vol 17 237-307

[4] Karn J 2013 Policing and Crime Reduction, The Police Foundation, Pg 7

[5] Pelser E, Schnetler J, Louw A, Not Everybody’s Business: Community Policing in the SAPS’ Priority Areas, EU Pg 6

[6] Rakgoadi P (1995) Community Policing and Governance, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Pg 2

[7] Pelser E, 1999, An Overview of Community Policing in South Africa, in Clegg I, Hunt R, Whetton J (2000) Policy Guidance on Support to Policing in Developing Countries, University of Wales, Pg 114

[8] Bradford B, 2011, Police Numbers and Crime Rates Pg 7 accessed at justiceinspectorates.gov.uk on 5 September 2014

[9] Karn J 2013 Policing and Crime Reduction, The Police Foundation, Pg 19

[10] Quinton P, Tuffin R 2006, Neighbourhood Change: the Impact of the National Reassurance Policing Programme Pg 159 accessed from policing.oxfordjournals.org at the Periodicals Section, LMU on 05 September 2014

[11] Clegg I, Hunt R, Whetton J (2000) Policy Guidance on Support to Policing in Developing Countries, University of Wales, Pg 187


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