In recent months, as a reaction to a variety of crime and public order problems in downtown Frederick, there has been a lot of talk about community policing. We often hear the term community policing bandied about, particularly when hiring a police chief, voting for a mayor or when a crime or public order problem crops up. But what is community policing? Do those advocating or promoting community policing as the answer to a problem actually know what it is? In most cases, the answer is no.
The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) defines community policing as “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 such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.” In short, it is the police and the public working together to solve problems.
I spent 17 years at the COPS office, most of which was overseeing training and technical assistance programs and projects nationwide, which were designed to assist state and local law enforcement in their efforts to put community policing into operation. In that time, I saw many attempts to implement community policing, by both small and large police departments and the communities they serve. Some did well; many did not. Many talked the talk but failed to walk the walk, so to speak.
Community policing is not a few foot patrols, bike patrols or officers riding around on a Segway. Community policing is not attending a few monthly meetings to share some crime statistics and hear some citizen complaints. It is not organizing a neighborhood watch program. Although these tactics might be used, alone or in conjunction, they are not community policing — not without a partnership with public stakeholders to solve problems. They are simply tools in the toolbox that may be used in problem-solving.
At the heart of community policing is "the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques.” It is a philosophy held by police departments that recognize the need for public input and assistance in addressing crime and pubic order problems. Sir Robert Peel, who founded the London Metropolitan Police in 1829, observed this in his principles of policing. Peel said, “To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being 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.”
To solve crime and public order problems, it takes more than public calls for community policing. It takes active participation on the part of the public, partnering with police to identify the root cause of problems and working together to solve them. As Peel stated, it takes “... attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
You can’t call for community policing and simply walk away leaving it to the police. Community policing does not work that way.
Karl Bickel, formerly second in command of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and former assistant professor of criminal justice, is retired from the U.S. Department of Justice and writes from Monrovia. He can be reached at KarlBickel@comcast.net.