Community Oriented Policing Defined

Community policing is a law enforcement strategy that seeks to transform the traditionally adversarial relationship between police and citizens to one of cooperation. The goal is to address crime and safety issues in a community on a systemic basis and not as isolated events.

Although there are some definitional differences in community policing from one jurisdiction to the next, it is characterized by several near uniform components. In virtually all community policing structures, the relevant departments work in partnership with other law enforcement agencies, community organizations, and even the media. The focus shifts from traditional policing methods to a more ‘problem-solving’ oriented approach intended to eliminate the root causes of crime and other safety issues. The organizational structure of the police department typically undergoes some degree of change to help facilitate the goals of community policing.


Although the term ‘community policing‘ refers to a variety of law enforcement philosophies and practices they all work toward a similar goal–reducing crime and improving the quality of life within a community. This mutual goal is reached by forming a more trusting and less adversarial relationship between police and the community they serve. This strategy allows the community and law enforcement can identify and solve problems related to crime and public safety. While there can be differences in the organization and implementation of community policing most of the literature on the subject identifies the three common characteristics outlined above: community partnerships, organizational structure, and problem-solving.

Community policing is in many ways a return to a more ‘old school’ method of law enforcement. Before the use of motor vehicles became essential in departments, nationwide police officers would usually ‘walk the beat‘ in a specific area on a regular basis. This familiarity would result in mutual trust between the officer and citizens as well as providing the officer with a more intimate understanding of the community he serves. This detailed knowledge of the community allowed police officers to detect and prevent crime. Community policing is an effort to re-establish this type of mutually beneficial relationship.


The practical application of ‘community policing’ varies from one jurisdiction to another. The common factor in all is the effort to improve relationships with the community and to deal with problems holistically instead of just responding to crime as an isolated event. Community policing has much in common with the now familiar ‘broken windows’ theory of law enforcement. This theory suggests that broken windows are indicative of ‘disorder’ despite not being a crime per se. It would not be a concern of the police officer under a more traditional approach to law enforcement. It is, however, a concern under the ‘community policing’ approach with the view that it is symptomatic of other problems involving public safety.

Proponents of community policing argue that traditional law enforcement methods do little to ‘prevent crime’. Their focus is primarily on detection and apprehension of a perpetrator after the fact. In most communities, the same types of crime happen on a recurring basis no matter how heavy handed law enforcement’s response. Community policing, on the other hand, facilitates addressing the problem at the source by placing the priorities of law enforcement on maintaining an orderly community. If crime is a symptom of ‘social disorder’ creating a safe, harmonious community also creates an environment far less conducive to criminal activity.


It’s not easy to evaluate the benefits of community oriented policing on a strictly empirical basis. Traditional law enforcement measures their effectiveness by using the ‘unified crime reporting system’ to measure the crime rate. The quality of police performance is a simple function of determining if the crime rate is increasing or decreasing.

Measuring the benefits of community policing is more difficult. From a practical standpoint, since there is no uniform definition or procedural guidelines for community policing cross-jurisdictional comparisons are extremely difficult. In addition, many of the goals of community policing are important but abstract in nature. For example, there’s not a statistical baseline to measure the level of ‘harmony’ in a community. The best way for a community policing initiative to measure its effectiveness is by establishing goals in conjunction with the community and evaluating the progress made over a period of time.


While it’s not possible to see community policing’s efficacy with raw data, there’s a certain logic to dealing with crime at the source. Most communities–particularly high crime areas–have recurring problems that are evident to the people that live there. By putting the citizens into partnership with the police to evaluate and solve these problems, it creates a better living environment. The better the quality of life within a community the more difficult it is for crime problems to occur.

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