Are community policing models an effective way of containing criminal activity and keeping neighborhoods safe? Should a city, town, or suburb adopt a "community policing model" as a way to take the pressure off the professional law enforcement resources? This paper takes the position that trained law enforcement personnel are best able to do the policing in communities. That said, it is true that alert citizens can keep their neighborhoods safer if they are being watchful, but this paper will present research that reflects concerns and doubts as to citizens' competence to police their own communities, and doubts as to the appropriateness of police interacting with neighborhood citizen groups in crime-prevention strategies.
A Case Study of Officer Perceptions
An article in The American Review of Public Administration describes community policing as being based on the notion that "…public safety is best achieved when police and community members work together to solve problems" (Glaser, 2008, p. 310). That doesn't mean that citizens wear badges and carry weapons around the neighborhood, or that some kind of vigilante process is ongoing. Glaser explains that the purest explanation for community policing relates to "…a style of policing in which the police are close to the public, know their concerns from regular everyday contacts, and act on them in accord with the community's wishes" (310).
Another way of describing community policing is to refer to this model as composed of "co-producers" of public safety, meaning that citizens and law enforcement work together collaboratively to establish better relations, and the process results in community building and safer neighborhoods, Glaser continues on page 310. At least that is the model, and though it is not always effective, no one can criticize the effort put forward by police and neighborhoods.
Meantime, there are several reasons why community policing is not always successful, according to Glaser. First, there needs to be a balance between the police department's organizational values and the best interests of the community. Police officer values and police behavior is "complex and is mediated by… supervisory priorities and organization support" (Glaser, 312). Community values and the values held by law enforcement are quite different, Glaser continues. To wit, cops are sometimes criticized because they hold "inordinately strong allegiance" to their fellow officers, and the "bonds" of the "brotherhood" of law enforcement personnel are "stronger than officers' connections to community" (Glaser, 312).
It is perfectly understandable, Glaser points out, that because police officers' lives are always on the line, and because their lives "rest in the hands of their fellow officers," cops are very powerfully linked to one another. These organizational bonds and commitments, while valued and imperative, they may "conflict with citizen engagement," especially in those low-income neighborhoods that "have a history of conflict with police" due to ethnic, racial, or language differences (Glaser, 312). In the research conducted by Glaser and Janet Denhardt police cooperated with the authors and completed questionnaires.
A majority of officers (67.1%) said they had confidence in themselves "to sacrifice individual self-interest" in community policing matters; but only 19.7% of the officers responding to the questionnaire had the same degree of confidence that citizens could sacrifice their self-interest. The bottom line here is that officers have more confidence in their fellow officers than in citizens, which should not come as a shock to alert researchers. Also, in the survey 22.7% of the officers believed that there will be "imbalanced decision making" because community interests will trump law enforcement interests.
An article in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies points to England's response to the bloody subway bombing in 2005, and other bombings by radical Islamists. One aspect of the UK response was "community policing" (or "counter-terrorism measures") which took the form of the government putting together a partnership between "Muslim associations" and authorities in order to "separate the extremists from the faith" (Klausen, 2009, p. 405). That program has come under severe pressure, as Muslim associations have been criticized for being "placid about weeding out the extremists in their midst" (Klausen, 406). Meanwhile, community policing seemed "appropriate" when authorities assumed the terrorist problem was "home grown"; however subsequent trials and hard evidence reveals that the origins of terrorist plots to kill British people were in Pakistan and elsewhere, not in England.
One of the built-in risks of community-based counter-terrorism efforts in the UK is political. If the government embraces one Muslim group as "a partner" that means other groups have been excluded, Klausen explains on page 415. When the government chooses one group to work with, the Muslims in England complain that authorities are "trying to divide the Muslim community" (Klausen, 415). You just can't make everyone happy, and on top of the disaffected Muslim groups that were brought into the community-based anti-terrorism efforts, the Church of England complained that the authorities were showing "favoritism to Muslims, and that tax money was used to promote Islam" (Klausen, 415).
The author (416) acknowledges that community-based counter-terrorism is a good strategy for "building trust -- but whose trust is being built?" There is "little evidence" that trust has been build between Muslims and the government; in fact on page 417, Klausen points to the "most serious criticism of the community-policing model for counter-terrorism": "…it did not work" (417).
Rob White writes in the journal International Migration & Integration that there has been great concern in Australia over the "young ethnic minority migrants" that have become "a favorite focus for media fear and loathing" (White, 2009, p. 360). That is to say, along with some of the problems that youth gangs have caused, there is a "racist stereotyping based on physical appearance" and along with that an "inordinate level of public and police suspicion and hostility" that is directed towards people from "certain ethnic minority backgrounds" (White, 360). Given this background into the problem in Australia, and the fact that studies show police lack "adequate training" to deal with young people of different cultures, the issue of community policing enters the picture.
The community policing part of the Australian policy towards "young ethnic minority" people has had, in the past, positive and enlightened results. However, the recent trend is to centralize "corporate strategies" -- a major change in management style -- which has resulted in "little more than lip service being paid by police and politicians to community policing ideals" that relate to young people (White, 371). This is not to say that community policing is a bad idea; however, when it is used the way it is being implemented in New South Wales, for example -- community policing actually is increasing "the degree of surveillance and control over young people" (White, 371). Indeed, White asserts that some of the community policing programs amount to "intrusive counter-terrorism measures" taken against ethnic youth (372).
Community policing strategies have come under review and have been challenged subsequent to the terrorist attacks on the U.S. In 2001. Author John Murray explains that due to the terrorist attacks it is more likely that police will "revert to the traditional model of policing" with more of an emphasis on "paramilitarism" (Murray, 2005, p. 347) rather than embracing community policing. In fact, Murray says the police are locked into attitudes whereas they are constantly suspicious of people, and they have a "hedonistic love of action" that is "diametrically opposite" to the appropriate characteristics of a "community police officer" (351). Hence, asking police (post-9/11) to use creativity and innovation in developing a rapport with neighborhoods -- and asking them to trust communities -- is wishful thinking (351).
In conclusion, mirroring what Klausen pointed out in the article about the difficulty when choosing a Muslim community group to work with, Jeffrey Pfeifer asserts that one of the most "detrimental elements of community policing programs" is the "inability of police…