Policing is a concept that has existed for several years though the view of these professionals has remained the same ever since. Throughout the existence of this concept, police officers are generally expected to deal with several calls for service. Notably, most of the calls received by police officers are usually directly related to enforcement of the law. The other calls for service that account for a significant portion of police work include dealing with minor disturbances, administrative responsibilities, and service calls. While police officers are primarily required to deal with criminal issues, they have developed to become social handymen that are called to resolve social problems that are prevalent in the society. As a result of the shift in the nature of police work, the concept of community policing has emerged to help these officers deal with several issues in the modern society.
History and Evolution of Community Policing:
The shift towards community policing has attracted huge attention in the recent past because of the need for these officers and community leaders to develop and establish effective means for promoting public safety and enhancing the quality of life across the society. Actually, for police officers to accomplish their mission, they must have the confidence of the public since they rely on the public to assist them identify crime and conduct investigations (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2013, p.143). On the other hand, citizens expect the police to act fairly and effectively in ways that are consistent with the nation's values. While the public has influence on police work through calling them, the officers should develop and maintain effective communication with the public as they conduct their jobs.
The origin of community policing can be traced back to the history of policing itself and evolves based on several lessons taught by that history. Generally, this concept can be defined as collaboration between law enforcement officers and the community, which is geared towards identifying and solving community problems. Community policing started in late 1970s following the decline of the political era and reform era. This concept is also known as the problem-solving era that is characterized by close working relationships between the police and the community with increased attention to problem solving and quality of life.
This mode of policing was introduced to address the shortcomings of both the political era and reform era and enhance public safety. The political era was characterized by close links between the police and politics while the reform era was characterized by professional crime fighting initiatives, emphasis on regular patrol, instant response to calls for service, and criminal investigations. While the political era was marred with corruption and discrimination against minorities, the reform era was characterized by increased sophistication of policing.
Community policing ushered an era where the police became more focused on community concerns as law enforcement agencies and organizations became more decentralized. This concept was introduced to prevent and lessen crime, which had risen steadily, especially violent crime. Community policing initially evolved from the increasing isolation of law enforcement officers from the community and numerous complaints of police indifference and brutality, particularly in minority communities (Berlin & Peak, 2013). In essence, community policing has evolved to deal with the growing isolation between these officers and the community. The isolation was mainly fueled by focus on law enforcement personnel as crime control professionals and increased dependence on routine automotive patrol. In the past few years, this concept has emerged as an important part of policing initiatives. Actually, crime data shows that agencies committed to and practicing community policing for several years continue to experience huge decreases in criminal activities.
The evolution of community policing was based on innovation, diffusion, and institutionalization. Innovation was the first stage of community policing that was based on broken windows theory ie. dealing with public drunkenness, prostitution, public disorder, panhandling, and other crimes in urban life. As a result, community policing projects, experiments, and test sites that were carried out during this period focused on major urban segments and were mostly funded by grants and usually incorporated a single intervention. Diffusion was the next generation in the evolution of community policing during the 1980s and 1990s and was characterized by distribution of medium and large metropolitan police agencies across the country. Unlike innovation era, community policing initiatives during the diffusion era were not always funded by grants and involved several components like partnership efforts, foot patrol, problem solving, and specialized units (Berlin & Peak, 2013). The current era of community policing is institutionalization that started in mid-1990s and is characterized by the spread of police agencies in small towns and rural areas. This era also involves widespread policing efforts, multiple strategies, enhanced partnerships, and more attention to major crimes.
Community-based Crime Prevention and Patrol Activities:
As previously mentioned, the premise of community policing is community-based crime prevention based on close relationships between law enforcement personnel and the public. The modern society has been characterized by increase in crime, especially violent crimes that are usually linked to drug abuse. Due to the increase in crime, the quality of life across communities has deteriorated and worsened by violence and poverty. The past focus on enforcement and routine automotive patrol by police officers not only contributed to informal contacts between them and the public but also weakened this relationship. Law enforcement personnel also adopted aggressive patrol tactics in order to deal with the increasing crime and civil disobedience. However, these initiatives enhanced the likelihood of hostile confrontations between police officers and the public and generated numerous complaints.
The development of community policing has provided an avenue for community-based crime prevention through shifting the focus of patrol activities to non-emergency services. The recent community policing efforts have focused on making community members active participants in the problem solving process. Community members are increasingly involved in mobilizing resources and support for problem solving and improve their quality of life. The changing focus of patrol activities to non-emergency services incorporates enabling community members to state their concerns, provide advice, and take initiatives to deal with the concerns. Despite these efforts, the development of constructive partnership requires creativity, patience, energy, and understanding of all stakeholders ("Understanding Community Policing," n.d.).
Decentralizing Decision Making:
As previously mentioned, decentralization is one of the major elements of the evolution of community policing. Decentralization of decision making to include local residents of the community was fueled by the diffusion of policing into small, medium, and large metropolitan law enforcement organizations across the country. Decentralizing decision making in policing to include local residents of the community occurs through promoting citizen involvement in policing operations in various community policing initiatives.
Through the concept and practice of community policing, policy decisions usually incorporate opportunities for input from citizens. First, community policing has provided citizens with an opportunity to easy access police services through the diffusion of police agencies into local communities. Through community policing, law enforcement personnel identify with their respective area of assignment instead of a functional department or work shift. Based on the geographical areas assigned by commanders, individual police officers adopt an increasingly smaller geographical region and feel a sense of ownership of the adopted region. In addition to being familiar with major segments of the geographical area, these individual officers tend to become familiar with many people in the adopted area.
Secondly, the local residents of the community not only benefit from policing initiatives at the community level but also get a chance to participate in the decision making process to enhance public safety. The main way with which decision making is decentralized to include local residents of the community is through partnerships between the police and the community. In this case, law enforcement officers seek out comprehensive information regarding policing initiatives that occur in the area during their off-duty time. The detailed information provides insights to the police agency on the effectiveness of its initiatives and aid decision making. The opportunity for local community members to engage in decision making occurs through formal and informal mechanisms established by the police agency. Moreover, these residents are involved in decision making by providing constant review of police performance.
Police Accountability and Citizen Watch Groups:
One of the major reasons for the establishment of community policing is to make the police more accountable to the public by ensuring that policing initiatives focus on enhancing public safety and addressing some of the major challenges in the community. Police agencies and officers are made more accountable to the public through the involvement of the local residents in policy decisions and policing initiatives. Through community policing, the public plays a supervisory role in reviewing whether these officers undertake necessary measures to respond to call of service in the community. Therefore, policing initiatives and decisions are partly based on the input received from the public.
The other way through which the police are made more accountable to the public is through citizen watch groups that are helpful to law enforcement agencies and…