Community- and problem-oriented policing have been touted by some as representing the biggest changes to policing implemented at the end of the 20th century (reviewed by Maguire and King, 2004). However, as Maguire and King point out, defining these policing innovations is not a straightforward task since there may be as many variations as there are police agencies. This essay will define and contrast these two policing strategies in an attempt to better understand how crime control strategies have changed.
Department of Justice's website devoted to community-oriented policing (COPs) defines community policing as having three components: community partnerships, organizational transformation, and problem solving (Community Oriented Policing Services, n.d.). Under this definition, community not only includes residents, but also other government agencies, groups, nonprofits, service providers, businesses, and the media. Proper implementation of community policing requires police organizational transformation that may impact every corner of the agency, from leadership to personnel training, selection, and assignments. The problem solving component of community policing is similar to problem-oriented policing, except that problems are identified in collaboration with the community and then a systematic approach is implemented, sometimes in collaboration with community members, in an effort to reduce or eliminate crime or disorder problems.
The above definition of 'community' may carry a significant risk of the police becoming more political as they form collaborations with the community (Moore, 1992). The police leadership may begin to pay more attention to the policing needs of the powerful at the expense of the more vulnerable segments of the community. The implementation of community policing may therefore increase the risk of corruption, racial and economic discrimination, and the prevalence of police brutality. The intense focus on police efficiency, according to Moore (1992), may even degrade due process protections for the accused. In other words, implementing community policing may increase the need for strong public oversight to protect civil rights.
An example of community policing occurred in August of 2007, in the Uptown neighborhood in Chicago (Rai, 2011). Approximately 25 residents began to 'loiter' on the sidewalk across from a U-Haul business, together with a young female police officer. The target of this community policing activity was seven African-American males who were trying to pick up a job as day laborers. From the perspective of the residents, this day labor market represented an eyesore and increased crime in the neighborhood. From the perspective of the day laborers, this was the only way they could make enough money to buy food for themselves and their families. This community policing strategy was called 'positive loitering', which implies the day laborers were negative loiterers or a negative influence on the neighborhood. This would be an example of the community identifying a disorder problem and then in collaboration with the police acting preemptively to eliminate the conditions they believed fostered criminal activity.
In contrast to the problem solving component of community policing, problem-oriented policing (POP) may or may not utilize community collaborations to solve a policing problem (Goldstein, 2001). The primary focus of problem-oriented policing is to bring to bear all resources envisioned to have the potential to reduce or eliminate a crime or disorder problem. In contrast to police patrols, which are necessarily concerned with all crime-related activity, police-oriented policing focuses on a specific problem that may be occurring at a specific location. Problem-oriented policing, like community policing, places a high value on strategies that are preventive, rather than reactive, in nature. Of all policing strategies, problem-oriented policing is probably the approach that has received the most empirical support (Clarke and Eck, 2005).
Since problem-oriented policing was first defined by Goldstein in 1979, others have broken the approach down into four component parts: scanning, analysis, response, and assessment (SARA) (reviewed by Telep and Weisburd, 2012). Scanning is the process by which the police look for and prioritize potential problems. This is followed by analysis, which the use of various data sources to determine a problem-specific solution. The police then respond by implementing the solution the formulated. Importantly, implementation is followed by assessing whether the intervention was successful or not. The wide variety of problems that the police may encounter is evident given the 60 distinct guides available from the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing.
Some of the problems that can arise when implementing a problem-oriented policing strategy include a lack of commitment by police leadership (reviewed by Telep and Weisburd, 2012). Another problem that may occur is setting unrealistic expectations, including giving officers too many assignments or expecting quick results. Officers may also fail to adequately perform the four steps.
An example of problem-oriented policing was implemented in Jacksonville, Florida in combination with a hot spot policing strategy (reviewed by Telep and Weisburd, 2012). Hot spot policing involves increasing the frequency of patrols in high crime areas to deter criminal activity and has been shown empirically to be effective. Hot spots are typically an intersection or a city block, rather than an entire neighborhood. The Jacksonville Police compared the efficacy of a traditional hot spot policing approach, involving saturation patrols, with a problem-oriented approach, which involved officers analyzing and tailoring their response to a specific hot spot. The only statistically significant decrease in crime occurred after the 90-day intervention period and only in the hot spots where a problem-oriented approach was applied. This result suggests that SARA is more effective as a policing strategy than hot spot policing alone, although it may take longer than expected to realize a significant improvement in criminal activity.
Obstacles to COP and POP Implementation
One of the primary obstacles to community policing implementation is the police agencies themselves. In 1993, the Chicago Police Department implemented community policing and within a few years had largely been forgotten (reviewed by Lombardo, Olson, and Staton, 2010). This failure was due in large part to a lack of training and the existence of opposition. The community policing program was reinvigorated by the police leadership in 1999, with each district received its own community policing manager. However, when Lombardo and colleagues interviewed police officers in 2009 they discovered that community policing was not the real focus of policing strategies in the Chicago Police Department. According to these officers, intelligence-led policing was where the department was really headed.
Community policing implementation depends on the cooperation and collaboration of the communities being policed; therefore community policing efforts would be accepted more readily in neighborhoods without a history of conflict with the police. This reality would tend to create a socioeconomic divide determining which neighborhoods will benefit the most from community policing efforts. The 'positive loitering' example given above took place in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, which has one of the lower crime rates in the city (Rai, 2011). The implementation of community policing strategies in these neighborhoods, for the purpose of displacing day laborers, tends to create the impression that community policing efforts are primarily an instrument of the economically advantaged. Widespread acceptance by the public is therefore another obstacle that community policing faces.
Police organizational intransigence is a common obstacle to implementation of community- and problem-oriented policing strategies. Aside from leadership, considerable resistance can come from middle managers, sergeants, detectives, officers on the beat, and police unions (Skogan, 2008). According to Wesley Skogan, CompStat represents one of the greatest obstacles to reforming policing methods because this software program tracks statistics that may have little to do with policing efficacy. CompStat tracks criminal activity, arrests, guns seized, and call responses, which forces officers and their superiors to focus on improving these statistics. What gets lost in this approach to tracking policing effectiveness, is the benefits incurred by establishing close ties to the community, formation of community partnerships to address crime problems, and improving community perceptions of the police as allies.
Community- and problem-oriented policing represent…