From all neighborhoods the answers were the same, that when police, residents and merchants worked together, crime was reduced. It was also recognized that there was room for improvement in Seattle's community policing efforts. First, it was stated that the citizens of Seattle must become more involved in crime-fighting activities, for it is insufficient for only a handful of residents in neighborhoods across the city to identify projects for the community and its police force to tackle. Instead, people from racially, ethnically, ideologically, and economically diverse backgrounds must get involved in community policing projects. Second, it was noted that Seattle's political leadership must demonstrate support for community policing. Anything less undermines the public's already-damaged confidence. When citizens are discouraged from working with police officers, the department loses its most valuable asset, the community it serves. Finally, it is stated that the department must fully embrace community policing (Community policing works if all take part, 2000).
Such events as the Rodney King incident in 1991 and the Los Angeles riots in 1992 focused worldwide attention on the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and called into question the department's training and leadership. The Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department (also known as the Christopher Commission) stated,
Sergeants, lieutenants, and captains are expected to be leaders as well as administrators and should therefore receive formal leadership training... (Christopher & Arguelles, 1991, p. 134).
One year later, an independent analysis of the Los Angeles riots stated,
The chief of police [should] make it a high priority to improve the training, experience and leadership skills of the command staff level of the department (Webster & Williams, 1992, pp. 182-183).
Community policing was introduced in the city to try to change these perceptions. The Los Angeles Police Department has long had a more paramilitary image, and its community policing program carried this through in the same manner as Police Commissioner Jesse A. Brewer, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, decided in 1992 to turn to the most effective leadership training institution he knew, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. The U.S. Military Academy is an institution of higher learning and delivers a solid education in psychology, sociology, and the behavioral sciences and seeks to instill the values of duty, honor, and country:
West Point graduates know how to motivate soldiers to overcome malaise, build cohesion, and train constantly to achieve excellence. They receive the skills training needed to make decisions, manage human emotions, and achieve results. Similarly, today's police leaders must be well educated so they can wield the challenging concepts and strategies of community policing, empowerment, problem solving, strategic planning, and joint decision making (Dinse & Sheehan, 1998, p. 19).
The curriculum of West Point was modified and officially became known as the West Point Leadership and Command Program (WPLCP). As applied in Los Angeles, it now involves an intensive fifteen-week training program (Dinse & Sheehan, 1998, pp. 19-20). The program is geared to developing a leadership structure capable of solving problems in new ways, including a recognition that there is a need for developing new interactions and means of cooperation between the police and the community.
The general view of community policing, or the Community Oriented Police (COP) program, such as that in Pittsburgh, requires special training for police officers and management personnel both. In Pittsburgh, the program actually affects only a percentage of the total police department. In this case, it involves the creation of mini-stations in different neighborhoods and the involvement of different elements of the community.
Community policing involves creating partnerships with local government, police, schools, and community groups for the prevention of crime. Even where there is a COP structure in place, agency administrators rarely meet with community residents to identify common goals or to develop strategies. Another problem cited by some departments is the need to approach unfriendly or distrustful community groups to join in the decision-making process. What seems clear is that forming lasting relationships among key government leaders, police departments, and community groups across the country should have a serious effect on public safety issues. Fishbein (1998) notes that the community represents a major, often-untapped crime prevention resource and that residents can provide an essential information base greater than that of police departments alone. For their part, the police may act as catalysts to direct the necessary resources toward specific, community-identified public safety problems. In this way, police work becomes comprehensive, problem solving, and proactive (Fishbein, 1998, p. 1).
Fishbein (1998) further discusses the way a community policing program can be developed based on the idea of community engagement. First, police administrators must accept and support the idea that community members have a potential role in police activities. To do this, it may be necessary to redesign department infrastructures, training systems, evaluation methods, and strategic planning activities to include community input. Other steps to be followed are to solicit community opinions, build trust, foster relationships, participate in community groups, and develop programs that allow citizens to assist actively in policing responsibilities.
Fishbein (1998) then notes that once the infrastructure is ready to support community involvement, the police department must identify those community organizations that reflect the varied interests and concerns in the jurisdiction. This process begins with acquiring a list of registered organizations and groups from a state or local corporations commission, city hall, or the courthouse. The next step is to obtain a complete description of the community from official records, including such information as racial composition; children living below the poverty level; the homeless, elderly, and gay populations; gang membership; public housing residents; and other relevant features of the region. Matching this information with the list of organizations produces the names of groups representing the community and including a complete range of interests.
The department next conducts a needs assessment to identify the most pressing problems in the community. This should also reveal the perceived obstacles and tensions found in that community and the proposed resolutions and strategies to be applied. The assessment should include input from the groups selected, the department staff, the mayor, school administrators, youth leaders, and other community leaders and members of the public. The assessment will also include an inventory of community strengths to be used. Beneficial factors may include extended family situations, availability of apprentice-type jobs, social cohesion, stability in housing arrangements, or the presence of strong neighborhood groups. Fishbein (1998) notes,
This prevention framework, or asset-based strategy, defines both risk and protective factors in a target area in order to direct the problem-solving capacities of relevant players. This way, officers do not start from scratch; they can tap into existing resources, no matter how high risk the neighborhood appears. Through this assessment, police and other agencies become intimately familiar with the community. They have the knowledge at hand to engage community leaders and solve prevailing public safety problems (Fishbein, 1998, pp. 3-5).
The programs in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh both come under the heading of Community Policing, but they differ in structure precisely because these are very different communities. The approach taken in Pittsburgh fits with a city where the beat cop continues to be of great importance, while in Los Angeles, the police do their jobs largely from a two-man police car. Los Angeles is simply a much larger city in terms of area, with more varied terrain and more spread-out neighborhoods than can be found in Pittsburgh. The mini-station approach fits with the type of neighborhoods found in Pittsburgh but would put too great a strain on the police force in Los Angeles, which is already at a lower officer-per-capita figure than other large cities in the nation. Both approaches are based on bringing the police and the community closer together around the process of eliminating crime and controlling for neighborhood threats. Los Angeles and Pittsburgh both have gang problems which necessitate giving particular attention to certain neighborhoods, offering all the assistance needed to the law-abiding element in the community. The practice of abandoning such neighborhoods to avoid problems simply will not serve and has been denied in both cities. For both cities, a racial element is part of the process, necessitating particular care to avoid making the police seem to be an invading army while also making a police presence clear. The systems implemented are likely to serve until another major conflict erupts and brings pressure for new changes.
Christopher, W. & Arguelles, J. (1991, July 9). Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department.
Cohen H.S. & Feldberg, M. (1991). Power and restraint: The Moral dimension of police work. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.
Community policing works if all take part (2000, February 19). Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Delattre, E.J. (1989). Character and cops: Ethics in policing. Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
Dinse, C.F. & Sheehan, K. (1998, January 1). Competence and character: Developing leaders in the LAPD. The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 67, 18-23.