Defining Community-Oriented Policing

Community-oriented policing (also known as community policing or CP) is an omnibus term. It can stand for (1) a contrast to rapid response, enforcement-oriented policing, involving long-term beat assignment so police are closer to the community; (2) a process by which crime control is shared with the public, as in Neighborhood Watch programs; or (3) a means of developing communication with the public and interest groups, for example, consultation meetings (Weatheritt 1983). CP has an enduring appeal to the public and is found in many jurisdictions in the English-speaking world and elsewhere. The term evokes images of police-community relations in stable, consensus-based, and homogenous neighborhoods where crime is occasional and disorder largely consists of petty vandalism. This idealized view is one where police define, and strive to enact, a posited common good.

Early initiatives emerged in the United States and United Kingdom in the 1970s (Trojanowicz and Moore 1988). Initially CP represented short-term tactics to repair police-minority relations and was regarded by many as a cosmetic exercise masking reluctance to change unsuccessful established law enforcement methods (Bucqueroux 1988). Contemporary efforts, such as the reassurance policing initiative in the United Kingdom and a brace of programs funded by the Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) of the U.S. Department of Justice, have addressed fundamental change in the organization and delivery of policing services and have extended CP’s scope from police-minority relations to policing in relation to the general community. COPS (2004) defines CP as ”a policing philosophy that promotes and supports organizational strategies to address the causes and reduce the fear of crime and social disorder through problem-solving tactics and police-community partnerships.” The seminal U.K. statement was made by a chief constable; CP would exist in its purest form where all elements in the community, official and unofficial, would conceive of the common good and combine to produce a social climate and an environment conducive to good order and the happiness of all those living within it (Alderson 1978, 9). At officer level, the CP role emphasizes public contact and reassurance along with deterrence, prevention, intelligence gathering, and reducing fear ofcrime (Bennett 1994).

COPS was founded in 1994 and provides resources and grants promoting CP, dispensing some $635 million in 2003. Between 1994 and 2003, its total investment was $10.6 billion. Much of the budget goes toward funding more police posts (more than 118,500 at the end of 2003). COPS also provides technologies that enhance the police-community interface and funds CP initiatives for tribal lands. Some 64% of U.S. law enforcement agencies, serving 86% of the population, currently have some engagement in CP. In the United Kingdom, CP initiatives are funded by a range of central and force-specific programs, and all U.K. police forces are engaged in CP. In England and Wales the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998 created a statutory requirement for police-community partnerships and mandated community consultation. The principal force-level programs are Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships, which bring together police and other local agencies from the public sector (for example, health service, probation service), private sector (via business forums), and voluntary sector.

Community-oriented policing takes a number of forms and incorporates a range of initiatives. At the organizational level, CP emphasizes the desirability of adopting an organization-wide CP ethos, decentralized decision making, locale-based accountability, and the involvement of volunteers as auxiliaries. It pursues proactive tactics oriented to crime prevention and a problem-solving approach. It encourages interagency partnerships and public involvement. This diffuse character makes a tidy evaluation of its effects and impact elusive. Rather than think in terms of a uniform, generic entity, research-based evaluations have focused on specific initiatives and programs, although beat-level engagement is a key feature in many.

Effects and Impacts: Overview

Research on CP is both voluminous and dominated by policy-oriented evaluation research. Evaluations must be mindful of whether a given CP initiative aims to increase arrests (for example, by more effective information gathering as a result of regular and forthcoming contact with citizens), prevent opportunities for crime (for example, by providing target-hardening advice), or manage reported crime rates (Manning 2001). Evaluations also have to take into account displacement.

A major interest has been to examine the role of police managers, frontline officers, and community residents as factors in the success of CP initiatives. These strands of research have established a myriad of organizational, operational, and officer-level factors that may facilitate or hinder CP. Research suggests that successful CP heavily depends on frontline officer commitment and motivation, which is itself reliant on managerial support (see Bayley and Rosenbaum 1994; Lurigio and Skogan 1994).

Another strand of research is field studies of CP in practice, evaluating the efforts to get close to the community to garner information and respond to community needs. One such study found that what police did was to develop a neighborhood consensus among both the ”good” citizens and the troublemakers about appropriate behavior that became self-enforcing over time (Kelling 1998, 4). In a U.K. context, Fielding (1995) documented a police division where CP had achieved a tangible impact on crime detection and identified the close effect that enhanced autonomy, discretion, senior officer support, and protection from redeployment to non-CP duties had on effective CP. This line of research suggests that to bring about CP, frontline officers need to be granted more discretion and authority, with more backing from command, and the best safeguard against abuse is their relationship with the community.

However, evaluation research on the impact of increased police patrol is pessimistic. Sherman (1992) examined the effects of increased, directed patrol on levels of reported ”hard” (predatory) crime and ”soft” crime and disorder at 110 crime ”hotspots.” A 250% increase in directed patrol had only a modest deterrent effect on robbery calls and no significant impact on ”hard” crime calls generally. However, when the much larger number of ”soft” crime calls were added, a 13% reduction in total calls for service was observed. Enhanced, visible police presence appears to have little impact on crime but a tangible impact on disorder. Moreover, Bennett (1991) found in the United Kingdom that a scheme involving the police seeking more direct contact with citizens had little effect on crime or reporting rates but did substantially improve public satisfaction with police.

CP draws on conceptual foundations including design for secure built environments (Otto Newman’s ”defensible space”); the impact on public fear and confidence of signs of physical dereliction (George Kelling’s ”broken windows” hypothesis); and the need to configure the police organization and services to reflect public demand rather than internal organizational imperatives (Herman Goldstein’s ”problem-oriented policing”). These conceptual roots help to draw together what may otherwise seem a panoply of unrelated initiatives. Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux (1989) reported CP interventions against drug dealing involving posting officers outside known dealing premises or doing routine paperwork in front of them. CP initiatives have seen housing code violations used more aggressively and the instruction of landlords on screening prospective tenants and adding instant eviction clauses to leases in response to drug taking (McLanus 1990, 6-7). In the United Kingdom, partnership work between police, local government, and environmental authorities in red light districts of London led to increased convictions and a two-thirds reduction in drug dealing (Guardian February 16, 1994), and a campaign by police, schools, and community forums against street robbery, including the designation of safe routes through high-crime locations and a ”crime shop” offering preventive advice on a high-crime estate, saw a 38% decrease in robbery (Guardian April 4, 1994). These interventions suggest that CP can impact on serious crime and social problems in difficult environments. However, in these examples the interventions were by the police, with a subsidiary role for partner agencies. The evidence is that more active citizen involvement is hard to achieve. CP initiatives also often involve teamwork across ranks and functions, challenging established organizational practices.

Effects and Impacts: Crime, Disorder, and Social Cohesion

One of the most sustained CP initiatives is Chicago’s CAPS (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) program. It emphasized integrating city services—police, housing, social services—and involving residents in efforts against disorder and crime. As it developed, the policing element of the police/city services/civilian trio actually delivered least well, while it would be fair to speak in terms of a transformation of city services and of real improvement in civilian involvement.

City workers and police led problem-solving training sessions for the public, in which tens of thousands of residents participated. Beat officers were required to participate in community meetings to ensure community input when setting their priorities. Between 1995 and 1997 most patrol officers and thousands of civilians were taught to analyze how offenders and victims coincide at particular locations to create crime/disorder hotspots. CP expands the police mandate: Citizens raised social disorder problems dominated by unlawful activities police had customarily not prioritized—graffiti, public drinking, vandalism, truancy—and activities on the fringe of legality—loitering, begging, noisy domestic discord. Police found themselves involved in neighborhood cleanups by inventorying dilapidated structures and tracing the owners. Police accompanied residents at prayer vigils where drug-related shootings had occurred, guarded barbecue ”smoke-outs” on drug-selling corners, and noted broken streetlights and trees that needed trimming. The police department had to change its dispatch system to protect beat cars for beat calls. The proportion of calls to beat officers that involved their own beat rose to an average of 75%.

After two years of CAPS, about a third of residents had attended a beat community meeting and three-quarters of these reported that actions were taken or that they noticed a change in their neighborhood as a result of the meetings. Those reporting police doing a good job increased with participation in CAPS programs. Those who were better off and homeowners were most likely to participate in the training on problem diagnosis. Some 65% of participants were already involved in community groups—they were ”joiners.” The beat meetings chiefly provided information to police on the basis that it was for them to act. Residents proved most active and successful in tackling troublesome or abandoned buildings. They contacted landlords, worked with city legal departments to evict problem tenants or secure demolition of abandoned buildings, and put addresses on the backs of buildings so officers in alleys could specify their location. A key instrument was a one-page city service request form that covered all service requests and was available online or from police and community organizations. Thus, interventions focused on the physical environment rather than direct interventions against ”problem people,” seen as a police responsibility.

Problem measures declined about 7% over the period from inception to 1999, with a 10% fall (to 45%) in residents reporting gang violence problems. The property and street crime index fell (from 40% to 31%), the largest decline being reports of problems with robbery and assault on the street. Burglary, car theft, and car vandalism declined by 8%. The physical decay index fell 6%. These are not spectacular improvements but disproportionately registered with those most in need, particularly African Americans. There was a modest increase in perceived neighborhood safety. From 1994 onward there were sustained if unspectacular decreases in fear of crime. Feeling safe outdoors while alone after dark increased nearly 10%. Reports that nearby areas were safe increased from 45% to 56%.

Before CAPS, fewer than 40% of Chicagoans had an optimistic view of police responsiveness to community concerns. Under CAPS, perceptions of police responsiveness to community concerns improved steadily (the index rose 20%). Those who thought police were doing a good job working with residents to solve problems rose 20% (to 59%). Chicagoans rating police as doing their job well rose from 36% to 50%. Reports that police were doing a good job assisting crime victims rose 20% (to 57%). Highest marks were given for keeping order: Positive scores hit 66% by 1999, from 56% in 1993.

The gains seen under CAPS do not imply that CP’s focus on social disorder will directly impact on serious crime (the ”broken windows” hypothesis). Wilson and Kelling (1982) argued that disorder—even if relatively minor—attracts predatory crime because potential offenders assume that residents do not care what happens in their neighborhood. Both physical and social disorder are seen as environmental cues that entice potential predators (Greenberg and Rohe 1986; Skogan 1990). Sampson and Raudenbush (1999) offer a dissenting assessment, in which the relationship between public disorder and crime proves to be spurious, except for robbery. Their alternative hypothesis is that disorder and crime have similar causes and that social cohesion reduces disorder and crime by disabling the forces that produce them.

Sampson and Raudenbush (1999) found that disorder is a moderate correlate of predatory crime but varies consistently with antecedent neighborhood characteristics. Once these characteristics are taken into account, the connection between disorder and crime vanishes in four out of five tests, including the best indicator of violence, homicide. Eradicating disorder may indirectly reduce crime by stabilizing neighborhoods, but a direct link to crime is absent. Sampson and Raudenbush found that neighborhoods high in disorder do not have higher crime rates than neighborhoods low in disorder once collective efficacy and structural antecedents are held constant. That it would be fanciful to expect CP interventions against social disorder to yield significant returns against serious crime is further evidenced by CAPS, which was premised on the link between social disorder and serious crime. During the 1990s, serious crime declined in American cities, including Chicago. In the ten cities with a population of more than one million (excluding New York, where the decline was atypically large), robbery declined 45%, auto theft 39%, and murder 46%. In Chicago the rates of decline were 47%, 38%, and 23%, respectively. CAPS appeared to have had little impact on serious crime, and indeed Chicago closed the decade with a higher homicide rate than New York, a city with 60% more residents.

The message should not end with skepticism about CP’s impact on serious crime. Community-oriented policing can bring benefits of social integration, responsiveness of city services to residents’ needs, and improved handling of urban decay. While the best research tells us that working against social disorder does not affect serious crime rates, it also tells us that working against social disorder impacts positively on public reassurance.

Evaluating Community-Oriented Policing

Empirical research into the effects of CP is abundant, but largely program specific. Our understanding of community policing could gain from more investment in conceptualizing the findings from the field’s rich tradition of empirical research. A systematic attempt to assess the overall effects and impacts of community-oriented policing, as opposed to evaluating specific initiatives, would require attention to the macro, mezzo, and micro levels of CP as a system of service delivery (Fielding 2002). The policy maker and police manager looking to CP to address crime and disorder problems has a wealth of studies to guide decisions and investment. If one finding rises above the rest from the evaluative effort that has gone into CP, it is that program integrity, and the commitment of the organization and its officers, are vital for success.

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