Community policing refers to a system whereby the community is actively involved in maintenance of the area security. This system relies on the goodwill of the community members to feed the police or any other relevant authority with information regarding crime or other kinds of antisocial behavior, and the authority takes the necessary legal steps to ensure the community’s peace and security (Harrington, 1981). According to the agreement between the community and the authorities, the community may also be allowed to take the necessary action against criminals in order to discourage criminals from executing their immoral acts.
There are various reasons as to why a society may opt to use community policing as a means to enhance security. This method of peace and security observation is considered to have many benefits to the police or authority, the community as whole and mutual benefits to both the police and the society (Harrington, 1981).
Some of these benefits include:
- There is increased positive attitude towards the police- the community relates well with the police as they are relied upon to provide information to them. The officers in turn treat the members of the public with appropriate decency and respect, and there is mutual trust between the two groups. In case of a misunderstanding, the officers approach the involved individual or the collective community in order to solve the problem together and establish justice (Harrington, 1981).
- Community policing reduces the fear of crime- it ensures the community members that security is intact almost always, as long as there is a person in sight. It also instills fear in criminals because they are aware that someone is watching almost all the time. This keeps the society in a general state of peace and assurance of security, which is crucial for the economic development of an area.
- It provides a stronger, safer and friendlier community to live in- the active involvement of the community in resolving neighborhood problems develops a sense of unity and partnership between the two groups (More, 1992). This results in a safer and friendlier environment where all the members feel secure and protected.
- It provides a better understanding of police capabilities and limitations- contrary to the usual practice whereby the community bases the performance of the police from common scenes in movies, without bearing in mind the challenges they have to face in real life. By practically involving the community in the police work, they are in a better position to understand the capabilities and limitations of the police department (Goldstein, 1990).
- The system allows the officers to familiarize with more people – the working conditions of the community based policing allows the officers to interact with the people at a personal level. This enables the officers to distinguish the trustworthy individuals from the criminals who use the system as a disguise for their deeds.
- Community policing creates a good investment environment, where businesses can thrive without many challenges. A secure area attracts investors because they are not scared of threats like theft, intentional fires and related crimes. Investments improve the economic status of a community and magnify the employment opportunities for the society members.
However, community policing has not been completely welcome in some communities. The police as well the community have their justifications of viewing the system as a failure (Goldstein, 1990). In a general view, the police are seen as social workers rather than performing their legally identified work of crime prevention. Instead of arresting criminals for further justice procedures to be carried out in the court system, the police are forced to use an unfamiliar approach to combat crime. The officers may be executing punishments or penalties that are either too lenient or too harsh to the civilians. When the punishment is too lenient, the criminals are encouraged to continue with their work; after all, they will go through the punishment and continue with their normal life. This does not please the community and may lead to mass action or riots.
The majority of low income populations are often involved in non-law abiding activities. Usually, they will be reluctant to opening up to the police officers since they consider this as an act of betrayal to their comrades and friends (More, 1992). Individuals who are very social to the police are considered as traitors and do not receive good treatment from the rest of the society. This acts as a setback to the whole process of community policing.
Another challenge with community policing is that problem solving is not done professionally. It is limited to the imagination and creativity of the parties involved (Skolnick and David, 1986). The professionals like magistrates and judges who are formally trained to handle these issues are not given the chance to exercise their skills. This may at times lead to abuse of justice and violation of human rights.
Private security could be a better means of providing proper community policing. The private guards are more like the police officers since they undergo similar training. They therefore apply their skills professionally in performing their duties and can be more reliable to the police administration than the normal civilians (Goldstein, 1990). In addition, they have sufficient information regarding a particular area and its inhabitants since they are usually located in the same vicinity for quite a long period of time, and they can assist the police in investigations of crime around their area of work.
They also prevent criminals from freely performing their antisocial duties by their presence in the locality. It is not easy for criminals to target an area which is popularly known to be totally secured. The gangs also try to locate their dens as far as possible from these guarded points. Private security can work hand in hand with the police departments to eradicate crime; by allocating them specific areas where they are supposed to guard in addition to their regular fixed points of duty.
In order to fight crime more professionally, private security has often been assigned to suspected high level criminals, but with an investigative mission. They befriend the suspect and remain very obedient to them throughout their course of duty. They monitor the suspect’s moves and feed the appropriate police departments with the required information, which is then used against them in courts of law (Johnson, 1986). This has been very effective in establishing the criminal dens and disclosing their long hidden activities.
Though critics have regularly said that the private security may at times collaborate with the criminals, they have proved to be very helpful in solving some crime related problems. They are close to both the people and the police and they can therefore interact with both parties to give impressive results.
There are limitations within the law that hinder the perpetuation of community policing in America. There has been a debate on whether community policing should be incorporated in the national security team, but judging from previous attempts in history, it has been forecasted not to work well with modern criminal activities (Geller, 1991). Modern police departments have also ruled out the possibility of incorporating community policing as a constituent arm of maintaining security to the American civilians. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has also exhibited brilliant levels of intelligence in managing crime and upholding security. These are some of the factors that have made it difficult to incorporate community policing in the modern American forces; otherwise it would be considered so last century.
The increasing sensitivity on humanitarian issues has also deterred the possibility of success in community policing. The human rights watchdogs are always on the look out to ensure that there is no abuse of human rights, and they maintain that every suspect is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. This is contrary to the common belief in community policing whereby the disciplinary action is applied to the suspect on the spot (Skolnick and David, 1986). This has instilled fear among the society members such that they cannot handle any criminal case without informing the police, for fear that they will be in trouble with the authorities afterwards. Furthermore, some punishments with the community policing approach include capital punishment, which may land the civilians in cases of manslaughter or murder.
President Bill Clinton and John Fitzgerald Kennedy area two prominent individuals known to have introduced new rules regarding the issue of community policing. They were proponents of a socially friendly society, where the government was supposed to work hand in hand with the people, without oppression or inhuman treatment (Geller, 1991). They imposed measures that would ensure that the civilians were actively involved in security enhancement; but not overlooking the importance of independent professional police departments that would be charged with the overall observation of national security.
However, their policies did not work for long. In the case of Kennedy, he was assassinated at the peak of his career, so he did not have enough time to implement the planned strategies. The steps he had made were forgotten soon after his death. Clinton did not lay a firm foundation for his principles in community policing, so they were not followed after his presidential term was over (Johnson, 1986).
Community policing is a very useful way of ensuring security within a population. It is important in maintaining peace especially in war torn countries as everybody is regarded as their neighbor’s keeper and every individual is actively involved in ensuring justice in the community, in collaboration with the relevant authorities. Necessary measures should always be taken to ensure the proper communication line is maintained between the law keepers and the general public.
Geller, W. A. (1991). Local government police management. Washington, D.C.: International City Management Association.
Goldstein, H. (1990) Problem-oriented policing. New York: McGraw Hill, Inc.
Harrington, M. (1981). The other America: Poverty in the United States. New York: Macmillan.
Johnson, J. (1986). Police officers A to Z. New York: Walker.
More, H. W. (1992). Special Topics in Policing. Cincinnati, Ohio: Anderson Publishing Company.
Skolnick, J. H., & David H. B. (1986). New blue line: Police innovation in six American cities. New York: Free Press.