Friday, February 26, 2016

The problem with community policing

The problem with community policing as practiced in the United States is that too often it turns into community relations, rather than community engagement. Don't get me wrong: I like feel-good programs and initiatives that humanize police officers and highlight the work they do. Who doesn't break into a smile when they see the hashtag #copslovelemonadestands?

But citizen academies, bicycle rodeos, Facebook pages, storefronts, foot patrols, Segways, ice cream socials, and so forth do not constitute community policing, unless community engagement is at the core. It's fine to burnish the image, it's good to create relationships, it's important to make the police approachable. It is more important, though, to involve citizens in the most significant decisions about how the community is to be policed.

This news story from the Lincoln Journal Star is a good example of what community engagement means. Faced with an issue (growing numbers of chronic, repeat suspended drivers) LPD assembled a task force that included not just law enforcement personnel, but also ordinary citizens, to consider what, if anything, the police department could and should do. The result was some significant changes in policy and practice. Involving the public in decisions like this needs to happen more often in U.S. police departments.

There are many other examples of community engagement: citizens involved in conducting training for police officers; citizens participating in the selection process for police officers; citizen involvement in promotional processes; citizens working as volunteers; citizens participating side-by-side with police personnel in developing the strategic plan, the language access plan, and the gang strategy; citizen police review processes; citizen involvement in problem-oriented projects.

I could go on, but the point is this: getting the public deeply involved in key decisions and the work of the police is where the action should be. This is what truly builds respect, trust, collaboration, accountability, and a shared sense of responsibility for the safety and security of the community.


Anonymous said...

Why do you need a committee to just follow state law? If LPD would have just mirrored state law instead of hugging the offenders then Lincoln might not have a repeat DUS problem. Hopefully tides are turning and citizens are getting sick of law breakers getting a "break" all the time. You don't need a committee to figure that one out. Community based policing is great but so is common sense.

Kurt Smith said...

Community Policing without fully engaging stakeholders in an effective problem-solving process that achieves results often devolves into public relations - whereby doubt and distrust creep in and fester. Committees and other ways of engaging are crucial - that's the mechanism that allows police to enforce laws as a component of broader action that gets at the heart of problem itself. Just because there's and enforcement component to a problem doesn't mean the police own the whole thing - or should even be leading the effort. Convene, empower, act, repeat.