Challenges of community oriented policing implementation
Myths and facts
The aim of these considerations is to help local communities in building civic society structures and forming social awareness in reinforcing local security. In order to point at the most important challenges for those who want to implement community-oriented policing (COP) in the local community, we have chosen the method of posing simple questions, heard from practitioners or formulated in course of research throughout the world. We attempt to tailor the answers to these questions to the realities of the Balkan states where we have been doing our research. Even though COP implementation requires a reform of ALL the police in the country, our analysis is limited exclusively to the level of local communities (village, community, town district, etc.) However, adapting our instructions to the unrepeatable, specific conditions of a particular community lies with the local leader (local leaders). On this website, they may find also some additional information, e.g. on how to make use of good practices that have proved useful in other locations, or on how to act if some specific issues occur in a given community.
Community-oriented policing may be defined in various ways. The consequence of this notorious indefiniteness for the practitioner is, above all, the difficulty in determining in what a proper realization of this strategy consists. This trouble is illustrated in the following statements:
- “[community policing] has been a frustrating blend of hype, good intentions and some few best practices. (…) The academic literature embraced an advocacy of COP in the name of reform, prevention, and democratization. Consequently, while criticisms and reservations are to be found, the literature is replete with uncritical exhortations, general conceptual outlines, and scant evaluation” (Forcese 2006: 315).
- “(…) community policing can be transformed chameleon like into whatever its practitioners want it to be” (Ellison and Pino 2012: 71).
- “The way in which the concept of community policing emerged during the 1980s often portrayed it as the part of a relatively polarised debate that contrasted a good thing — a police responding to and embedded in the community — with a bad thing (robocop under central direction)” (Emsley 2007: 236).
The debate on examples of an efficient realization of community-oriented policing resembles that on yeti, about whom everyone has heard but whom no one has ever seen.
If, in spite of such critical opinions, we accept community policing, another challenge arises. Agreement as to the understanding of this strategy ends usually at the stage of general declarations and basic arguments for why community policing is good. There are some critical works on COP implementation acclaimed by the few people who have the courage to publically admit that they do not support this strategy. The adversaries of COP can be divided into three categories:
As announced before, the following considerations are a form of a dialogue with those who doubt in the need of COP implementation. This dialogue consists in posing simple, common-sense questions, yet very important for COP implementation, and trying to answer them as a supporter of this concept. Apart from numerous conversations with people who apply this strategy and research results, the inspiration for the presented arguments was the critical work by Mike Brogden and Preeti Nijhar (2005).
What is community-oriented policing?
The large number of answers in literature on what community-oriented policing (COP), community-based policing (CBP), or community policing (CP) are is the first obstacle in taking actions. Having typed any of these entries into an Internet browser, we are sure to get an avalanche of answers. Let us assume at the beginning that, in spite of different suggestions formulated in literature, we will decide to consider COP, CBP and CP synonyms and use mostly the term ‘community-oriented policing’.
If we assume that community-oriented policing is a policing philosophy, the odds of finding its universal characteristics are high, as we are searching for the ‘spirit’ of this strategy, or its general values and aims. The basic idea of COP consists in a systematic cooperation of the police with the local community in order to commonly solve problems (problem-solving approach) connected to providing security and order and to enhance the local people’s sense of security. The final aim of COP implementation is to improve the community members’ quality of life.
On one hand, any reader throughout the world would most probably agree with this general characteristic of COP. On the other hand, it may seem disappointing, as it consists only in complex and unclear notions that do not bring us any closer to the answers to these questions:
- What should be done specifically?
- Why should these actions be undertaken?
- In what kind of communities?
- What difficulties should be expected?
In the further considerations, we will assume the definition put forward by the Community Oriented Police Services (COPs Office of US Department of Justice). We assume then that COP embraces three interconnected elements:
“ Community Partnerships: Collaborative partnerships between the law enforcement agency and the individuals and organizations they serve to develop solutions to problems and increase trust in police.
 Organisational transformation: The alignment of organizational management, structure, personnel, and information systems to support community partnerships and proactive problem solving.
 Problem solving: The process of engaging in the proactive and systematic examination of identified problems to develop and evaluate effective responses.” (COPs 2014: 1)
Why introduce COP as a new strategy that serves the cooperation of the police with people if all this has been done before?
COP means a close cooperation of the police with the members of the local community. Any police officer knows that cooperation is useful because people are a valuable source of information. Information coming from the people helps increase crime detection rate which is usually the basic criterion for the assessment of the police’s efficiency. The problem is that, in this case, ‘cooperation’ is limited to only one of its forms – reporting to the police. Indeed, this form of cooperation between the police and the society has always existed and even the most traditionally thinking police officer would agree that it is necessary to ‘cooperate systematically,’ after which he would add ‘leave the rest to us.’
In that case, COP is a method of acquiring information in which the community is a valuable resource for the police. The adversaries of COP add that, in face of some new threats, terrorism in particular, COP in another broader understanding is simply helpless. Cooperation of the police with local communities – with the support of modern means of communication – should be used to identify terrorists and extremists and for early attack prevention, as we are all a resource for anti-terrorist actions. It is often ignored that the citizens are interested rather in the police being more accountable and in themselves having more control over the ways in which it exercises its power. In limiting cooperation to informing, oftentimes the realization of COP is only ‘symbolic’ – calls for a new responsibility, proactive actions, democratization of the police, etc.; it is then only an expression of some ‘policing fashion,’ it apparently only meets the requirements of some ‘significant others’ (e.g. donors, international community, authorities) or is a sort of an alibi for the police officers who are held to account for their actions by their superiors.
COP implementation should not be limited to making use of the citizens as a source of information. It should consist in an active co-participation of the local communities in providing security. The basis for the partnership between the police and the citizens should be a sort of a social agreement that determines the duties and rights of both parties. To fulfil this goal it is necessary to determine:
- In what organizational forms will this partnership be realized?
- How can the citizens be mobilized to participate?
- How can the police officers’ attitudes be changed so that they no longer perceive themselves as a force providing security to the citizens and start to understand and accept their role as a service to the society?
Once we have overcome these difficulties, we come across another serious challenge – in general, we expect too much from the partners, that is from the local community and the police officers.
Partners: What kind of community? What kind of the police?
What kind of community?
Community policing is perceived as a mechanism that serves the (re)construction of the relations between the local community and the police to facilitate building more peaceful societies. In reality, the abilities and interests of the citizens in undertaking common actions for the sake of security, their trust to the police and the abilities of particular actors to communicate are usually overestimated.
In Brogden’s and Nijhara’s work, these challenges (shortcomings) are expressed in as many as five out of the nine myths concerning COP that they discuss (2005: 46–83). The most important ones are:
- “The myth of community”: The basis for COP is an organic community that can be efficiently mobilized to a common work with the police in order to prevent crimes and solve problems.
- “The myth of the universal relevance of community policing”: COP is a strategy flexible enough to use it in diverse communities, regardless of their social features.
- “The myth of public support for COP”: The conviction that local studies (surveys etc.) prove social support for the goals and methods of COP.
Some general doubts as to whether the society expects this kind of care from the police, as it results from COP’s basic assumption, may also be expressed.
From the objections formulated above, it stems that, for COP implementation, it is necessary not only to reform the police but also to take actions in the local communities in order to overcome the citizens’ fears and reinforce their trust in the police. Making people aware of their rights before the police and police officers, and convincing them that they can exercise these rights successfully may be the first step towards social activation of the citizens. Initiative in realizing COP does not necessarily have to come from the police. It is also the community that can give momentum to cooperation. However, in that case, we have to keep in mind at least two threats:
- the difficulty in making the citizens aware that they are the ‘contractors’ and the police performs the function of a ‘service-provider;’
- the risk that in an internally diverse local community it will be difficult to settle common needs of the citizens and avoid the domination of stronger groups (in various understandings of this term) in the course of their formulation.
What kind of the police?
From the general rules of the COP strategy we can draw some basic features that are supposed to characterize the police. The police should be:
- open and identifiable;
- visible and accessible;
- efficient and effective;
- consultative and participative;
The police officers responsible for the contacts with the citizens should be those who have worked in a given area for a long time and are constantly present, visible and accessible there. They should take care of regular and direct contacts with the citizens. In this way, the police officer becomes a sort of a local ‘ombudsman’ who helps in the contacts with other public and private institutions.
The critics believe that in COP the police officer is treated as a ‘uniformed social worker,’ and the police becomes ‘soft’ towards crime and has limited possibilities of fighting serious crimes. This charge stems from a fundamental doubt: can the role of a police officer as a care-taker and assistant of the community be in practice combined with a legalistically understood law execution? The answer should be positive because the police has always performed non-executive actions and COP strategy only exposes them and considers one of the fundamental (but not the only one!) features of these institutions. What is more, COP stresses the role of the police in preventing fear of crime.
In this context, Brogden and Nijhar point at a very important myth concerning COP and connected to the expectations towards the police (2005: 76–79):
- “The myth of organizational change in COP”: Even though the traditional forms of the police organization are not coherent with the rules of COP, in fact they are not a significant obstacle in COP implementation.
What should be done and how should it be done?
If we convince the local community and the police that it is worth trying to implement COP, we come across another challenge: the lack of clear ways of acting. In consequence, the question arises: what should be done and how should it be done?
The concept of COP has constantly been evolving ever since its creation. Apart from its fundamental aim, that is a common provision of security to the local community, not many stable points of reference can be found in answer to the question posed above. New specific goals are constantly appearing, the old ones (that is those formulated a long time ago) are given another place in the hierarchy of importance or their influence on the basic goal is framed in another way. A distinct example of such changes can be found in the withdrawal from assigning a significant role to reducing fear of crime and the contemporarily common shift towards putting more emphasis on the importance of the police legitimacy in the society and the role of COP in terrorism prevention.
In addition, the methods of COP implementation postulated in various handbooks change also under the influence of the sweeping changes in the police’s communication with the citizens. The importance of foot patrols, considered once a symbol of COP, is decreasing and more and more attention is paid to the possibilities coming from the use of modern information and communication technologies, in particular social media, in the relations between the police and the citizens.
An introduction to the search for methods of acting useful in COP implementation in the second decade of the 21st century can be found the four schemes affiliated with community policing:
- non-emergency police contact,
- neighbourhood policing teams,
- use of crime maps,
- attending consultation meetings (Pala and Balcioğlu 2016: 182).
What is working?
The difficulty in answering this question results from the following reasons:
- In practice, it is very difficult to combine different rules of COP that assume at the same time increasing the police’s efficiency and its increased accountability.
- In the face of the assumed flexibility in the selection of methods of acting adapted to the local conditions, it is difficult to determine the criteria for assessing the realization of the undertaken actions and the principles of a correct evaluation. However, without that, no one will know what is working and why, and the summary of the results will turn into political speeches, vague declarations of the interested participants or simple enumerations, e.g. of the number of balloons bought for a meeting of a police officer with nursery school children.
Unfortunately, the evaluations of COP efficiency that have been conducted in the past have been carried out mostly in the USA and were based on the use of data (that is the results of previous mid-term studies) that are not yet available in the Balkan states where we are doing our research. What follows, the answers to the question what is working obtained there may only be a point of reference in our considerations. They cannot be directly applied in answering the question what will be efficient in the Western Balkans though.
Brogden, Mike, and Preeti Nijhar. 2005. Community Policing: National And International Models And Approaches. Routledge: Abingdon.
COPs – Community Oriented Policing Services. 2014. Community Policing Defined. United States Department of Justice, https://ric-zai-inc.com/Publications/cops-p157-pub.pdf.
Ellison, Graham, and Nathan W. Pino. 2012. Globalization, Police Reform, and Development: Doing it the Western Way? New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Emsley, Clive. 2007. Community Policing/Policing and Communities: Some Historical Perspectives. Policing 1(2): 235–243.
Forcese, Dennis P. 2006. Review of the book Community policing: National and International Models and Approches by Mike Brogden and Preeti Nijhar (2005), Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 48(2): 315.
Pala, Erkan, and Ercan Balcioğlu. 2016. Community policing in England, Wales, and European Union: past, present and future. Ankara Avrupa Çalışmaları Dergisi 1: 173–199.