Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Literature Reviews

Volume 5

Community Policing Strategies3


During the course of their work, the police interact with the communities that they serve in various ways. The community is reliant upon the police to curb disorder and help in times of emergency. The police, on the other hand, rely on the community to report crime and provide vital information that is necessary for them to solve crime and address community concerns. In recent decades, this relationship has developed as the police and the communities they serve have come to expect more from one another as each increasingly recognizes the importance of working together as partners. In addition to the traditional forms of policing outlined in previous sections of this report, a reemergence of so called “community policing” and community policing initiatives has become widespread across Canada as well as many other nations. Generally, community policing is marked by a move away from centralized police departments that practice reactive policing, to more decentralized police structures that emphasize a proactive, problem-solving approach where the police work in close partnership with the communities they serve.

Community policing has become a popular concept. Indeed, few police services or elected officials wish to distance themselves from the rhetoric of community policing or community policing initiatives. For example, a 1997 survey conducted by the Police Foundation in the United States found that 85 per cent of police departments reported having adopted community policing or were in the process of doing so (Skogan, 2004). A more recent federal survey, with a much larger sample of American police departments (in cities with populations over 250,000) found that over 90 per cent of police services had full-time, trained community police officers in the field (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 2004). Here in Ontario, police services are mandated under Section 1 (1) of the Adequacy Standards Regulation to provide community-based crime prevention initiatives (Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General, 2000).

While there appears to be a great deal of community policing being undertaken, exactly what constitutes “community policing” is broad and far-reaching. The aim of this section, therefore, is to introduce the various concepts that are said to make up community policing. It will start by briefly examining why community policing has re-emerged as a dominant policing style in many jurisdictions. It will then look at how community policing is defined and examine the theories and principles that underpin it. This section will also outline how community policing is put into practice by examining both specific types of community policing initiatives as well as various case-studies of jurisdictions that have adopted community policing and/or implemented different components of a general community policing framework. Finally, this section will examine the effectiveness of specific community policing initiatives and community policing efforts to reduce youth violence. Our discussion ends with a brief examination of the various obstacles or challenges facing those who hope to implement effective community policing strategies.

Why Community Policing?

There are a number of compelling reasons why police officials and politicians have looked to community policing as a way forward. These reasons are mostly grounded in the history of policing, police research that has taken place over the past quarter century, the changing nature of communities, and the shifting characteristics of crime, violence, and disorder (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 1994: 3). Practitioners agree that there is, and has been, a pressing need for innovative practices within policing to help curb what some would consider a “crisis of violence” within many communities. The changing nature and elevated level of crime seen throughout Western nations in the 1970s, 1980s, and into the early 1990s caused police to seek more effective methods to curb disorder and control crime. It has also been recognized that curbing disorder, fighting crime, and increasing feelings of personal safety requires commitment from both the police and the public.

Eggers and O’Leary (1995) note that the public surrendered its role in controlling crime in the 1960s and increasingly relied upon the police to do the job. During this time, and in previous decades, police administrators implemented strategies and used new technologies to increase the distance between police personnel and the public they served. This effort was largely undertaken by police managers to lessen the corrupting influence that was believed to come from the community. Many police departments adopted top-down, militaristic, hierarchical management systems that imposed greater accountability on police managers and emphasized police professionalism. Many have argued that advances in policing methods and technologies, such as motorized patrols, radio dispatching, and use of rapid response techniques, created a greater rift between the community and the police. In other words, police officers no longer walked beats, nor did they get to know the neighbourhood residents they were serving (Weiss, 2006: 33). This resulted in the police having less awareness and involvement in the problems of the communities that they served. Police were often assigned patrol areas on a rotating basis, and were instructed to change routes frequently, in an effort to thwart criminals (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 1994: 6). As such, community members lost their ability to predict when they may be able to interact with local police, and thus, the police came to be viewed as strangers, disengaged from the community and its issues. The growing emphasis on rapid response tactics also meant that police were less concerned with community problems than they were with arriving at a crime scene in the least possible amount of time. Rapid response meant the police were acting fast but not necessarily being effective.

Police-community relations again suffered when the social unrest of the 1960s led to urban riots, assassinations, and increased gang violence. Some people came to view the police as an oppressive occupying force. Police brutality often sparked urban disorder, and some members of the public perceived the police as being at the forefront of maintaining an unjust and discriminatory society (Gaines and LeRoy-Miller, 2006). Perceptions of the police, particularly in terms of police legitimacy, have increasingly been viewed as important. Without confidence in the police, citizens become alienated and reluctant to cooperate with the police as witnesses, victims, or suspects. Such a situation thwarts the efforts of the police to control crime and maintain social order (Decker, 1980; Murty et al., 1990). More alarmingly, there is growing concern that perceived injustice itself causes criminal behaviour, which is counter-productive to the aims of policing (Tyler, 1990; Lafree, 1998). Several scholars have drawn a connection between perceived legitimacy of the police and criminal offending. Russell (1996), for example, argues that “unfair penalties, combined with a lack of sanctions for race-based harms diminishes faith in the justice system, which in turn sets the stage for criminal offending.”

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, crime rates in many Western nations continued to rise despite improvements in police technology, training, and professionalism. Survey results also suggested that public confidence in the police was diminishing, particularly in poor, urban communities. As a result, many police managers realized that their “modern” policing methods were not as effective as they had had originally envisioned. Many police leaders ultimately concluded that they needed to turn to their community roots in an attempt to control crime and regain the respect and cooperation of the public.

Community Policing: Theory, Principles, and Practice

As mentioned at the beginning of this section, community policing is a broad and varying concept that has been understood and implemented in numerous ways. This is well captured by Weiss (2006), who writes that “while some law enforcement officials and academics view community policing as a philosophy, to better explain police work, most individuals in the field of policing view ‘community policing’ as an actual policing technique” (Weiss, 2006: 28). A contradiction, therefore, often arises between law enforcement’s definition of community policing and more academic understanding of the concept. The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice, provides the following institutional definition of community policing:

Community policing focuses on crime and social disorder through the delivery of police services that includes aspects of traditional law enforcement, as well as prevention, problem solving, community engagement, and partnerships. The community policing model balances reactive responses to calls for service with proactive-problem solving centered on the causes of crime and disorder. Community policing requires police and citizens to join together as partners in the course of both identifying and effectively addressing these issues (Office of Community Oriented Policing, 2007).

By contrast, from a philosophical standpoint, Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux (1998) describe community policing as:

A philosophical and an organizational strategy that promotes a new partnership between the people and their police. It is based on the premise that both the police and the community must work together as equal partners to identify, prioritize and solve contemporary problems such as crime, fear of crime, social and physical disorder and overall neighborhood decay, with the goal of improving the overall quality of life in an area (Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux, 1998: 6).

From an applied perspective, Peter K. Manning (2003) comments:

The role of the officer in a [community policing] scheme is to act as a relatively visible and available watcher, based normally in an area, representing differentiated social control. The officer strives to manage disorder, control crime, and produce some level of order maintenance. The community, for its part, is expected to provide problem concerns, information, support, and feedback. In some sense, they should provide the filter and screening of problems to focus police actions. The police are expected to respond to citizens’ concerns whether expressed at meetings, rallies, in person, or by phone (Manning, 2003: 185).

These various definitions exemplify the difficulty in understanding and interpreting the term “community policing.” It can mean different things to different people in different contexts. Although there is no clear definition of community policing, most practitioners and researchers would agree that there are a number of theoretical elements or principles said to comprise the community policing framework. The underlying philosophy is that improving the quality and quantity of contacts between the community and the police can increase the quality of life in a specific community. This puts an onus on the police to react quickly to urgent demands, and to work towards engaging and empowering communities to deal with their own problems. The police are also charged with collaborating and working actively with communities to address community concerns. Likewise, communities must be ready and willing to engage and work with the police to resolve community problems (Wilson: 8).

Theoretical Elements / Principles

In discussing community policing in Canada, Normandeau (1993) lays out seven theoretical elements in order to help explain community policing.

  1. The mission of the police is basically to act as peace officers; the police officer, in his work, respects democratic rights and freedoms.
  2. The police adopt a crucial strategy: systematic consultation with the community and its associations.
  3. The attitude and behaviour of the police are always proactive and interactive (police-community).
  4. The police devote their energies in part to the solutions of problems linked with crime and social disorder; in collaboration with the appropriate partners, they try to solve the causes of certain problems, at least partially, by prevention as much as by law enforcement.
  5. The police, together with other major public and private services, help to improve the quality of life; by their community prevention programs, they try only to contain and reduce crime but also to reduce the fear of crime and promote a true feeling of community safety.
  6. Front-line police officers are generalists rather than specialists, and have a high level of responsibility and autonomy, important in a decentralized organization.
  7. The obligation to be rigorously accountable to the community and to the legitimate political authorities characterizes a police service of quality.

Normandeau’s theoretical elements are evident in the general or common principles of community policing articulated by other scholars. Skogan and Harnet (1997), for example, argue that the central philosophy of community policing leads to four general principles:

  1. Organizational decentralization and a reorientation of patrol to facilitate communication and information sharing between the police and the public.
  2. Abroad commitment to problem-oriented policing – that is, “a comprehensive plan for improving policing in which a high priority attached to addressing substantive problems shapes the police agency, influencing all changes in personnel, organization, and procedures” (Goldstein, 1990: 32) – that analyzes problems systematically to develop more effective means of addressing them.
  3. Police consideration of community issues and priorities in tactic development.
  4. Police commitment to solve problems on their own.

Similarly, Keeling and Cole (1996) identify what they consider to be the six most common principles of community policing to be:

  1. Belief in a broad policing function beyond law enforcement.
  2. Acknowledgement that the police rely on citizens in many ways.
  3. Recognition that police work is complex and requires general knowledge, skill, and discretion.
  4. Reliance on specific tactics targeted at problems and developed with the community rather than general tactics such as preventative patrol and rapid response.
  5. Devolution of police authority to lower levels to respond to neighbourhood needs.
  6. Commitment of police to serve multiple aims from reducing crime and fear to helping citizens manage problems.

The various theoretical elements and principles presented above can be grouped into three more general categories that have been identified as the most common features of police services that have adopted community policing framework: a) community partnership or engagement; b) a problem-solving orientation; and c) a focus on administrative decentralization (Skogan, 2006). These three features and their implications for implementation will be discussed at length in the paragraphs to follow.

The first common feature is community engagement. Developing and maintaining the trust of the community is pivotal to the success of community policing. Community engagement requires a policing perspective that goes beyond the standard law enforcement emphasis. This widened outlook recognizes the value of police activities that contribute to order and well-being in a community. Such activities could include working with residents to improve neighbourhood conditions, providing emergency social services to those at risk, conducting door-to-door visits to residences in order to increase perceptions of personal safety, or simply walking the beat. These types of activities serve to help develop trust between the police and the community. This in turn, allows the police to gain access to important information from the community which can lead to the prevention of crimes, increase support for crime control measures, and provide an avenue through which the police can develop a working relationship with the community (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 1994).

Community engagement also requires the active participation of members of the community; they must be actively engaged in efforts to enhance community safety themselves. This requires residents to be forthcoming in providing information to the police and to promptly report crimes when they occur. Citizen involvement also requires citizens to participate in activities such as youth-oriented crime prevention projects or sanctioned neighbourhood patrols (Skogan, 2006). One vital element of community engagement is the return of the foot patrol officer. Within a community-policing framework, the foot patrol officer is assigned to a designated beat for an extended period of time. The more noticeable presence of a long-term officer itself may encourage community response and build trust as citizens become more comfortable with the familiar face of their local officer (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 1994).

Developing trust and mobilizing citizens has proven in many cases to be quite difficult, and is unlikely to happen overnight. To build trust for an effective partnership, the police must treat citizens with dignity and respect. Arrogance, rudeness, and the unnecessary or excessive use of force will diminish the willingness of community members to engage with and provide information to the police. It must also be recognized that community engagement and mobilization will be easier to achieve in some neighbourhoods than in others. For example, establishing trust and gaining the cooperation of citizens is often easier in middle-class communities than it is in poorer communities where mistrust of and ambivalence toward the police may be entrenched (Sherman and Eck, 2002). The fundamental element of community policing is that police become an integral part of the community and the community assists in determining the priorities and goals as well as the allocation of resources. Furthermore, community policing promises to strengthen the capacity of communities to deal with crime and disorder on their own.

The second common feature of community policing is problem-solving or problem-oriented policing. Problem-solving differs from traditional policing in that it is proactive rather than reactive. As mentioned above, the police racing to crime scenes to gather reports from victims and witnesses characterized traditional policing. Thus, in the past, the police equated crime prevention and police effectiveness with arrest and incapacitation (Skogan, 2006: 7). Problem-solving, on the other hand, is based on the belief that “crime and disorder can be reduced in small geographic areas by carefully studying the characteristics of problems in the area, and then applying the appropriate resources” and on the assumption that “[i]ndividuals make choices based on the opportunities presented by the immediate physical and social characteristics of an area” (Eck and Sherman, 1987). Eck and Sherman characterize problem-oriented policing as follows:

The theory behind problem-oriented policing is simple. Underlying conditions create problems. These conditions might include the characteristics of the people involved (offenders, potential victims, and others), the social setting in which these people interact, the physical environments, and the way the public deals with these conditions. A problem created in one of these conditions may create one or more incidents. These incidents, while stemming from a common source, may appear to be different. For example, social and physical conditions in a deteriorated apartment complex may generate burglaries, acts of vandalism, intimidation of pedestrians by rowdy teenagers, and other incidents. These incidents, some of which come to police attention, are symptoms of the problems. The incidents will continue so long as the problem that creates them persists (Eck and Sherman, 1987: 26).

Problem-solving requires the involvement of the public in identifying and prioritizing a wide array of community problems, some of which are not criminal, such as the presence of abandoned cars on neighbourhood streets. The traditional conceptual model of problem-solving, SARA, follows these four steps:

  1. Scan: Identify problems and prioritize them incorporating community input.
  2. Analyze: Study information about offenders, victims, and crime locations.
  3. Respond: Implement strategies that address the chronic character of priority problems by thinking “outside the box” of traditional police enforcement tactics and using new resources that were developed by the community to support problem-solving efforts.
  4. Assess: Evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy through self-assessments to determine how well the plan has been carried out and what good has been accomplished (Goldstein, 2003).

Determining the underlying causes of crime and crime problems requires in-depth knowledge of the community and its issues. This is where community engagement and information sharing between the police and the public becomes particularly important. The police need to acutely listen to the concerns of the community and work cooperatively with them to identify and address problems. As with level of citizen engagement, the nature and severity of community problems varies widely in different communities as well as with in specific communities; the whole community may be plagued by a problem or it may be confined to one small geographical area. Herman Goldstein (1990), the father of problem-oriented policing, provides the following examples of community problems:

Identifying, analyzing and responding to such problems require the police to work together with the public, community agencies, and social services to develop unique and tailor-made solutions. Problem-solving may involve eliminating a problem entirely, but this type of solution is usually limited to disorder problems; for example, the police working with city council to destroy or rehabilitate an old building that creates an atmosphere that is conducive to crime. Problem-solving can also involve reducing the number of occurrences of a specific problem. Drug-dealing and associated problems such as robbery or gang activity may be decreased if the police, community members, and social services agencies, such as health centres, set up rehabilitation and counselling facilities to reduce drug use. In order to be effective, problem-solving and problem-oriented policing demand significant changes in both police structure and levels of police authority. Street-level police officers need the ability to identify problems and solutions, with the help of the communities. This usually requires the restructuring and decentralization of police departments.

The final component, administrative decentralization, is closely linked to the implementation of community policing. Building effective community partnerships and developing effective problem-solving strategies requires the adoption of a new flexible style of policing management. Community policing stresses the importance of the individuality of police officers and the patrol function of policing. Under the professional model, patrol officers were accorded a relatively low status, despite the scope of the functions they performed (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 1994). The community policing approach requires a shift of responsibility, decision-making, and accountability down through the police organization to the patrol officer. The patrol officer is granted broad discretionary and decision making powers in order to determine, with the input of the community, what should be done in a given community and how it should be implemented.

Through knowledge-sharing with members of the community, patrol officers become most knowledgeable about the needs and strengths of their communities. Essentially, within community policing, patrol officers assume managerial responsibility for the delivery of police services within their patrol areas. Managerial responsibility means that patrol officers require relative assignment stability. This is explained by Oettmier and Bieck (1987):

Having officers periodically rotate among the shifts impedes their ability to identify problems. It also discourages creative solutions to impact the problems, because officers end up rotating away from the problems. Thus, a sense of responsibility to identify and resolve problems if lost. Likewise, management cannot hold officers accountable to deal with problems if the officers are frequently rotated from one shift to another need to be assigned to an area for an extended period of time (Oettmier and Bieck, 1987).

Such a shift in the responsibilities and status of the patrol officer is essential to the community engagement and problem-solving components of community policing but has enormous organizational and managerial implications for police organizations. The whole police organization must be restructured in a way that supports the enhanced role of patrol officers and supports their efforts as well as encourages a cooperative approach to solving problems. Community policing requires the police organizational structure to become decentralized; important problems are identified and decisions are to be made from the bottom up instead of from the top down. This transformation in structure is crucial to the establishment of meaningful and productive ties with the community.

Decentralization is important not only so that the police can become more proactive and more preventative, but also so that they can respond to problems of varying importance and severity with greater effectiveness. When there are moves to flatten the structure of a police department, which results in the compressing of the rank structure, layers of bureaucracy are shed, resulting in faster communication time and decision-making processes (Skogan, 2006).

Community policing also changes the traditional functions of police supervisors and managers in order to support the increased responsibilities given to the patrol officer. Under the community policing rubric, the role of management is to guide rather than to order the actions of patrol officers, and to ensure that they are adequately supported in order to identify and solve problems within their communities. Traditionally, “marching orders” for policing came from two main sources: calls for service from the public regarding individual incidents and city-wide policing initiatives or programs originating at police headquarters or from city council. Police services were not structured to respond systematically to the requests or needs of community groups. They were also uncomfortable with having numerous priorities in different parts of the same jurisdiction (Skogan, 2006: 6). Administrative decentralization, combined with community engagement, enables the police to respond appropriately to problems and issues that are of importance to individual communities. Management must also be supportive, encourage creativity amongst patrol officers, and be sensitive to the voices and requests of community members. Furthermore, management must develop clear mission statements and values that support community engagement and the problem-solving role of the patrol officers. These values should provide both the public and the officers with a clear sense of the expanding focus and direction of the police organization.

Although not considered one of the core components of community policing, its ability to reduce the public’s fear of crime has been acknowledged and valued by police services that have implemented it. Fear of crime can limit the amount of activity in neighbourhood streets by keeping residents in their homes, which itself can result in a greater number of crimes. Public disorder has been found to have a greater impact on fear of crime than the actual level of crime in a community (Kelling and Moore, 1988). The broken windows theory points out the demoralizing effect that abandoned buildings, graffiti, and general decay have on neighbourhoods (Wilson and Kelling, 1982). While there may be academic debate over whether such issues lead to an increased level of crime, there is a consensus that they are powerful generators of public fear and neighbourhood decline (Skogan, 2006). Police services attempting to reduce public fear of crime by curbing disorder pay increased attention to public drinking, loitering, panhandling, prostitution, graffiti, decrepit buildings and the like. By reducing fear of crime the police may be able to gain greater appreciation within the community.

Community Policing in Practice

The actual initiatives and strategies that have been implemented under the guise of community policing are as diverse as the definition of community policing itself. The following pages will demonstrate how community policing works in practice by discussing specific types of community policing initiatives as well as case studies and examples of cities that have implemented it. A list and brief description of the most common community policing initiatives is set out below:

Public Education Programs: Public education programs within community policing are implemented for several reasons. For example, they are used to garner general support for the police and for increases in police resources. Public education programs are also an important method through which the police can provide information to the public on how to avoid being victimized, or in the case of youth, how to avoid becoming involved in crime. One of the most common and highly acclaimed public education programs is D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). Founded in Los Angeles in 1983, D.A.R.E. is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches children from kindergarten through grade 12 how to resist peer pressure and live productive, drug and violence-free lives. Although its effectiveness has been widely debated, the program has been implemented in 75 per cent of U.S. school districts and in more than 43 countries around the world (D.A.R.E. America, 1996).

Neighbourhood Watch Programs: Neighbourhood Watch is another highly popular form of community policing, which has variants known as Block Watch and Apartment Watch. Neighbourhood Watch usually involves community members coming together in small groups in a local residence to share information about local crime problems, share crime prevention strategies and develop plans for “watching” the neighbourhood and reporting crimes. Initial Neighbourhood Watch meetings are often organized by crime prevention officers from a local police department or community organization. Subsequent meetings involve presentations and sessions of property target hardening and the establishment of phone trees for surveillance and support. Members also discuss feelings and perceptions of local crime problems and develop solutions to deal with them (Rosenbaum, 1987).

Neighbourhood Town Meetings: Also known as community meetings, this type of initiative is popular for developing and maintaining contact between the police and the public. Unlike Neighbourhood Watch meetings, which are held in local residences, neighbourhood town meetings are held in open public spaces, such as schools or community centres, and are well advertised in order to obtain the greatest possible attendance. The meetings provide a forum for exchanging information and a venue for identifying, analyzing, and prioritizing problems within a community or neighbourhood. As with public education initiatives, neighbourhood town meetings also provide the police with an opportunity to gain public support for specific initiatives, as they are able explain at length why an initiative is important and how it will benefit the community (Wycoff and Skogan, 1993).

Storefront Ministations: Police ministations are part of the effort to decentralize the police and bring them closer to the communities they serve. Ministations are usually set up in accessible areas and staffed by a mix of sworn police officers, paid civilians, and unpaid volunteers. Ministations are used as another avenue for the police to share information with the public, such as crime control tips. They are also a useful way for the public to relay crime-related information to the police. In high crime areas, ministations may be erected to give the appearance of increased police presence.

Weed and Seed Programs: This strategy involves a two-pronged approach to crime prevention: law enforcement agencies and prosecutors cooperate in “weeding out” violent criminals and drug abusers, while community-based organizations work together to “seed” much-needed human services, including prevention, intervention, treatment, and neighbourhood restoration programs. There are four basic components to the weed and seed program: law enforcement; community policing; prevention, intervention, and treatment; and neighbourhood restoration. Four fundamental principles underlie the weed and seed strategy: collaboration, coordination, community participation and leveraging of resources. In most weed and seed sites, joint task forces of law enforcement agencies from different levels of government aim to reduce both crime and fear of crime. Unlike some of the other strategies mentioned above, weed and seed takes a more hard-line stance and enforcement-oriented approach to community policing (U.S. Department of Justice, 2007).

The above is certainly not an exhaustive list of community policing initiatives. Other programs include: Special Problem Solving Units, Fixed Patrol Assignments, Auxiliary Volunteer Programs and Community Newsletters/Websites. Jurisdictions that have implemented community policing have done so in a variety of ways. Some jurisdictions have attempted to include several of the initiatives listed above, while others have focused on including just one or two of them. The following pages will look at specific instances where community policing has been put into practice in Canadian and American cities to demonstrate the differing approaches.

One of the first police departments to implement community policing in Canada was the Halton Regional Police Service, which began a system of “team policing” in 1975. The Halton Regional Police Service serves the region of Halton, a municipality with a population of less than half a million people, which is located within the Greater Toronto Area (Halton Region, 2008). Halton Regional Police Service began to implement community policing more thoroughly in 1982, when a “proactive” policing squad was created and deployed in an area with the region’s highest crime rate. The plan at the time was to build up a “good rapport” between officers and the public (Cooke-Scott, 1998). In 1982, the Force (later changed to “Service”) adopted the following policing philosophy: “Halton Regional Police Force will respond to community needs through a combined strategy of preventative, proactive and reactive policing programs, using the concept of the Constable Generalist, the whole of which will be supported by a participatory management environment” (ibid.: 127). The stated philosophy involved taking a proactive approach: preventing crimes by creating conditions that make illegal acts less likely to occur. In the next two to three years, other programs were phased in, which included “community conference committees” administered by constables. These committees intended to give community members an opportunity to meet with one another and their local constable to voice complaints and discuss community problems. There were also structural changes made to the way that the traditional patrol “platoons” were deployed. As part of the “proactive policing’’ effort, patrol officers were directed to spend half of their work-time on proactive, or “community,” policing (ibid.: 126). In addition to the policing initiatives put into practice in Halton, administrators also recognized the importance of developing a mission or vision statement that reflected their new philosophy.

In 1994, the second major phase of community policing was introduced to the Halton Regional Police Service. The second phase included a complete overhaul of the organizations management structure. An organizational review project was undertaken, consisting of eleven task forces including a Community Policing Policy and Service Review/Survey, Community Support Services, and a Communications Support task force. The project was led by upper and mid-level management and included voluntary participation from rank and file officers. The task forces were charged with “identifying and analyzing obstacles or ‘tasks and activities’ [that were] currently impeding the quantity and quality of direct service by officer[s]” (ibid.: 129). The reports of the combined task force included 55 structural and 115 procedural recommendations. The recommendations led to a move to a “team policing” approach and a “flattening out” of the entire structure of the Halton Regional Police Service. “Community policing” divisions also replaced existing divisions to show the Service’s commitment to community policing. Since community policing was developed in the Halton region more than 25 years ago, the Service has been able to implement an approach that incorporates community engagement, problem-solving and organizational restructuring – the three key characteristics of community policing. While implementation of the community policing model was not perfect in Halton, their early adoption has resulted in the Halton Regional Police Service being the focus of studies by similar organizations from across North America and around the world (ibid.: 140).

Chicago has also received a great deal of attention for its community policing program. In April 1993, after a year of planning, Chicago’s Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) was field-tested in five selected districts around the city before being implemented on a city-wide basis. The CAPS program was designed to increase the responsiveness and effectiveness of police problem-solving by linking these efforts directly to a broad range of city services and involving the public in identifying and seeking solutions to neighbourhood problems – hallmarks of community policing. The problem-solving model formed the basis of CAPS. In CAPS, officers were expected to adopt a proactive, prevention-oriented stance toward a range of neighbourhood problems. Chicago’s problem-solving model defined problems as “chronic concentrations of related incidents” (National Justice Institute, 2002: 3). The implementation of the CAPS program was based on reorganization of policing in Chicago around the city’s 279 police beats. To better enable beat officers to work with residents and community organizations, rapid response teams were created to handle excess 911 calls. Nine or ten police officers were assigned to each police beat, and each beat had a sergeant tasked with overseeing the beat and holding quarterly meetings. Within the beats, tactical units and youth officers worked closely to support beat officers and shared responsibility for working with members of the community at beat meetings (National Justice Institute, 2002).

To elicit community participation, a major goal of CAPS, “beat meetings” were held on a monthly basis in public spaces such as churches and park buildings across the city. In addition to community members and the police voicing their concerns about beat problems, the meetings also included presentations by detectives or police from special units, representatives of city service agencies, school personnel, local business owners, and landlords who had an interest in beat or community problems. District Advisory Committees (DACs) were also established to develop joint police-citizen projects and were viewed as a vehicle to advise police commanders on problems within their area. DACs were composed of community leaders, school council members, ministers, business operators, and representatives of significant organizations and institutions in the district. The close links that CAPS established with the community were mirrored by connections with community and social service organizations to assist in problem-solving. City services were delivered based on citizen and community requests and an inter-agency taskforce worked on the logistics of coordinating problem-solving efforts (ibid.). Police resources were also strengthened through CAPS. An easy-to-use crime mapping system was introduced to identify problem areas within the city, anti-gang and drug-house ordinances were created which enabled swift solutions to be applied to problems, and increased cooperation with legal staff, such as prosecutors, assisted the police with complex and recurring problems (ibid.).

The CAPS program is still under way in Chicago and its effectiveness in reducing youth violence will be evaluated in the next section. The above examples exemplify how community policing can be put into practice in different ways; the Halton Regional Police Service implemented community policing gradually, and did so due to the initiative of a forward-thinking police chief, while the Chicago experience was quite different. Chicago implemented community policing in full swing after a brief trial period in an attempt to incorporate the three most common features of community policing: community engagement, organizational decentralization and problem-solving, with an emphasis on the latter. These examples also highlight how community policing can be put into practice in cities of different sizes and with different problems. This is one of the benefits of the community policing model. Its problem-solving and community engagement approach means that the initiatives put into action can be tailor-made to address the specific problems or issues that are either city-wide or occur in smaller geographical areas. This also means that community policing can look very different in different jurisdictions while adhering to some of the same common principles and containing the same practical elements. However, the great variation in community policing approaches can also result in great variation in the effectiveness of community policing. The next section will discuss evaluations of some of the most popular community policing programs.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Community Policing

The results of available tests of the community policing hypothesis are mixed (Sherman and Eck, 2002: 315). There are a number of factors influencing the implementation and effectiveness of community policing. These include the police organizational structure and culture and community cooperation. However, it can be argued that the biggest factor influencing the effectiveness of community policing is the ambiguousness of the concept itself. Community policing is not a single police tactic or program; it is a collection of strategies that share a common philosophy or set of principles about the desired role of police in society, and thus has been applied in a multitude of different ways (Rosenbaum and Lurigio, 1994: 302). The following examines the effectiveness of several of the most common strategies that are employed in the name of community policing.

Foot Patrol: Walking the beat has made a major comeback with the re-emergence of community policing. It is believed that the increased police presence will not only prevent crime, but also put the patrol officer back in touch with the community. This allows the officer to gain knowledge about the problems or issues plaguing a neighbourhood. The highly visible presence of the patrol officer is also expected to give neighbourhood residents and business owners an increased sense of safety and security. While the evidence suggests that foot patrols can achieve the latter, there is little evidence to suggest that having officers walk the beat actually reduces criminal offending in an area (Rosenbaum and Lurigio, 1994). An evaluation of the Newark foot patrol experiment reported significant reductions in citizens’ levels of fear of crime and perceptions of disorder. Interestingly, this finding was replicated again two years later in an evaluation that also included the city of Houston. In the second evaluation, perceptions of personal safety were up and disorder down, but levels of criminal victimization remained unchanged. In general, increased foot patrols were shown to have no effect on the level of crime in Newark or Houston (Pate et al., 1986).

Storefront Ministations: Another goal of community policing is to decentralize police services in order to bring police officers closer to the communities that they serve. One common way that this has been achieved, often at the request of individual neighbourhoods or communities, is through the establishment of police storefront ministations. The evidence from tests of ministations in Houston, Newark, and Birmingham (Alabama) has consistently shown that they have no impact on crime (Sherman and Eck, 2002: 317). However, there are some benefits of police ministations. The introduction of ministations in Houston was associated with a decrease in citizens’ fear of crime and a change in perceptions of the amount of crime in the city, but these benefits were not shared by all members of the community. Younger residents, members of minority groups, renters, and those with lower income and less education were less likely to know about the police ministations or to report benefiting from them (Rosenbaum and Lurigio, 1994: 306).

Community Meetings: Another popular program for increasing contact between the public and the police is community meetings. Within community policing, community meetings are intended to provide an opportunity for members of the public to voice their concerns and a forum for the police and the public to develop problem-solving strategies to identify issues. Evaluations of community meetings are mixed. A careful assessment of the Madison, Wisconsin community policing project, in which meetings played a central part, found no reduction in crime. An analysis of the “beat meetings” implemented in the CAPS project in Chicago showed more promise. These meetings focused more specifically on particular crime problems in an area and were able to develop ideas for what the police should do to combat these problems. The CAPS project is also notable for its ability to mobilize higher-crime areas to participate in these meetings, a feat not often achieved (Sherman and Eck, 2002).

Door-to-Door Visits: A less common but potentially more beneficial community policing practice is door-to-door visits to neighbourhood residences during the day. These visits can serve many purposes. They can be used to introduce patrol officers to local residents, to obtain information about local crime problems or about who is committing crime in an area, and also to provide information to local residents on how to reduce their chances of victimization. The available tests show relatively strong evidence of a connection between door-to-door visits and crime prevention. In the Houston example cited earlier, the overall rate of household victimization dropped substantially in the target areas, while no such reduction was found in the comparison area. The visits also prompted changes in residents’ perceptions of crime and disorder. Here again the benefits of door-to-door visits were concentrated among white middle-class homeowners, with little benefit for the most disadvantaged residents in the city (Rosenbaum and Lurigio, 1994; Sherman and Eck, 2002).

In summary, determining whether the above community policing initiatives are effective depends on how effectiveness is defined. The only initiative that was shown to reduce the level of crime in an area was door-to-door visits by police officers. On the other hand, each of the initiatives was effective in either reducing fear of crime or perceptions of the level of crime. The case studies examined below look specifically at the effectiveness of community policing efforts in reducing youth violence and gun crime in the American cities of Boston, San Diego, and Atlanta.

In Boston, the police sought to combat youth gun violence and deter gang members from engaging in illegal activity through the implementation of the Boston Gun Project’s Operation Ceasefire. In early 1995, the Boston Gun Project, made up of a working group of criminal justice agents and representatives from local schools, churches and community services, began to develop a strategy to combat the high rate of homicide amongst Boston’s primarily Black youth population (Braga et al., 2001). In the spring of 1996, Operation Ceasefire was put into action. The intervention included two main elements. The first element was a direct law enforcement attack on illicit firearms traffickers who supplied youths with guns. The direct law enforcement approach was supported by a promise to gang members that any form of wrongdoing would be followed by swift and immediate sanctions. This was intended to create a shift in norms amongst youth gangs. The message was distributed via flyers, which were distributed in the target neighbourhood, and by community workers who relayed the message to gang members (Braga et al., 2001). The second element was extensive outreach to religious leaders within African-American inner-city neighbourhoods, where a large majority of the gun violence was taking place. The main aim of this element was to create an “umbrella of legitimacy” that sought to reconcile the interests of the police and the inner-city communities plagued with gun violence. The religious leaders who facilitated the shift in perceptions of the police, known as the Ten Point Coalition, were also active in relaying the zero tolerance approach, while remaining critical of the police.

Analysis of Boston’s firearm homicide rate for persons under 25 shows a sharp decline following the launch of the Boston Gun Project in 1996, which continued through 1997 before rising in 1998. However, the rate of youth gun homicides had already begun to decline in 1995, prior to the implementation of the Project, and youth gun homicide rates declined in other Massachusetts cities over this same period. The declines seen in Boston appear to be part of a downward trend in youth gun homicides that was experienced state wide, as opposed to a result of the Boston Gun Project (Fagan, 2002).

In San Diego, police officials adopted the theory and operating principles of community policing, structuring police-citizen interactions in a manner that was intended to strengthen informal control and thus prevent crime. The police focused on prevention efforts, and used arrest only after other methods failed. In the late 1980s, San Diego began an experiment with the community policing philosophy. In 1993, the whole police department was reorganized and the entire force retrained to implement community policing. The approach in San Diego included sharing information with citizens for the analysis of crime problems, building partnerships with community groups to address crime problems, and emphasizing routine, non-confrontational police contacts with citizens to share responsibility for the prevention and control of crime. What sets San Diego apart from other community policing efforts was the role afforded to organized community volunteers. The San Diego Police Department recruited and trained a group of nearly 1,000 citizen volunteers to undertake a broad spectrum of crime prevention and victim assistance services (Fagan, 2002).

Specific efforts to tackle youth violence in San Diego began in 1997 with the assembly of a task force consisting of 200 people, including representatives from the police, courts, schools, and community groups. The task force created juvenile service teams with officers placed in schools to focus on the needs identified by community advisory boards. A gang suppression team also focused on the cities estimated 5,000 gang members, who were believed to be responsible for a large proportion of the youth gun violence. Similarly to the Ten Point Coalition in Chicago, these teams cast a wide net of social control over youth before they became involved in gun violence. As in Boston, the homicide rate in San Diego fell after the implementation of the community policing efforts, but did so in unison with declines in other large cities in the state (Pollard, 1998).

The final community policing effort directed at targeting youth violence is the PACT (Pulling America’s Communities Together) project in Atlanta, Georgia, which began in 1995. PACT was a U.S. Department of Justice program model involving a problem-solving approach for reducing juvenile gun violence. PACT was designed to help diverse institutions in communities collaborate on public safety issues. Homicide, gun violence, and juvenile crime were identified as major community concerns in Atlanta. PACT’s problem-solving approach led to the development of a coalition of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, with the Atlanta Police Department being the lead agency. Project participants devised a three-pronged approach: 1) to use a problem-solving approach to plan, implement, refine and evaluate the program; 2) to apply a strategic approach to wider projects that combine the expertise of researchers with the experience of practitioners; 3) to identify and evaluate a mix of strategies to prevent illegal carrying and use of firearms by juveniles (Kellerman et al., 2006). The three-pronged approach was divided into specific objectives such as measuring adults’ fear of crime, mapping and tracking geographical patterns of juvenile violence, determining where and why juveniles acquire guns, developing comprehensive intervention to reduce juvenile gun violence, implementing the intervention, monitoring and evaluating the intervention and refining the approach, and evaluating the impact of the refined program. In order to carry out the objective, participants surveyed adults about firearm ownership and fear of juvenile violence, used data on gun violence from a number of sources such as state crime statistics, and conducted focus group sessions and individual interviews with youths. The strategies developed included traffic stops, directed patrol, and federal prosecution of adult gun traffickers.

During the six years after the project began (from 1995 through 2000) the number of homicides in Atlanta decreased by 27 per cent. Before-and-after surveys of adult residents also showed less concern among respondents about the severity of juvenile violence in the city. However, since Atlanta’s homicide count began to decrease two years before the intervention began, the decline in homicides could not be attributed directly to PACT. Furthermore, a number of the strategies planned for the program were not implemented as designed and the decrease in homicides in the intervention sites was similar to the pattern state wide over the same period. As can be seen in the above pages, evaluating community policing is no easy task. While some elements of community policing have been shown to be effective in reducing crime, many have not. However, one result of community policing that appears to have some consistency is the positive effect that this policing style has on police-community relations.

Challenges in the Implementation of Community Policing

The ultimate success of community policing is dependent in part on the successful implementation of the concept. Challenges inherent in implementing community policing can be either internal to the police service or external within the community or the community agencies that provide vital support to community policing efforts. The successful transition to community policing depends upon the ability and willingness of police managers and rank and file officers to create an organizational climate that supports continual learning, self-critique, and most importantly, change. Internal opposition to change, issues of trust, power struggles, and informal communications are all factors that can either impede or facilitate the successful adoption of community policing (Giacomazzi et al., 2004). Rank and file officers often feel that community policing equates to social work, or that the philosophy is being pushed upon them by police managers interested in their own personal advancement (Cooke-Scott, 1998). Thus, the successful transition to community policing is also dependent on the redefinition of the police culture. Community policing requires a police culture that recognizes, values and accepts the importance of community participation in neighbourhood problem identification and problem-solving activities. This runs contrary to the traditional police culture under the professional model where citizens provide little more assistance than reporting crimes as victims and witnesses (ibid.). There are structural elements that can facilitate a climate conducive to the successful implementation of community policing. Developing and communicating an organization’s mission statement and values, providing training that emphasizes the value of community policing and awareness of problem-solving strategies, and leading by example are all ways in which management can help foster the implementation of community policing.

Challenges to the successful implementation of community policing can also be due to factors outside of the police organization and organizational structure. The role of the community in identifying problems and developing problem-solving strategies in partnership with the police is pivotal to community policing. Community theories indicate that social order is more closely linked to the outcome of informal social processes and less the result of formal social control mechanism such as police activity (Grinc, 1994). It is therefore important to encourage community involvement in crime prevention and problem-solving activities. Without the involvement of the community, many neighbourhood problems would not even come to the attention of the police. In the above section highlighting the effectiveness of specific community involvement initiatives, it was shown that community mobilization was easier to achieve in middle-class neighbourhoods than in disadvantaged areas, where crime is often high. This may be a product of a history of poor police relations in disadvantaged areas that has resulted in a deep-rooted ambivalence towards the police. The approach to community mobilization taken in Chicago and San Diego shows promise for overcoming this obstacle. Police in these cities were able to form close ties with community and religious leaders, such as the Ten Point Coalition, who provided an avenue of contact and an air of legitimacy for the police. The CAPS program in Chicago has been repeatedly praised for its ability to mobilize community members in predominantly Black inner-city neighbourhoods, where both crime and poverty were high (Sherman and Eck, 2002).


Community policing has re-emerged as a dominant policing style in many jurisdictions over the past several decades. In the face of rising crime rates and an increasingly diverse and complex society, the traditional model of policing came to be viewed as an effective approach to fighting crime. In light of this, an approach to policing that placed great emphasis on police-community relations and on the usefulness of engaging the community in problem identification and solving efforts re-emerged under the banner of “community policing.” Police officers were increasingly taken out of their patrol cars and placed back on the “beat” to interact with and learn from the communities that they served. Through the implementation of various initiatives, police services actively elicited the participation of the community in their crime fighting efforts, and the role of the patrol officer and structure of police services were modified to reflect this. However, community policing has no one accepted definition; it is a general policing philosophy underpinned by an idealistic notion about the role of the police in society. Thus, a myriad of programs and strategies have been implemented under the banner of community policing with varying success.

While the evaluative studies listed above have not been overly favourable to community policing as an effective means of reducing crime, the value of community policing must be viewed in light of the alternatives. Traditional reactive policing and car patrol is not only ineffective at reducing crime, but also creates barriers between the police and the public. Stops and searches may produce high rates of arrests, but these are often for minor crimes and the overall impact on crime rates is small. Furthermore, over-zealous stop and search practices erode public perceptions of the police, especially in areas where police-community relations have traditionally been poor. Finally, detectives, without the help of the public, are limited in the extent to which they can solve crimes. Community policing, as shown above, can be effectively used to foster relations with the community and as a means of increasing positive attitudes towards the police and perceptions of their legitimacy held amongst the public. This in itself may be enough to reduce or prevent crime, at least amongst those who do not view the police favourably. Regardless of its effectiveness in combatting crime, community policing remains the dominant policing style in many western jurisdictions.


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3 This chapter was written with the assistance of Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, Ph.d candidate, Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto.


Volume 1. Findings, Analysis and Conclusions

Volume 2. Executive Summary

Volume 3. Community Perspectives Report

Volume 4. Research Papers

Volume 5. Literature Reviews