During my career as a police officer, I’ve seen the era of community policing evolve. How many of us can recall the D.A.R.E. car visiting your local school and having an officer speak about the dangers of drugs? This was an early program to get officers invested in the schools and speak on the dangers of drugs. Unfortunately, the program was somewhat unsuccessful until it was modified in 2009 and geared to middle school students across the country. Long lectures were replaced with more interactive exercises. Just as this program was modified, so has moving to a community policing form of operation. Community policing dynamics involves getting officers invested into the neighborhoods. Community policing is built on one central theme. Trust.
Community Policing is defined as a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.” While this definition may seem complex, the use of community policing is more than just a tool for law enforcement, it has become the norm.
Community policing involves embedding officers into the neighborhood not just in a law enforcement role but as an active member of the community. Studies show that community policing improves confidence and builds trust within the neighborhood. As officers become fixtures in the neighborhood, it helps establish a relationship with the residents.
After I became Chief of Police of Hackett in 2013, I decided to implement this form of policing in our department. It takes the support of not only the community but the city administration to function properly. The administration must be willing to trust the officers within the department and judge performance not just on ticket numbers and arrests but positive response from the community.
What I found after moving to the community policing model is that the community learns to trust your department. They see you interacting with the school and in the neighborhood. Your officers become not just ticket writers but a resource for the community and someone they can come to in a time of need. The officers are reflections of the community. Community policing does not mean soft on crime. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Community policing has also resulted in the community feeling comfortable coming to you with information. The results of this information often lead to more arrests and safer communities. In five years, drug arrests in our department are up over 700% compared to the previous five years, DWI arrests over 100%, and overall crime down over 50%. It’s not by chance. It’s due to hard work by the officers in being proactive while also using information provided by the community to help make it safer. Will there ever be a community without crime? No. Mayberry doesn’t exist. We still have crime but with the valuable input we receive from our community our chances improve at helping solve those crimes. With a small department, members of our community provide us more eyes and ears. Community involvement is essential for the program to work.
Community policing involves being able to interact with the community. Often times this is through social media. Social media enables the department to provide information to the community in minutes. It also allows residents of the community to provide officers information such as security checks on their homes and businesses while they’re away or suspicious activity on their street. It also enables the department to show their sense of humor on occasion. See photo below.
Community policing makes officers more visible in the community. The more visible these men and women are, especially in the schools, the stronger the relationship becomes with the community.