Recent news stories about unrest in several American communities after police Use of Force incidents have highlighted the need for police/community partnerships. These partnerships often are referred to or emphasized in the concept of Community Policing. But just what is Community Policing and where did it come from? To answer this, we need to go back to just before the Victorian era in England.
Sir Robert Peel was a British Statesman and politician. More importantly he is considered the father of the modern police force after setting up the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1813 and the London Metropolitan Police Force in 1829. As part of this later force, he promulgated instructions which later became know as the Peelian Principles. In spite of their age, these principles are timeless in what they say about the role of a police force in modern society.
- To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
- To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
- To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
- To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
- To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
- To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
- To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
- To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
- To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
So just what is community policing? The US Department of Justice defines community policing this way:
“Community policing is, in essence, a collaboration between the police and the community that identifies and solves community problems.”Source: Understanding Community Policing: A Framework for Action
One thing you’ll see expressed over and over in the Peelian Principles is the idea that the police and the public they serve must have a relationship based on consent and cooperation. This partnership is the foundation for Community Policing.
The second critical component of Community Policing is Problem Solving. By identifying crime and disorder problems in the community, and seeking the best ways to remedy these problems, this police/community partnership can cooperatively solve these problems.
A couple of observations about these two components: One, the trust necessary for community/police partnerships is built over time. It may take years of efforts to forge a successful partnership.
Just like the events that precipitated the protests recently in the news, incidents that stress these relationships are bound to occur. You can’t wait until they do to begin to forge a relationship. Hopefully, you’ve been working on these relationships for some time prior to something like this. Trust takes a long time to earn but can be lost in an instant. Don’t wait for a controversial event to attempt to forge these relationships.
The other point I want to make is to stress that the problem solving approach of community policing is something that needs to permeate all levels of your agency. Line officers and command staff should all be encouraged to approach crime and disorder problems with a problem solving mindset. Additionally, crime analysts are often uniquely placed to help identify, research and suggest solutions to crime and disorder problems.
Here’s a couple of places where you can learn more about Community Policing and Problem Solving:
The US Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Additionally, the COPS office has produced a monograph that has much of what you need to know about community policing called Understanding Community Policing: A Framework for Action. It’s worth the read.
The second resource I want to list is this one:
The Center for Problem Oriented Policing
The POP Center is one of my all time favorites and is loaded with free materials that can help you with nearly any crime or disorder problem your community might face.
Does your agency practice community policing? If not, why not?