Recent Research: Exploring Officers' Acceptance of Community Policing

Article excerpt

Novak, K.L., Alarid, L.F., & Lucas, W.L. (2003). Exploring officers' acceptance of community policing: Implications for policy implementation. Journal of Criminal Justice, 31, 57-71.

Community policing (CP) is generally characterized as a proactive approach to crime prevention whereby police officers and the community work together to identify and solve a range of local problems such as crime, fear of crime, and social and physical disorder with the goal of improving the safety and overall quality of life in the area. Although police administrators recognize CP as the preferred strategy for delivery of police services, few police organizations have successfully completed the transition from the traditional law enforcement (i.e., professional) approach to CP. As noted by several researchers, a major obstacle to the implementation of CP is the resistance of many line officers. Given this situation, it may be argued that, because line officers are responsible for implementing CP at the street level, their reluctance to embrace this approach is problematic.

Accordingly, Novak, Alarid and Lucas (2003) argue that police organizations interested in implementing CP need to be aware of the attitudes of police officers toward CP. Specifically, they suggest that successful implementation of CP will rely, in part, on identifying police officers who are most supportive of the philosophy and practices of CP. Presumably, these officers will be able to implement CP and problem-solving practices on a smaller scale which, in turn, may encourage other officers to attempt similar measures. Based on this line of reasoning, Novak et al. investigated various factors potentially related to officers' acceptance of CP.

Questionnaires were completed by 445 members (75 % of whom were patrol officers) of the Kansas City Police Department. In addition to demographic information (e.g., race, education level, length of service, rank), the questionnaire focused on three aspects of officers' beliefs and attitudes towards CP: (1) the extent to which CP can be a highly effective means of providing police service, (2) the extent to which CP is a highly effective means of providing police service, and (3) the extent to which the officer incorporates CP into his or her daily activities. The final part of the questionnaire included questions designed to measure several factors which may facilitate or inhibit CP. Factors thought to facilitate CP included the officer's prior experience in working on a problem-solving project, and the extent of his or her agreement with statements indicating that (a) he or she encourages community members to use informal methods to solve problems, (b) police should have frequent and informal contacts with neighbourhood residents, and (c) police need to use resources from other agencies in order to solve problems. Factors thought to inhibit CP included the extent of the officer's agreement with statements indicating that (a) most people do not respect the police, (b) police officers usually have reason to be distrustful of most citizens, and (c) supervisors should determine the daily activities of officers (i.e., versus officers embracing greater discretion and autonomy which, presumably, would result in their greater support for CP).

Based on their review of the extant literature, Novak et al. expected that non-White officers, officers having higher education, officers with less experience, and supervisory officers would be more likely to support CP. In addition, they expected that officers who had previously worked on a CP project and who are supportive of problem solving strategies would express greater levels of acceptance of CP. Finally, because officers' perceptions about citizens may involve elements that inhibit positive attitudes towards CP, Novak et al. expected that officers who perceive that most people do not respect the police and who believe that citizens cannot be trusted would express lower levels of acceptance of CP. …