Developing Effective Community Policing Programs through a Therapeutic Jurisprudence Model

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article suggests that there is a growing disconnect between the practice of community policing and the scientific examination and evaluation of the concept. Specifically, it is suggested that there is little empirical evidence available regarding the effectiveness of community policing initiatives and that, as a result, concerns have been raised regarding the development of these programs. The major challenges to developing community policing programs are reviewed and a therapeutic jurisprudence model is proposed as guidance for the development of future programs.

Since the mid 1980's policing organizations throughout the world have attempted to develop and implement various alternative community-based programs including community-oriented policing, neighborhood-oriented policing, and problem-oriented policing (Oliver, 1998). Although these programs vary in terms of their approach, they tend to share the common theme. That is, attempting to develop an effective working relationship between the police and the community with regard to the detection and prevention of crime. Karp (1998, pp. 13-14), for example, suggests that these approaches are based on a community justice philosophy that refers to, "all variants of crime prevention and justice activities that explicitly include the community in their processes and set the enhancement of community quality of life as an explicit goal."

In addition to sharing this common overarching theme, community policing programs also tend share a number of guiding principles. First, these programs agree that the effectiveness of policing can be enhanced by the active participation of citizens. Specifically, it is believed that these programs will allow community members to become additional "eyes and ears" for the police and, in turn, aid in the prevention and detection of crime. Second, these programs are united in the belief that effective community-policing programs can positively impact community perceptions of crime. For example, police agencies today recognize that community perceptions (or beliefs) about crime rates are just as important as the actual crime rates when evaluating fear of crime. As such, community policing programs acknowledge that encouraging a more active collaboration between the police and a community is likely to culminate in community members feeling safer--even if actual crime rates do not decrease significantly. Finally, community policing programs also tend to be guided by the principle that policing today should be viewed as a vital component of a more holistic social justice approach to crime. In other words, community policing programs represent a modern-day belief that the police are part of a larger picture with regard to the issue of crime and should not be viewed as a separate entity from other justice agencies such as community-based programs, the courts, and corrections.

Although these early community policing programs initially received very positive responses, researchers as well as practitioners have increasingly begun to question their actual effectiveness. Fielding (1995, p.1) goes so far as to argue that the bulk of recent "studies on community policing have been preoccupied with one thing--does it work." Unfortunately, Fielding goes on to suggest that the results of this research indicate that community policing programs have not been very effective to date due to a number of theoretical and organizational problems (Rosenbaum, 1988).

Foremost of these problems is the theoretical debate over the definition of community. Goldstein (1990), for example, suggests that the ineffectiveness of a number of community policing programs can be traced back to the inherent difficulty in trying to define exactly what a community is. Similarly, it has been suggested that the failure of many of these programs is due to the fact that they continue to employ "old" policing practices rather than innovative approaches. …