Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Politics and Community Policing: Variables of Change in the Political Environment

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Politics and Community Policing: Variables of Change in the Political Environment

Article excerpt


Discussions of politics and the police frequently produce assumptions of unprofessional behavior, unethical relationships, or a taint on the impartiality of police processes. What must be recognized is that political relationships are not inherently "good" or "bad." Rather, they pragmatically reflect processes which are normal in the course of doing business, whether that business is manufacturing, sales, or public service. Political maneuvering and negotiation are as natural as the ebb and flow of the sea. They are processes which, to the experienced navigator, can be used to achieve organizational goals or, to the novice, can be a frustrating impediment undermining well-intentioned programming.

Increasingly, police executives are more open about the political nature of their roles. Some have become quite skillful at the process while others struggle to "learn the ropes." Clearly, managing the politics of police administration is an experiential endeavor. That is, one has to explore communication and negotiation strategies which work both within the environment and with the people involved. Similarly, one must be adept at sensing changes on the political terrain which can alter alliances, arguments, and positions. Despite the nebulous nature of these factors, there are some important constants which exist in political relationships that serve as useful guideposts for effective police management.

Community policing provides a new challenge for police executives in the political arena. The police are exploring redefined organizational configurations and processes--akin to the "reengineering corporations" movement now found in the private sector (Hammer and Champy, 1993)--which involves a new emphasis on teamwork, leadership, service, organizing work around "processes," job enlargement of patrol officers, empowering the community, and solving problems. Not only does this require radical surgery to traditional police practices (administrative and operational alike), it places the police in a new dimension of political gamesmanship. This dimension, while ultimately providing more influence, certainly has its pitfalls, particularly during transition.

The purpose of this article is to explore political issues associated with community policing. In particular, characteristics of political processes will be discussed as will various tools which may be used to guide political transactions toward desired ends. Ultimately, the article is directed toward a discussion of how these diverse factors may be used to engineer effective organizational change without burning one's political bridges.

Community Policing and Crime as Political Commodities

As a foundation, community policing is a new philosophy of policing based on the concept that police officers and private citizens working together in creative ways can help solve contemporary community problems related to crime, fear of crime, social and physical disorder, and neighborhood decay. The philosophy is predicated on the belief that achieving these goals requires that police departments develop a new relationship with the law-abiding people in the community, allowing them a greater voice in setting local priorities, and involving them in efforts to improve the overall quality of life in their neighborhoods. It shifts the focus of police work from handling random calls to solving problems (Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux, 1990:5).

Police involvement with the community in a new, proactive, positive relationship is a key element of the emerging political role. The administrative changes necessary to facilitate this "reengineering" are fundamental to internal political problems which must be resolved. This is not occurring in a vacuum but is representative of a broader "community movement" signified by recent elections and more vocal grass roots concerns voiced by citizens from our communities. These changes are coupled with contemporary movements in the private sector targeted toward quality management, most prominently emerging in the United States during the mid-1980s vis-a-vis Total Quality Management (TQM) (Deming, 1986) followed more recently by the "value-added service" and the "benchmark management" concepts found in various contemporary management books. …

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