Magazine article The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

Community Policing: The Process of Transitional Change

Magazine article The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

Community Policing: The Process of Transitional Change

Article excerpt

Community policing has captured the attention of police agencies across the country. A national survey of police departments in areas with a population of more than 50,000 found that over one-half of the agencies have implemented community policing, and an additional 20 percent indicated they planned to do so.(1) The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which provides funding for 100,000 new police officers, has motivated many departments to develop programs that encompass various elements of community policing in an effort to receive additional funding. The question arises, are these agencies truly implementing community-oriented policing (COP), or are they merely trying to obtain the available federal funding?

Over the last 10 years, many experts have written on the subject of COP. Despite the availability of this literature, a lack of clarity or consensus seems to exist as to whether agencies, in fact, provide police services using a COP model. Conceptually, community policing has many meanings.(2) For some agencies, it represents a philosophy, while for others, it describes activities and programs. Given the problem of defining community policing, it is not surprising that critics have questioned whether the law enforcement community seriously has embraced community policing.

A preliminary analysis of the effects of The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 on moving agencies toward community policing suggests that organizations have been slow to implement structural changes that reflect the philosophy of community policing.(3) The authors of the book Community Policing, considered COP pioneers, contend that it takes an agency about 10 years to fully implement community policing.(4) This suggests that the controversy over whether or not a department is, in fact, using COP may be more a reflection of time rather than definition.

The authors of this article initially conducted a study to help law enforcement students comprehend the underlying principles of COP. In this study, they examined three areas: 1) law enforcement administrators' perceptions of community policing; 2) how administrators have implemented the principles and strategies of COP in their agencies; and 3) the skills administrators believe effective community police officers need.


The authors collected data for this study from the 89 law enforcement agencies in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. Approximately one-half of the population of Minnesota lives in this seven-county area, and one-half of the 8,000 law enforcement officers in the state work in this metropolitan area.

During the summer of 1996, the authors developed a survey and sent it to each of the department heads of the 89 agencies. A cover letter explaining the intent of the study accompanied the questionnaire. Within 2 months, a total of 75 surveys were returned, representing an 84 percent rate of response.


The questionnaire for this study was developed to assess law enforcement agencies' level of involvement with COP. Questions focused on three main sections: philosophy, strategies, and officer skills. Department heads were asked to identify themselves and the number of full-time sworn officers they employed. Respondents also were asked if their agencies identified themselves as COP agencies, and if so, how long they had been involved in community policing and how many officers were assigned specifically to COP duties.

The philosophy section consisted of 10 statements that reflect the underlying principles of community policing as identified in the book Community Policing. The survey asked respondents to indicate which of the following activities their departments had performed:

* Secured commitment and support from city/county management to implement COP

* Developed a departmentwide strategy to implement COP

* Integrated all divisions and individuals in the agency into the COP process

* Provided special training to department personnel regarding the philosophy, strategies, and duties associated with COP

* Relieved officers from traditional patrol duties and assigned them to specific problem areas

* Gave individual officers discretion and authority to use problem-oriented strategies to address calls for service

* Amended their agency personnel evaluation process to account for the new tasks associated with COP

* Established formal community partnerships to identify and address community problems and crime

* Increased the direct participation of citizens in addressing community problems

* Refocused both the department's and community's expectations of police service to accommodate for COP (e. …

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