Community-Building and Reintegrative Approaches to Community Policing: The Case of Drug Control

By Goetz, Barry; Mitchell, Roger | Social Justice, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Community-Building and Reintegrative Approaches to Community Policing: The Case of Drug Control


Goetz, Barry, Mitchell, Roger, Social Justice


THE OFFICER AS COMMUNITY-BUILDER IS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR THEMES OF THE community policing movement. It is based on the assumption that the officer can act as an organizer who works to mobilize the "social capital" of a neighborhood to prevent social disorder and thereby crime (Pint, 2001; Sampson, 1999; Lyons, 1999; Crank, 1994). Nevertheless, the community-building process is a tall order for the police, both politically and bureaucratically. A traditionally insulated service sector that is often an object of controversy in its own right, a community-building orientation requires law enforcement to forge partnerships with a wide variety of community-based and other government organizations, as well as to engage in social outreach (Thracher, 2001; Kleinenberg, 2001).

In this context, community policing assumes that the police will restrain their reactive, crime-fighting orientation to create room for more collaborative and innovative crime prevention and "problem-solving" strategies (Bureau of Justice, 1994: 17). Whether the police are willing and able to live up to these reforms, and how they problem-solve, are matters open to question (Skogan and Hartnett, 1997; Maguire, 1997).

Different methods of community policing imply different ideas about community-building, although they all grow out of a common philosophical assumption that social disorganization leads to crime and must be minimized. Here we limit our discussion of the community-building concept to understanding the ways in which different policing practices and crime prevention partnerships work to include or exclude socially marginal populations. For example, the most common police response to their community-building role has been to intensify and broaden their preexisting order-maintenance function. One approach, "aggressive order maintenance," is philosophically rooted in Wilson and Kelling's (1982) now classic piece on "broken windows" as a metaphor for the association between physical disorder, social disorganization, and crime (Kelling and Coles, 1996: 158). Aggressive order maintenance involves arrests, "field interrogations," and "stops and frisks" as methods to suppress minor crimes and "untended" behaviors, such as public intoxication and panhandling, with the intention of preventing larger problems of crime and disorder (Ibid.; Crank, 1994: 343; Harcourt, 2001: 173). One consequence of this approach is the increased regulation of "disreputable" or "obstreperous" persons such as "panhandlers, drunks, addicts, rowdy teenagers, prostitutes, loiterers, the mentally disturbed," because they are viewed as a threat to community organization and stability (Wilson and Kelling, 1982: 30; Crank, 1994). A second approach, "problem-oriented" policing, is analogous to broken windows theory in that it frequently targets environmental and social disorder because it is believed that these conditions give rise to crime (Goldstein, 1990). This model advocates more indirect approaches to control, avoiding the use of arrests and the targeting of specific groups when possible, and instead focuses on ecological solutions. "Grime-fighting" and "nuisance abatement" campaigns that work to remove the "environmental cues" believed to attract crime, such as unkempt lots or abandoned cars, are popular problem-solving strategies (Taylor, 2001: 5; Sampson and Raudenbush, 1999: 605). The police may also work with code enforcement agencies to demolish or rehabilitate properties suspected of harboring drug traffickers (Eck, 1990; Eck and Spelman, 1987). Whatever the method, order maintenance policing is seen as a community-building tool because it is said to reduce the fear and actual incidence of crime and to reinforce law-abiding and conventional norms (Sykes, 1986).

Much has been written on the successes of community policing in the United States as it pertains to order maintenance, particularly when initiatives are organized around the enhanced regulation of public space (e. …

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