Community Policing: Exploring the Philosophy

By Allender, David M. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Community Policing: Exploring the Philosophy

Allender, David M., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

A discussion concerning the definition of community policing can include vastly different connotations, depending upon the views held by those involved. Street-level officers might conjure up a scenario that requires the transfer of officers from traditional enforcement duties to an assignment that requires little "police action" but, instead, concentrates on helping citizens confront "order maintenance" issues. Community groups may envision a police force that responds exclusively to the demands voiced by them. Researchers usually define the model by their particular orientation. Politicians typically support the concept, but often remain unsure of what the theory means. Law enforcement administrators tend to view the idea as another federally supported initiative that they must implement to receive grant funds. Finally, officers and citizens working in a successful project often reach a consensus interpretation entirely dissimilar to any of these. With such a wide range of viewpoints, formulating a definition of community policing becomes a daunting task. However, one explanation highlights nine words that can provide the key to better understanding the concept.


   Community policing is a philosophy of full-service, personalized
   policing where the same officer patrols and works in the same area on
   a permanent basis, from a decentralized place, working in a proactive
   partnership with citizens to identify and solve problems. (1)

Based on this definition, the first indication that this form of policing differs from other approaches is its label as a philosophy. Three other critical aspects include personalized, partnership, and problem-solving ingredients. Other identified factors, while important, are not as essential to understanding the concept of community policing.


Over the years, American society has embraced a number of policing methodologies. Many scholars have defined the type of work done by officers in the 1950s through the early 1970s as "traditional" policing. This terminology, in fact, can prove misleading. Several factors, including the massive shift of many police forces into vehicles equipped with radios, reform initiatives designed to remove politics from the police agencies, and early steps toward professionalism, already had altered the methods and tactics employed by law enforcement. Moreover, not everyone in the profession accepted the traditional policing approach.

To this end, several law enforcement agencies attempted to implement "team policing" in the 1980s. Poorly defined and improperly marketed to law enforcement and the public, this model had little chance of success. Rising crime rates, especially in the categories of violent crime, dictated the need to develop a more successful model for police to follow. Community policing, which attempts to form a partnership between the police and residents in the neighborhoods the officers serve, developed primarily because many people desired an improved American police force.

Early advocates of community policing identified order maintenance issues as important factors in the overall control of crime. (2) Reports identifying the amount of crime in the country indicated that most Americans were much more likely to encounter problems associated with uncivil behavior than to become a victim of crime. Fear on the part of residents, however, often caused community groups to equate disorderly persons with criminal activity. Academic information supported the feeling that resident fear represented an important factor in determining police effectiveness. Thus, reducing civil disorder became a main ingredient of the emerging community policing philosophy.


Law enforcement professionals, equipped with lessons learned during the problem-laden traditional policing period and the failed team policing initiative, realized the need to work with the various communities they served to identify issues viewed by each neighborhood as significant. …

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