Community Policing

Wesley G. Skogan

Community policing is very popular, so much so that few police chiefs want to be caught without some program they can call community policing. In a 1997 survey of police departments conducted by the Police Foundation, 85 percent reported they had adopted community policing or were in the process of doing so. What do cities that claim they are “doing community policing” actually do? This paper goes beyond describing the long list of projects they report, to examine the fundamentals of community policing. At root, community policing involves changing decision-making processes and creating new cultures within police departments. It is an organizational strategy that leaves setting priorities and the means of achieving them largely to residents and the police who serve in their neighborhoods. It has three core elements: citizen involvement, problem solving, and decentralization, although in practice these three dimensions turn out to be densely interrelated, and departments that shortchange one or more of them will not field a very effective program. The paper reviews those three core concepts, describes how they have been turned into concrete community policing programs, and reports some of what we know about their effectiveness. It summarizes some of the claims made for community policing, and some of the realities of achieving them in the real world.

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