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Community policing: the process of transitional change.

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.g., effect on response time, citizen responsibilities, etc.).

The next section of the survey examined the strategies that departments used to implement community policing. The open-ended question asked respondents to list any strategies that their agencies regularly performed that illustrated a commitment to COP.

The final section consisted of the following eight skills or traits associated with officer competence in COP: problem-solving skills, ethical integrity, interpersonal communication skills, writing skills, knowledge about the causes of and solutions for crime, mediation skills, organizational skills (organizing groups and communities), and college-level preparation. Respondents were asked to check those skills they thought were critical for the effectiveness of officers assigned to COP.


Sample Characteristics

The 75 agencies that responded ranged in size from 1 to 850 sworn officers. Approximately one-half of the agencies had 25 or fewer officers, while 6 of the departments had 100 or more officers.

Fifty-nine of the 75 agencies that responded identified themselves as COP agencies. Twenty of the agencies were in their first year of COP, while 8 indicated they had instituted community-oriented policing at least 10 years earlier. The majority of agencies had been involved with COP for less than 5 years.

Common Concepts of COP

More than 70 percent of the agencies incorporated 5 of the 10 principles that encompass the COP philosophy. These 5 principles exhibit both the internal organizational changes and the external changes that embody police-community involvement. These 5 principles incorporated by the agencies are: giving officers discretion and authority, freeing up officers to work COP, training all personnel regarding COP, establishing community partnerships, and increasing participation of citizens.

COP is based on the premise that line officers have the authority and discretion to develop solutions to problems occurring in neighborhoods. This, in fact, represented the most widely accepted principle held by administrators. Relieving officers from traditional patrol duties to work in specific problem areas paralleled this principle. These practices reflect changes within the department regarding the delivery of police services, which suggests that administrators perceive that traditional reactive policing does not adequately address problems facing communities today. In contrast, problem-solving techniques provide proactive means for combating recurring problems within the community.

COP also is based on the philosophy that the police and the community work together to solve problems. Acknowledging the importance of this facet of COP, agencies established formal partnerships with the community, increased direct participation of citizens in addressing community problems, and secured commitment and support from city or county management. These actions suggest that law enforcement administrators recognize that the police cannot solve all of the problems facing communities on their own. As a result, they have developed ties with the broader community in an attempt to eliminate the us-versus-them mentality that often characterizes traditional reactive policing.

The four principles least likely to have been implemented involved internal changes within the agency. Specifically, agencies did not amend the evaluation process, refocus expectations, integrate the entire agency into COP, or develop a departmentwide strategy. It is possible that the process of converting to COP requires that certain changes take precedence over others, and in time, departments will implement the remaining principles as they progress in their "journey" to COP. If so, then it would appear that agencies implementing the above principles are, in fact, community policing agencies because they have created ties with the community and developed new ways to deliver services based on proactive policing.

Yet, based on conversations with officers and chiefs from a number. of agencies, the authors have concluded that this may not be the case and offer an alternate hypothesis. Three principles lay the groundwork for the change to COP and require implementation during the first stage of the transition to community policing.

First, departments must develop a departmentwide strategy to implement COP. A key step in the process requires participation from all members of the agency. This step often is neglected, especially when agency administrators conceive, develop, and implement the COP initiative without input from other employees. Members of the agency excluded from the planning process are more likely to perceive COP as just another public relations program instituted by the chief. When officers lack participation in the COP process, the chances for undermining it increase.

The second principle means integrating all divisions and individuals into the COP process. As one chief stated: "Our department is integrated around the COP philosophy. It is the philosophy that is important, and everyone, including civilian staff, needs to be committed to it." The philosophy provides the framework for police-community relations and affects how the police deliver services to the community.

Establishing community partnerships designed to address and solve problems confronting residents is the common bond that guides departments committed to COP. Community-oriented policing does not mean special units that work in isolation from the rest of the department. Special units represent tools that departments can use to address specific problems identified by the police and the community. Agencies that create special units assigned solely to community policing typically create hard feelings and misunderstandings among other department personnel, especially those in patrol.
Community Policing Principles Implemented by 75 Minnesota Law
Enforcement Agencies

Principles Yes No

Gave officers discretion and authority 78% 22%
Established community partnerships 75% 25%
Freed up officers to work COP 72% 28%
Increased participation of citizens 72% 28%
Trained all personnel on COP 71% 29%
Secured support from city administrators 63% 37%
Developed departmentwide strategy 54% 46%
Integrated entire agency into COP 49% 51%
Refocused expectations 43% 57%
Amended evaluation process 31% 69%

The third principle involves providing training to all department "personnel regarding the philosophy, strategies, and duties associated with COP. Community-oriented policing differs fundamentally from traditional policing and compels officers to look at the profession of policing in a different way. Without proper training, officers are unsure of what COP is, how it is implemented, and what their roles are, resulting in confusion, misconceptions, and resistance to change. Officers who think of COP as nothing more than social work will have nothing to do with it. Oftentimes, such officers have had little or no training in COP.

This study found that agencies incorporating these three principles in the first stage of the implementation process are more likely to have a successful transition. Working through the process of developing a strategy, integrating it throughout the department, and exploring the possibilities COP extends for delivering police services create a solid foundation that encompasses all department personnel. The COP philosophy directs and guides the mission of the police in the community. It unites officers and administrators in a common quest for making the community a safer place. As a result, the remaining principles generally are implemented rather quickly following the transition stage.

Administrators in agencies that have implemented COP point out, however, that the transition to community policing takes a considerable amount of time to develop and execute. One chief thought that it takes at least 10 years to change an organization.


The survey asked respondents to list all of the strategies that their agencies regularly perform that relate to COP. Fifty respondents(5) listed 129 strategies, which were grouped into 10 common topics.

The most widely cited strategies involved developing school programs and working with community groups. Drug Abuse Resistance Education and Gang Related Education and Training represent some of the school programs reported by the department heads, along with school liaisons and such juvenile programs as Explorers. The community groups listed included business owners, apartment managers, and apartment residents.
Number of Community Policing Strategies Implemented

Strategies Responding (50)

School programs 23
Officers working with community groups 21
Crime prevention programs 10
Community involvement 13
Block clubs and neighborhood watches 12
Problem-oriented policing 10
Officers working in neighborhoods 10
Alternative strategies (e.g., bike patrol) 10
Community feedback 8
Citizen police academy 6

Sixteen departments developed crime prevention programs designed to provide information to the community. These programs included sponsoring conferences with community groups, involving residents in the hiring process, and developing associations with the citizens by organizing and working to develop block clubs and Neighborhood Watches.

Some strategies used by a number of police agencies to increase police visibility included problem-oriented policing strategies, officers working in substations and/or walking the beat, team policing, and bike patrols. Additional methods designed to increase ties with the community included seeking community feedback through surveys, interviews, or phone calls, as well as establishing citizen police academies.

Still, community-oriented policing is a philosophy. Strategies evolve from the philosophy as methods to accomplish COP goals. In other words, until the philosophy is integrated throughout the agency using the three core principles discussed, strategies lack coherence.

Officer Skills

The survey specifically asked respondents which skills or traits they felt were critical for officers engaged in community policing. Interpersonal communication skills, problem-solving abilities, mediation skills, ethical integrity, the ability to organize groups and communities, and knowledge of the causes of and solutions for crime were supported overwhelmingly by the department heads. Two out of three also perceived writing skills as important for officers engaged in COP.

Interestingly, only 33 percent felt that college-level education was important for developing the skills officers need to perform COP. Ironically, the skills and traits they have identified as crucial for COP generally are attributed to individuals who have college educations.

Clearly, department heads recognize that community policing requires that officers develop and possess skills typically not associated with traditional reactive policing. It follows that education and training become acute prerequisites for the transition to COP. Line officers remain the key to its successful implementation. It makes little sense to send officers into the community to implement COP with deficient skills and only a vague notion of what they are supposed to accomplish.


Interest in community-oriented policing is sweeping through police agencies and academic circles across the country. Community policing sessions at the national meetings of such professional organizations as the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences and the American Society of Criminology are well attended and provoke charged discussions regarding definitions and issues relating to implementation of COP.

In many of these sessions, attendees discuss common problems of implementing community policing. Such discussions reveal that many of the agencies that encounter resistance from their officers have not implemented the three principles laid out as critical to the success of COP.

The majority of the department heads in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area seem committed to implementing COP in their agencies and not just trying to obtain available federal funding. However, guidelines for changing police agencies remain incomplete and sketchy. This leaves many administrators searching for ways to make COP fit their departments and communities.

The authors' survey found that agencies that successfully implement COP offer three guidelines or suggestions for change. First, implementing COP must be a departmentwide effort; it is not something the department head can do alone. Second, involving everyone in the development and implementation ensures ownership and commitment to the philosophy of COP. Finally, the change to COP is a process that takes time and a tremendous amount of work. Still, the effort is worth it. As one chief whose department has successfully implemented COP said, "COP is the only real way that the police can effectively deliver services. COP is what the police are supposed to be."


1 Department of Justice, FBI, Community Policing: A Survey of Police Departments in the United States (Lansing, MI: National Center for Community Policing, 1993).

2 J. Seagrave, "Defining Community Policing," American Journal of Police 15, no. 2 (1996): 1-22.

3 J. Ziembo-Vogl and D. Woods, "Defining Community Policing: Practice Versus Paradigm," Police Studies 19, no. 3 (1996): 33-50.

4 R. Trojanowicz and B. Bucqueroux, Community Policing (Cincinnati, Ohio: Anderson Publishing, 1990), 16.

5 Of the 75 surveys returned, 25 did not respond to this question.

Dr. Breci serves as an associate professor at Metropolitan State University's School of Law Enforcement in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Chief Erickson commands the Arizona Western College Police Department in Yuma, Arizona.
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Author:Erickson, Timothy E.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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