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Cops on the street, walking the beat; trendy community policing smacks of old fashioned law and order.

Community policing has become the trendy style of law enforcement in the 1990's as cities look to enhance the image and effectiveness of their police departments by re-defining the role of police officers. And although its merits are still being hotly debated, more and more cities are adopting this community-oriented philosophy.

Also known as strategic policing and neighborhood-oriented policing, community policing is an effort in cities to develop a more interactive process between the police and citizens to better address and resolve community problems.

Advocates of community policing say it builds a better relationship between police officers and the communities they serve, helping to prevent fear. Opponents contend that police are becoming social workers and maintain that crime is still on the increase.

Embraced as a revolutionary concept in law enforcement, community policing is merely a return to the ideology of days gone by, where cops patrolled the streets on their feet, not in cars. This big difference now is that community policing is being utilized not just as an isolated individual program, but as an overall philosophy for the entire police force.

After Flint, Mich. first experimented with the idea in 1979, Houston became the first major metropolitan city to employ the concept when former Police Chief Lee P. Brown instituted neighborhood-oriented policing in 1987. Since then, cities from Newark to Miami to Lansing to Seattle have been putting cops out of cars and putting them on the beat.

The daily interaction between the police officer and the community has a multitude of benefits, not the least of which is familiarity. Building trust and forming a rapport with the community helps to break down the invisible barriers that exist between the police and the community.

In a report entitled "Community Policing: A Practical Guide For Police Officials," Brown states, "Experience has shown that as citizens' knowledge of the police function increases, their respect for the police increases as well. This increased respect, in turn, leads to greater support for the police."

And while police improve their image among the community, they also receive help in doing their job. Once citizens warm up to the officer, they are more apt to tell the officer of neighborhood problems that were previously unreported, as well as voice their complaints.

For community policing to be effective, police need to change their way of thinking, says Brown. Police need to switch from the traditional incident-driven, reactive style of policing to a more innovative, problem-solving, proactive approach. The increased authority granted to individual officers to take the initiative and find solutions to problems will increase job satisfaction, according to Brown.

But with the increase in authority comes an increase in responsibility. Police must become skilled in public relations also, according to Robert Trojanowicz, director of the National Center for Community Policing at Michigan State University.

"The officer gets involved in the community for crime prevention, but the major role is as an educator," said Trojanowicz. "There's a massive education process that must take place for community policing to work; officers need to inform communities not only about problems, but also about such things as when to call the police."

Although working in concert with the police, citizens must be expected to handle more of the minor problems themselves, said Trojanowicz. Incidents such as dogs barking and loud music will be left to be dealt with by the neighborhood associations rather than the police.

And citizens must be patient with slower response times to non- emergency situations. With more officers on foot patrol, fewer will be manning the 911 system. Citizens need to know what constitutes a real emergency and when they should call 911.

The success of community policing has varied widely, with some cities praising it while others curse it. Brown left Houston to become the New York City Police Commissioner in 1990, and the popularity of community policing in Houston seemed to leave with him.

In February of 1992, Elizabeth Watson, Brown's successor as Houston's police chief, was fired from her post, partly, due to a controversy over the city's community policing policy. The Houston Post sharply criticized community policing as "a policy in which police spend a lot of time interacting with a neighborhood rather than catching crooks."

Many police officers say that they feel more like social workers than police officers and that they are less productive since they are not making as many arrests or writing as many tickets. Opponents of community policing point to statistics and reiterate that the concept hasn't decreased the crime rate.

But Brown, who earlier this month was appointed the director of the National Drug Control Policy, notes that citizens are more concerned about the fear of crime rather than crime itself. His report states, "The use of foot patrols (a popular tactic of community policing). has been shown to reduce the fear of crime though not necessarily the actual number of crimes that are committed."

Citizens are more concerned about disorder in their neighborhoods than serious crime, according to Trojanowicz. Disorder such as abandoned cars, broken windows, graffiti, and vagrancy contribute to the depreciation of neighborhoods and are the breeding grounds for more serious crime.

By clamping down on this non-threatening-but-distributing disorder, residents feel safer as crime is prevented before it happens. Attacking the causes of serious crime by focusing on crime prevention rather than crime suppression is the essence of community policing. And crime prevention is one statistic that can't be measured, says Trojanowicz.

"How can you measure something that didn't happen?" said Trojanowicz. "By getting involved in the community, the officer will not directly solve the cause of the social ill, but he can certainly be the catalyst in dealing with it."

Brown adds, "In the final analysis, community policing is emerging as the most appropriate means of using police resources to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the century."
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Author:Neff, Andy
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jul 26, 1993
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