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Forging a police-probation alliance.

To deliver better police services, American law enforcement agencies increasingly have employed new technologies and more stringent hiring standards during the past several decades. In this same period, greater numbers of academicians have applied a scientific approach to police practices. Both efforts have yielded improvements in many areas, including police strategies, interviewing techniques, and investigator caseload management, with the common goal of creating more effective law enforcement agencies.

The acquisition of these new tools and procedures has increased expectations and demands for police services. Today, investigating crimes, apprehending criminals, and keeping the peace constitute only a few of the responsibilities within the purview of law enforcement agencies. Crime prevention, social integration, and community planning have become additional matters that the public expects police departments to handle. The current tidal wave of calls to 9-1-1 systems for such incidents as defective street lamps and neighbor disputes illustrates the public's expectation for police intervention in almost any problem.

However, with demands for better and more varied services rising, few law enforcement agencies have the luxury of operating with little concern for budgetary constraints. While focusing on creating more effective police agencies, administrators also have to concentrate on making their departments more efficient within the confines of limited resources. Several avenues exist for combining effectiveness with efficiency. Some innovative law enforcement techniques, such as problem-oriented or community policing use nontraditional resources, including community partnerships. Joining with religious groups for recruitment, gay and lesbian groups for hate crime prevention, and political action groups for public support reveal some of the partnerships law enforcement agencies have developed to more effectively and efficiently employ scarce resources and avoid duplication of efforts.

It seems more and more apparent that the police alone cannot solve many crime and order problems, but that in partnership with others who have resources of their own to offer - time, money, expertise, ideas, energy, equipment, and more - perhaps they can. It has become, therefore, the aim...for innovative police departments to invest a good deal of effort in enlisting the aid of others, and to tackle problems by allying police resources and strengths with those of others.(1)

One resource seldom tapped by police agencies remains the local probation department. Perhaps as a result of interdepartmental rivalry or a perceived conflict of missions, many police departments have little, if any, contact or communication with the probation department serving the same jurisdiction. However, many law enforcement investigators who have explored this route have found that probation officers can become valuable resources and willing allies. For example, the Boston, Massachusetts, Police Department developed an effective gang program by actively working with local probation officers.(2) Other programs have sprung up across the country to increase cooperation between probation and police departments, including a joint effort in Texas between the Greenville Police Department and the Hunt County Community Supervision and Corrections Department.


Located about 40 miles northeast of Dallas, the Greenville, Texas, Police Department employs 52 sworn officers to serve 25,000 residents. Recently, the department implemented new policies and programs in conjunction with the Hunt County Community Supervision and Corrections Department (CSCD) to deliver more comprehensive criminal justice services to the community. Prior to developing the partnership, frustration often occurred in both departments because police officers repeatedly handled the same suspects, even though many were on probation or parole, while probation officers (or community supervision officers, the term used for probation officers in Texas) frequently lacked pertinent information about their clients' behavior on the street. Due to increased caseloads and limited staff, probation officers in smaller or rural jurisdictions, such as Hunt County, have minimal resources for monitoring their clients' behavior other than a few short contacts each month. Further, the probation officers only went to the Greenville Police Department for arrest reports, while the police officers contacted the probation officers solely to serve probation violation warrants. The two departments remained isolated, except for some superficial communication, until the Hunt County CSCD began encouraging probation officers to ride with police officers during patrol duty. The ensuing conversations produced several ideas for programs promoting a mutually beneficial partnership. The departments have implemented a number of the suggested programs, which have improved the police-probation relationship at little or no cost.

Ride-Along Program

After these initial rides proved successful, the chief of police authorized all probation officers to ride with police officers any time, unless special circumstances proved prohibitive. This program has made great strides in encouraging communication. The conversations taking place in an 8-hour shift often serve to educate the officers in one field about the other, frequently culminating in enhanced appreciation and respect.

Aside from promoting communication, the ride-along program frequently allows probation officers to see their clients in natural surroundings and situations, especially in medium to small cities where the chance of encountering their own clients proves greater. For example, one night, a probation officer accompanied police officers dispatched to a domestic disturbance call. The male arrested in connection with the incident was a client of the probation officer and had violated the terms of his probation by drinking alcohol that night. By observing the situation firsthand, the probation officer not only gained insight into the probationer's home life but also could testify in court, freeing the police officers from appearing.

Moreover, when citizens see probation and police officers working together, they realize that probation officers have an active interest in offenders complying with the conditions of their supervision. Additionally, in cities the size of Greenville where offenders have little chance of anonymity, probationers may become more mindful of their actions and avoid violations if they know that the police have an open channel to their probation officers. Further, according to some police officers, another benefit of the program simply involves having another set of eyes and ears with them while on patrol.

Notification System

Before the partnership between the two departments began, Greenville police officers seldom received notification of probation violation warrants issued for residents. Therefore, officers could observe individuals with outstanding warrants and not know that they were probation violators. Without a notification system, the officers monopolized dispatch lines inquiring about such individuals and the possibility of warrants existing for their arrest. The Hunt County CSCD purchased a bulletin board and placed it in the briefing room of the Greenville Police Department. CSCD maintains the board and posts notices for police officers concerning individuals with warrants, their addresses, and any other important information. When police officers encounter these individuals on the street, they know about the warrants and only have to contact the dispatchers for confirmation. Some officers have shown exceptional initiative by using their time between calls to serve probation violation warrants. While the bulletin board has decreased the average time between issuing and serving warrants, it also has helped officers find long-standing fugitives.

The bulletin board can be used for disseminating other types of information, as well. CSCD provides an envelope for police officers to leave notes to probation officers and posts a list of offenders on curfew. CSCD encourages police officers who see probation curfew violators to contact the appropriate probation officer and report the infraction. Also, because police officers may not be familiar with probation department officers, CSCD posts a list of probation officers along with their specializations and phone numbers so police officers can contact them easily.

Curfew Checks

Prior to the cooperative initiative between the two departments, checking curfew compliance of probationers proved difficult and sometimes dangerous. Because probation officers in Texas are not authorized to carry firearms, conducting curfew checks late at night poses inherent hazards.(3) Although the Greenville Police Department has limited resources, police supervisors periodically make officers available, workload permitting, to accompany probation officers on curfew compliance verifications. This type of resource sharing illustrates a good working partnership brought about through mutual concern for officer safety.

Citizen Police Academies

Citizen Police Academies constitute a popular trend among law enforcement agencies nationwide. Consisting of approximately 10 weekly meetings, these academies provide interested citizens with a working knowledge of their police department's overall functions and personnel. The Greenville Police Department regularly invites probation officers to attend these meetings. By observing this cooperative effort in action, citizen attendees have become aware of the determination of both departments to provide effective and efficient services to their community.


While the partnership between the Greenville Police Department and the Hunt County CSCD has existed for only a short time, some benefits have been realized already. Most important, police officers have become aware of the probation system and its intricacies. Understanding how it operates has made police officers able to comfortably use the system to their advantage instead of viewing it as a frustration. Further, more contact and communication between the departments has fostered a teamwork attitude and led to greater reciprocity.

Moreover, the cooperative programs have been implemented at virtually no cost to either department. The most difficult resource to allocate for the programs has been time. Stretched to the limit with large caseloads and time-consuming paperwork, probation officers sometimes cannot spare 8 hours to spend on patrol with police officers. However, the other efforts do not require much time, just commitment from managers and participants alike. This commitment marks the difference between useful cooperative efforts and perfunctory partnerships that wither from lack of support.

While the Greenville Police Department and the Hunt County CSCD remain committed to working together, they also understand that both institutions share the same broad goal of administering justice but have different individual missions. Police agencies have the immediate mission of detecting crime, apprehending offenders, and maintaining order, while probation departments focus on personal change and fostering responsibility for reducing recidivism. Conceived not as an extension of law enforcement, probation departments have operated for the past century on the basis that some criminal offenders can be rehabilitated and become productive members of the community. Of course, the orientation of probation departments along the treatment/enforcement continuum varies according to region, state, and individual department.

Probation officers often have a wide variety of sanctions and tools available to assist offenders with problems and make them accountable for their behavior; however, not everyone will agree with the decisions made by the other group. Administrators committed to fostering cooperation must be aware that disagreement will exist at times, but they cannot abandon a beneficial program because of a few individual cases of divergent opinions. Group rivalry can act as a forceful barrier to effective communication and can undermine mutually beneficial programs.(4) Possibly, probation officials can become too closely aligned with the police department and risk losing some aspects of objectivity.

Some individuals may accuse cooperative efforts of being nothing more than an opportunity to label or catch probationers. This perception of probation officers simply trying to find reasons to incarcerate probationers proves a powerful deterrent to personal change. However, most of these accusations come from probation violators. Those probationers who have changed and remain committed to complying with the conditions of their supervision have little to fear from these cooperative efforts.


With the initial success of existing programs, the Greenville Police Department and the Hunt County CSCD may establish other joint efforts in the future. This promising beginning proves an even greater achievement when considering .that the programs have cost the departments and the taxpayers virtually nothing. Other agencies may contemplate implementing some of these programs, enhancing or modifying them, or creating new ones to fit their special needs.

Appoint a Liaison Police Officer

To increase communication between agencies, law enforcement administrators should consider appointing a police officer to act as liaison between their agency and the local probation department. When probation officials know specific individuals in the police department to contact for assistance, their frustration decreases knowing that they will not be shuffled from division to division. Also, the liaison police officer can inform probation officers of special circumstances or events that could impact their work, such as new criminal activity in the area or a major investigation.

Involve Probation in Problem-Oriented Strategies

Problem-oriented policing uses all available resources to address a crime-related problem. Many departments enforce local codes to clean up dirty and dangerous areas of their communities. Sometimes, probation departments can assist in these efforts. For instance, police officers may find themselves answering a growing number of loud music, public intoxication, gambling, and other public disturbance calls at a house that has become a popular social gathering site. Probation officers can work with police to dissipate any gathering prone to public disorder or violence. Using court-ordered conditions of supervision that forbid probationers to associate with others on felony probation or parole, probation officers often can persuade probationers to make other arrangements for socializing. Similarly, probation officers can constrain such establishments as night clubs and liquor stores that have become hotbeds of criminal activity.

Teach Officer Safety Courses

In Texas, probation officers do not carry weapons and receive little training in officer safety. While the Hunt County CSCD has experienced few cases of assaults on their officers, the possibility of conflict and altercation remains a constant concern. A cooperative safety effort involving police officers who instruct defensive tactics, verbal de-escalation techniques, and other officer safety procedures in their departments could help probation officers reduce their risk of being assaulted in the office or the field. Such an initiative can send a message of awareness and teamwork throughout both departments.

Use Community Service

Most offenders perform community service as a requirement of their probation. Some offenders possess skills that could save police resources. In many smaller jurisdictions, offenders possessing mechanical abilities have been enlisted to perform regular maintenance on police cruisers. Even offenders with limited skills can provide services to their communities through special projects (e.g., graffiti removal or playground maintenance) or through such local code enforcement as litter disposal or school repairs.

Install a Tipline

The Hunt County CSCD employs an automated telephone system with voice-mail capabilities and 24-hour accessibility. Current plans involve developing a designated voice-mail account for law enforcement officers to provide tips to or solicit information from the probation department. The use of voice mail, as impersonal as it may seem, makes it easier for police officers to contact the probation department and eliminates additional paperwork.


Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of law enforcement services constitutes a major concern for police administrators. Increased demands for services balanced against budgetary constraints remains a challenge for police departments regardless of size or location. One innovative method that combines effectiveness with efficiency involves creating partnerships with community, civic, corporate, or other groups having resources to share. These alternative sources also can include other criminal justice agencies, such as local probation departments, often overlooked in these joint efforts.

In Texas, the Greenville Police Department and the Hunt County Community Supervision and Corrections Department forged an alliance to improve communication between the two departments and to deliver more effective and efficient services to their community. Working together, the two departments created programs to specifically address communication problems, including having police and probation officers ride together during patrol. Other efforts, such as improving the system of notifying police officers about probation violation warrants issued and having police officers accompany probation officers during curfew compliance checks resulted from the ride-along program. Additionally, these programs have been implemented at little or no cost to the departments or the taxpayers and have enhanced the level of service. This alliance promotes the increasing trend in law enforcement to turn to other groups or organizations to help support efforts to combat crime and violence. To this end, programs that facilitate communication can help law enforcement agencies meet the high expectations of the public and foster a seamless criminal justice system.


1 D.M. Kennedy, "The Strategic Management of Police Resources," Perspectives on Policing (January 1993): 7.

2 R. Faulkner, "Community Policing & Community Corrections," APPA Perspectives (July 1997): 10.

3 Recently, legislation was passed authorizing Texas probation officers to carry weapons based on the discretion of the local district judge and the county's director of probation.

4 S.S. Souryal, Police Organization and Administration 2d ed. (Cincinnati, OH: Anderson, 1995).

Mr. McKay serves as a community supervision officer with the Hunt County Community Supervision and Corrections Department in Greenville, Texas.

Chief Paris commands the Greenville, Texas, Police Department.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Federal Bureau of Investigation
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Author:Paris, Barry
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Nov 1, 1998
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