Re-Thinking Neighborhood Policing

70 Re-Thinking Neighborhood Policing by Kenneth W. Findley and Robert W. Taylor, Ph.D. ABSTRACT One of the hottest issues in police management today...
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Re-Thinking Neighborhood Policing by Kenneth W. Findley and Robert W. Taylor, Ph.D.

ABSTRACT One of the hottest issues in police management today is the implementation of community or neighborhood policing. Numerous agencies have departed from traditional police methods and embarked on a journey involving the radical restructuring of the police organization and society’s perception of "what" police do. This paper focuses on the problems associated with community policing.

INTRODUCTION The goal of neighborhood or community policing is to ultimately forge relationship between the police and various institutions within the neighborhood, i.e. churches, small businesses, schools, community groups. These institutions will then serve as the first line of defense againstneighborhood decay and crime (Persinos, 1989). Unfortunately, as in all new efforts, neighborhood or community policing requires change. In this case, significant organizational and cultural change in both the police and the community - change in not only the rudimentary mechanics of policing, but fundamental changes in both the community perception of police as well as a redefinition of &dquo;what police do&dquo; by cops themselves. Sparrow (1988), in describing the difficulties in implementing a community-oriented policing concept, compared the momentum of a police agency to that of a 50-ton tractor trailer: &dquo;Greater momentum means less maneuverability.&dquo; Without a carefully designed plan, the agency may lose &dquo;traction&dquo; and &dquo;throw the entire force into confusion&dquo; (p. 1). Sparrow is entirely correct in his analogy, as there are serious barriers to overcome. Failing to understand these can leave the organization like a rudderless boat adrift in a storm of misdirection. This paper focuses on illuminating the problems associated with community policing. a stronger


Role Confusion The literature on police culture is replete with essays

focusing on role conflictandconfusion.(SeeBittner, 1971;ManningandVanMaanen, 1978; Klockars, 1985, 1986; Taylor, 1983.) Community policing appears only to heighten role confusion and increase the incidence of police delinquency (Taylor, 1983). Are police agencies to merge the traditional model of law enforcement and social work as prescribed in a relatively nebulous concept of neighborhood policing or are they to focus on entirely different roles such as found in housing authorities, transportation regulators, and grade schools? Indeed, confusion exists because of several factors

the foremost of which is the conflict between what police officers have traditionally felt their role to be as opposed to what their role should be in community policing (Brown -

and Wycoff, 1987). Clearly, a resulting condition from this ambiguity is low morale within officerranks. In both Houston, Texas and Baltimore, Maryland, two national leaders in the development of community-oriented police strategies, documented cases of low morale persist (Persinos, 1989). Much of the blame is heaped upon the conversion to neighborhood policing as officers complain that there are no clear objectives or cons is tent direction built into the concept. These sentiments echo the failure of community police advocates to adequately sway traditional police executives into &dquo;buying&dquo; the elusive benefits of community policing (Eck, et al., 1987). Fundamental Constitutional Problems The absence of clear definition provides an environment wherein agencies practice different variations. In Madison, Wisconsin, has taken on specific problem-solving tasks one, to address the policing driver and to violent sexual offenders. In Baltitwo, drinking apprehend a unit Chief Cornelius Behan formed called COPE more, Maryland, special in to Oriented Police (Citizen Enforcement) response a particularly shocking series of homicides in 1981. The mission for this unit was to reduce fear in the county by intensive patrol and close contact with the community. In Flint, Michigan, an opposite approach was taken. Instead of intensive patrol, officers were encouraged to work on community problems while on preventive foot patrol. District boundaries had no meaning, as officers addressed holistic community problems irrespective of geographic location. And in Newport News, Virginia, the police department, under then Chief Darrel Stephens, collaborated with PERF (Police Executive Research Forum) to radically change existing management practices. New objectives and philosophies were stated, internal communication and officer accountability was stressed, and participatory decision-making techniques were employed




in order to

more fully integrate &dquo;problem-solving&dquo; policing into the daily operations of the department (Goldstein, 1990:51-59). As a side note, Chief Darrel Stephens is now the Executive Director of PERF. All of these experiments in policing, which should be applauded for their attempt to improve police effectiveness, fall within the very broad rubric of neighborhood or community policing. Best described, community policing is a police-community partnership in which the police and the community work hand-in-hand to resolve what the community identifies as &dquo;problems.&dquo; These often relate only marginally to the traditional police mission. They may concern abandoned houses, overgrown lots, zoning ordinances, school issues and other urban problems that are more appropriately in the realm of other agencies. The end result is expected to be a lessened fear of crime, greater cooperation, and neighborhood stability with an absence of disorder. The police officer, in a community policing environment, when not responding to calls for service, is proactively involved in community affairs, organizing community meetings, and working with the community to resolve those matters of concern. In

many cases, this encompasses the maintenance of order, where,



and Kelling (1985) describe, &dquo;it often involves taking informal or extralegal steps to help protect what the neighborhood had decided was the appropriate level of public order&dquo; (p. 77). Klockars (1985) described this order maintenance as &dquo;policing that involves over-enforcing, under-enforcing, and selectively enforcing laws, as well as taking actions wholly without legal basis or authority for purposes unrecognized by written codes of law&dquo; (p.92). At the heart of this concept lies a major issue. Is the police role that of maintaining the &dquo;appropriate level of public order&dquo; or that of enforcing the law (fighting crime)? The law considers the individual, and not the community, to be the source of the law and the chief beneficiary of legal rights (Klockars, p. 95). Community policing invokes the opposite perspective.

Stratton (1984) stated that &dquo;the evolution of law enforcement takes

place within the evolution of the society which it serves. The two cannot be separated.&dquo; He went further in proposing that the events of our childhood and on through our early adult lives govern to a great extent our perceptions of the world (p. 1). By the time, then, that officers enter the field, they have perceived what they expect their role as police officer to be. In all too many cases, that perception is influenced by popular media presentation. Nees (1990) observes: study (Penn and Schoen Associated, Inc., May 1987, ’Television and the Police: Attitudes and Perceptions of the Police and the Public’) pointed out that most

A recent

citizens believe that they get most of their information about officers from television police shows (p. 261).


Because of the necessity to attract and retain audiences, most popular media (to include television shows, movies, radio programs, and novels) are weighted heavily in the &dquo;crime fighting&dquo; role. Once employed, this perception is bolstered by both academy and field training which are legalistic in nature. Most academy training focuses on preparing officers to protect themselves and to enforce the letter of the law. Officers are deluged with the penal code, the code of criminal procedure, laws of arrest, search and seizure, traffic codes, ordinances, policies and procedures, and are impaled with the threat of civil or criminal action if they should err in their application of these. Enforcing the law, in reality, is only a small portion of what an officer is called upon to do. The larger percentage of time is spent in activity not at all related to enforcing &dquo;the law&dquo; for which he or she has been so well prepared.

Inadequate Training When the concept of community policing is introduced, most officers find themselves in a completely new arena, having not been properly trained to make the necessary decisions and accept the responsibilities commonly associated with community policing strategies. In essence, the officer is thrust into an ever deepening state of confusion as to just what his or her role actually is. Taking extralegal steps to correct a community problem, or overenforcing, under-enforcing, or selectively enforcing the law is contrary to their training. A clarification or re-definition of the officer’s role is the very first hurdle that must be cleared by police agencies attempting to implement a philosophy of community oriented policing.

Subcultural Problems In addition, Skolnick and Bayley (1986) describe a tightly knit police subculture which is marked by a &dquo;we-they officer mentality that mistrusts working with outsiders&dquo; (p.211 ). This personality develops, according to Skolnick (1966), as a result of two variables inherent in the role of the police officer-danger and authority:

The element of danger isolates the policeman socially from that segment of the citizenry which he regards as symbolically dangerous and also from the conventional citizenry with whom he identifies. The element of authority reinforces the element of danger in isolating the policeman

(p. 119).


The recent emphasis on drug enforcement, which is high-risk enforcement, has further reinforced this personality and the bonds of the police subculture. Taylor (1983) recognized the affect of this subculture on the development of policy and the subsequent success or failure of new programs as police managers were characterized as being &dquo;too removed from the street and too involved in politics.&dquo; Antithetically, managers viewed officers as &dquo;incompetent, in need of tight control, and dependent upon guidance for every move&dquo; (p.4). The resulting condition provided an environment which promoted animosity between line and management personnel leading to further distrust, suspicion, cynicism, and apathy. The difficulties in overcoming the constraints imposed by the police subculture can be formidable. Skolnick and Bayley (1986) relate: Police culture has a long and not always honorable history, including insularity, self-protection, suspicion of outsiders, political interferences, and sometimes even systemic corruption and racism. An innovative police executive may face even higher obstacles to overcome than a successful business executive (p. 221).

Liability Another barrier in the road to implementation of neighborhood policing, although legalistic in nature and largely left unaddressed by its proponents, is the position of the governing organization and its members when subjected to legal challenge. As mentioned earlier, proponents of community policing speak of taking extralegal steps or over-enforcing the law to resolve problems that concern the community. Coupled with this philosophy, is the concept of maximum officer discretion, minimum written guidelines, maximum encouragement of innovation and risk-taking, and minimum supervision. These beliefs may very well be tantamount to the invitation to commit violations of individual civil rights or the criminal code. An organization that fails to set policy giving proper guidance to its officerswill find itself in a precarious position when challenged. As previously stated, there are varying degrees of commitment to community policing. The chief who channels his department toward &dquo;fullblown&dquo; community policing without direction or policy, is courting legal disaster. The proliferation of lawsuits against local governments and police agencies for the wrongful acts (rather intentional or not) of officers is now commonplace. Written policies and procedures prohibiting acts in question and providing direction for acceptable behavior provide a principle avenue of defense against civil litigation. Community policing minimizes written rules and procedures and advocates leadership and control through &dquo;culture


and shared values acquired from the work group&dquo; (Cordner, p. 20). Unfortunately, this approach plays nicely into the plaintiff’s argument of neglithat the actions of an officer are a direct result of a breach of duty gence of due care to the injured party. The conduct need not be intentional in nature for liability to ensue. The issue here, rests in the existense of a departmental policy, procedure, or training record which clearly outlines acceptable standards of care. Without such an inplace, written document, liability exposure to the officer, the officer’s supervisor (to include the chief), and the department is immense. Much has been said about the adaptation of the police to community oriented policing, but what about the other necessary part of the equation, the community? Wilson (1985) relates: -

One of the chief constraints on the effectiveness of the police in dealing with crime and neighborhood order is thought to arise out of their relations with the community

they serve. It is not only that the police must perform for the community many tasks unrelated to law enforcement, but that the very effort to enforce the law will bring the police into conflict with the citizens they are supposed to serve, to the detriment of both (p. 90). This may be particularly true in the areas where the most problems exist-the lower class neighborhoods, ghettos and slums, and other neighborhoods in transition. Because persons in these areas are more likely to have been involved with the police in an adversarial situation, have less stake in the community and conformity, and at the same time, the greatest need for problem resolution, they present a unique challenge to the philosophy. Incumbent upon the agency embarking on a plan of community policing is the requisites of identifying and establishing a relationship in these areas of greatest need, while at the same time performing traditional police responsibilities (such as answering calls for service, arresting law violators, etc.) without aggravating that relationship.

Cost versus Effectiveness

Then, too, at what expense to the public should community policing be

implemented? In Houston, Texas, only twenty neighborhoods were selected for the implementation of community oriented police substations. The cost exceeded $20 million. Patrol beats were re-defined based on neighborhoods rather than traditional crime factors such as calls for services, type and seriousness of call, geographical boundaries and the like. The police union


argued that this re-districting jeopardized officer safety and indeed pointed to an increase in officer assaults over the past two years (Persinos, p. 59). What, then, are the advantages of community policing? Traditional quantitative measures such as crime statistics and police response times are said to be inappropriate for measuring the success or failure of community policing (Kelling, 1988). Advocates stress that since the goals are subjective, such as reducing fear and preventing crime, traditional criteria are inadequate measures. Well then, by what criteria can we measure community policing? According to Houston Chief Elizabeth Watson, virtually no evaluation of the community police experience in Houston has occurred (Watson, 1989). No base line data was ever developed, no pre-conditional response pattern has been explored, and no continuing data on changing attitudes concerning fear, perception of crime, or feeling of security on the part of the community is being collected. How, then, can we objectively evaluate community policing in the City of Houston? Unfortunately, responses from other cities implementing facets of community policing are not much more encouraging. This issue becomes even more urgent as calls for police service (in Houston) have increased over 40% in the last two years and police response times have increased by 41 seconds to just under 8 minutes per call (Persinos, p. 59). These are dramatic figures which necessitate a re-thinking of the effectiveness of community policing or at least an objective evaluation of these programs. To say the least, in the absence of any conclusive data, neighborhood policing may be a very expensive venture which may not yield any type of measurable result.

CONCLUSION There are, then, significant obstacles to successfully implementing a plan of community oriented policing. These come in the form of issues relating to human beliefs, conflicting views of the role of police in society, legal ramifications, and community limitations. Unanswered are questions that have to be addressed by the organization and the community itself. Is it fitting for the police to be the catalyst for problem resolution in the community or is that function more properly directed toward those agencies who specialize in community development? Kelling (1988) cited Williams and Gates: Are police now being put in the role of providing services that are statutorily the responsibilities of some other agencies ? Los Angeles’s Chief Gates echoes Williams: &dquo;Hubie’s (Williams) right-you can’t solve all the problems in the world and shouldn’t try (p.6).


Likewise, is the department ready

to structurally take the steps toward realignment to accommodate community policing? Indeed, community policing will require a radical re-structuring of the police organization. Is the chief executive ready to dilute the position of police officer with increased civilianization and gradually orchestrate his or her department through an evolutionary process to the point that only a small percentage of the work force will be sworn personnel with the responsibility of enforcing the law? The responses to these questions represent impediments to successful implementation of community policing and must be answered fully and candidly. Without those answers and a carefully defined plan of action, the agency stands no chance of attaining the level of community-police involvement and problem solving it seeks. It can only lash out sporadically with illguided efforts based on what the police believe the problems to be which realistically may be in total misalignment with the community’s perception of the problem. With answers, the agency may decide that community policing is a worthwhile and idealistic endeavor, but not until it has an -

established set of credentials!t

ABOUT THE AUTHORS Kenneth W. Findley is currently the Assistant Chief of Police in Tyler, Texas in charge of the Administrative Services Division. The Tyler Police Department has been exploring the possibility of implementing community policing techniques for the past two years. Chief Findley has over 20 years of law enforcement experience and is finishing his MPA at the University of Texas at Tyler. Robert W. Taylor, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Texas at Tyler. His research interests are in the areas of criminal justice administration and management information systems. Dr. Taylor has numerous article publications in the area, with his most recent endeavor focusing on Police Administration: Structures, Processes, and Behavior, 3rd Edition, with C.R. Swanson and L. Territo, New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1992. He is an active consultant to many public and private agencies in the area of information security and computer fraud.


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