The earliest concept of community policing and problem strategy occurred through Project STAR, a collaboration of the joint efforts of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, the California Council on Criminal Justice, the Michigan Office of Criminal Justice Programs, the New Jersey Law Enforcement Planning Agency, and the Texas Criminal Justice Council. Analyzing data reports to project the likelihood of future criminal justice system requirements using socio-demographic and economic indicators, STAR served as the precursor to changing the assigned roles of police officers as they worked around and with the communities which they have been assigned to serve. Some of the recommendations made by the STAR project included: expansion of the definition of police work to include not only law enforcement but an actual form of social service; that the communities the police officers served would be better served with increased opportunities for community-police interaction through face-to-face relationships; and, to be effective, the police officers’ impression on the community should be one of cooperation rather than authoritarianism (David L. Carter, 2000).
While the project set the tone for future recommendations of the roles police officers fulfill within diverse communities, the STAR project was ultimately abandoned until the basic principles reappeared to be elaborated on in the 1980s through the efforts of Professor Herman Goldstein of the University of Wisconsin and Professor Robert Trojanowicz of Michigan State University. Their efforts brought about the concept of Problem-oriented Policing (POP) as fundamental to the strategies of engaging the public in policing efforts. Recognizing the ability for the joint collaboration to improve crime control and community order, their efforts served to envelope the benefits and, consequently, the necessities of training police officers in community policing and problem solving. In follow-up to the Response/Assessment premise, wherein data was maintained to more effectively predict when and where crime would occur, the new policing efforts included experimenting with neighborhood foot patrols which served to provide officers with the face-to-face interaction with the residents of their assigned communities. Such actions allowed the officers to learn which issues were faced by the residents and which issues could be resolved in order to provide a better quality of life to those communities. Issues which could be readily resolved were remedied, while the issues which required more in-depth attention prompted collaborations between the officers and the community residents to jointly address and correct. The result of this collaboration was that, predominantly, it became the citizens—rather than the police—who highlighted the problems within their communities and worked together to solve in order to bring about reduced crime.
While the role of identifying issues of concern shifted from the police to the citizen, the role of facilitator broadened the police officer’s description of duties. As a problem solver rather than merely a militaristic enforcer, the Neighborhood Foot Patrol (NFP) program heightened the ability for police to get clean the streets. A key part of the NFP was for the citizens to become better acquainted with the officers who maintained their community’s public safety efforts and, through those interactions, more often trust the police and provide information about the crimes and criminals. Interestingly, although the result was higher and more reliable intelligence, the impression NFP left on the communities it served was more an image of “soft policing,” reducing the police to being viewed as glorified social workers (Carter).
Problem-oriented policing recognizes the wide-spread and ever-increasing demands that various communities make on our nation’s police forces. The diversity of the issues which police must address on a daily basis require the forethought and advanced problem-solving skills which allow the officers to not only effectively and efficiently punish crime but, also, to act to deter community members from committing crimes at all. The first formal experimentation of expanding policing duties to include prevention efforts came in Madison, Wisconsin in 1981 (Scott, 2000). The focus was on drunk driving and monitoring repeat sex offenders. As the efforts spread through other major cities during the 1980s, the benefits reaped prompted budget set-asides to ensure funding for expanded problem-oriented policing along with community policing in a joint effort to reduce or prevent crime (Scott, 2000). Ultimately, while the practice is relatively slow to spread, the term has finally made its way into the language of police management and is increasingly being recognized as fundamental to effective and efficient crime prevention and control tools.
As these fundamental approaches to community policing have developed, the concept of prevention has been strongly received and promoted. Through the collaborative communications from the community residents, police are able to “scan” their environments to identify particular or persistent problems as hot spots of criminal activity, disorderly behavior, or homelessness. The intelligence provided allows the officer to reflect on the potential causes and work to identify opportunities for intervention and prevention. The premise being that working with the residents who have a vested interest in improving their environments, the problems associated with those hot spots can be reduced or better managed which also serves to provide police analysts with the means to determine best practices in crime control and prevention throughout other communities. An indication of the issues which needed improving was the harsh reality that community policing presumed that every member of a community had an interest in improving their surroundings by reducing crime and disorder; that such efforts would be received willingly by those residents with the capacity to address the issues plaguing their communities. Whether the issue for the lack of involvement or reception is a fear of revenge or simple lack of caring is, largely unknown (Cordner, 1995). However, the challenge remains today to mobilize enough community support to reduce the criminal activity to a level which otherwise could be reached with more proactive involvement by the residents (Hope).
Recognizing that not all residents impacted by crime would be willing to become involved in policing, studies were undertaken to identify points which would most closely determine the likelihood of successful implementation of a community policing program. The one factor which seemed to provide greatest influence was effective leadership by the beat sergeants. Leading by example, the leadership’s involvement and support for the beat officers involved holding product police beat meetings wherein officers were able to discuss the issues they faced and receive constructive and valuable feedback on the best problem-solving ideas for resolution. The leadership’s focus on identifying key problems, analyzing potential solutions to solve those problems, and stressing the necessity and tactics for follow-up utilizing department protocol allowed the precincts to distinguish the success or failure of the programs by analyzing the willingness of the community to become involved and the quality of the problem solving by the officers. Leadership involvement and proper analysis provided the motivation to achieve higher success rates through continuing education efforts for the officers, with specific training in creative problem solving and mediation efforts and by documenting recurring problems and effective solutions (Skogan, et al., 2000). The ultimate results of the study sorted the neighborhood problem-solving capacity of Community Oriented Policing into three categories: individual, collective, and political, with the individual component indicative of the strength of informal social control in each beat (the willingness of residents to step forward and challenge the criminal activity), the collective component indicated by the density of organization which each community is able to muster (the ability to engage residents in the efforts to spot trouble and report it), and the political (the ability for those residents to engage the resources which would serve to address the criminal issues and community betterment efforts). What the research indicated, however, was that despite the individual factors being so crucial to the success of community policing and problem strategy, one factor relied so heavily on the other two factors that success could only be measured by a reasonable individual success rate (Skogan, et al., 2000).
The results from the last 30 years of development of community-oriented policing and problem solving is that, at minimum, it is now a common understanding among police nation- and world-wide. The continued and growing support is due in part to the successes many communities have witnessed as their police interactions and independent efforts grew in effectiveness and efficiency. To continue its growth and development beyond its current limitations, however, significantly larger investments must be made in terms of education of police officers, financial investments within the communities themselves, and in-depth studies of which resolutions show promise and which should be abandoned (Goldstein, 2003).
The remarkable strides made over the last 30 years toward developing the full potential as police and community collaborating as problem solvers to combat criminal activity has served to motivate communities to take charge of their own safety—or at least contribute to it—and has bridged a gap between those community members and the officers who serve them. Continued efforts must include investment of time and resources to further develop the individual, the collective, and the political components of community policing and problem solving effects to maintain the success already enjoyed and increase the results as new opportunities for crime expose themselves through technological opportunities.
Cordner, G. W. (1995). Community Policing: Elements and Effects, Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, Police Section. Richmond, KY: Alpha Enterprises.
David L. Carter, P. (2000). Reflections on the Move to Community Policing. Web: http://webs.wichita.edu/depttools/depttoolsmemberfiles/rcpi/Policy%20Papers/Reflections%20on%20Comm%20Pol.pdf: Regional Community Policing Institute at Wichita State University.
Goldstein, H. (2003). On Further Developing Problem-oriented Policing: the Most Critical Need, the Major Impediments, and the Proposal. Crime Prevention Studies, vol. 15, 13-47.
Hope, T. J. (n.d.). Problem-Oriented Policing and Drug-Market Locations: Three Case Studies. Web: http://www.popcenter.org/library/crimeprevention/volume_02/01hope.pdf: University of Manchester.
Scott, M. (2000). Problem-Oriented Policing: Reflections on the First 20 Years. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community.
Skogan, W. G., Hartnett, S. M., DuBois, J., Comey, J. T., Kaiser, M., & Lovig, J. H. (April 2000). Problem Solving in Practice: Implementing Community Policing in Chicago. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.