More commonly known as walking the beat, community police officers patrol neighborhoods on foot. Community policing allows officers to become acquainted with their assigned neighborhoods and the individuals who reside and work there. The difference between patrol officers and the foot patrol is the level of involvement within a community. Patrol officers drive through and scan for criminal activity. Community officers are personally involved with citizens who comprise a specific community.
Officers dedicated to a specific community have the opportunity to come into direct contact with residents and business owners repeatedly. Trust in law enforcement develops as designated police officers form relationships with community members. Public support for law enforcement increases in communities that have designated community police officers. Programs such as Neighborhood Watch aid community policing by joining citizens and law enforcement in the common interest to fight crime. Police are more effective in fighting and preventing crime with information provided by citizens.
Direct community involvement provides officers with intimate knowledge in order to be able to identify and analyze crime patterns. Community policing utilizes problem solving techniques to respond and correct potential weaknesses rather than responding to a crime after the crime takes places. The emphasis shifts from fighting crime to crime prevention. Crime prevention creates safer communities.
Accurately defining a community’s borders is essential for successful community policing. Traditional models of police precincts and jurisdiction may not accurately reflect the community as a whole. Persons impacted by crime in a community may not reside within the police precinct that is providing community policing. Long-term crime prevention relies on police involvement in all aspects within of a community, regardless of jurisdictional boundaries. (Reference 4, pg 8)
Foot patrol officers in Flint, Michigan, report residents don’t understand police officers' roles and responsibilities and the laws and limitations imposed on officers. Citizens who have had negative encounters with law enforcement are not likely to assist them. Community police officers must also confront negative public opinions regarding law enforcement’s relationship with the judicial system. Officers report citizens lack faith in the judicial system due to public perceptions of lenient sentencing. A lenient judicial system perpetuates criminal activity by not holding criminals accountable for crimes, some officers state. Criminals exploit lenient sentencing by continuing to commit criminal acts and challenging police officers’ authority, according to some officers.
Inhibited Citizen Involvement
Effective community policing involves citizen involvement. There are two main reasons why citizens won’t get involved in crime prevention: fear of reprisal and apathy. Based on information provided by the Flint Michigan Foot Patrol, some citizens won’t get involved unless it affects them personally. Fear also prevents some citizens from collaborating with law enforcement. Citizens prefer to keep to themselves and will avoid filing a complaint in order to remain invisible within the community. Citizens who do not have faith in the judicial system are also less likely to become involved.
- Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images