WTF is Community Policing?

Community policing also known as Community oriented policing has become common practice across the United States implemented by police departments of all sizes. What exactly is community policing? Community policing starts at the front line - the patrol officer. The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing stated, “community policing emphasizes working with neighborhood residents to coproduce public safety.”  Community policing adds the component of community resource officer to the traditional crime fighting, law enforcement, and community protector role of the police officers This added responsibility comes down to being a friendly and familiar face in the community. Many departments allocate time that an officer can spend in community-oriented capacities. Although the community responsibilities of an officer are a vital component of their jobs, officers still need to focus on the public safety first and foremost.

The community oriented officer is available to the community he or she serves for anything and everything, not just in troubled times. There are any examples of community policing that have gained public attention. For example, these officers had a water fight with neighborhood children, and this officer responded to a call of kids playing basketball in the street started to play with them (the following day he brought additional officers and Shaq as “backup” and they played a pickup game together). A third example are these officers who mowed a wheelchair-bound man’s lawn when they saw him struggling to do it on his own while they were on patrol. These are just three examples of community oriented policing that made it to the public eye. Most of these acts are small in nature but have a major impact on community members. Community policing enables the public to have more positive interactions with police officers instead of interactions occurring just in times of need, during emergencies, or even a routine traffic stop.

    Community oriented policing is not a new phenomenon. It has been in schools across America for years. In schools the officer is referred to as a School Resource Officer (SRO). SRO’s are “a career law enforcement officer, with sworn authority, deployed in community- oriented policing, and assigned by the employing police department or agency to work in collaboration with school and community-based organizations.” Simply put, the SRO is there as a resource to the students, to help them through difficult times or conflicts in the school. Yes, these officers conduct law enforcement as necessary but the goal of the position is to work with and for the students. The SRO serves as a role model for students and generally sheds a good light for police-community relations. Additionally, many police departments have ride-a-long programs designed to give the public an insight into what a typical day of a police officer is like. Form experience, I can tell you that this experience is intimate and eye-opening.

When I was at a block party hosted by the Department of Resident Life at the University of Maryland, College Park two students were playing bags (or according to Wikipedia Cornhole, dummy boards, bean bag toss, dadhole, doghouse, or Baggo) when two officers on foot patrol walked by. One of the kids challenged the officers to a game of bags. The officers looked at each other and the first said, “community policing?” to which the second responded, “community policing!”  The officers and students played for about 10-15 minutes while talking and engaging with each other. Because the University of Maryland Police Department (UMPD) is committed to community policing these officers were able to engage these students beyond their traditional role. The students were able to recognize that the officers are regular people doing their jobs and are more than just the people responsible for shutting down parties on or around campus.

The new obsession with community oriented policing across the country is almost a “going back to the basics” approach to policing.” Before the invention of patrol cars and other technologies police officers conducted patrols on foot. By the nature of the job officers were more community oriented because they were responsible for a small geographic area, something that departments implementing community policing understand the benefits of. The patrol car enabled fewer officers to cover more territory. Coupled with the two-way radio and the 911 system, patrol officers became “call answering machines” with little connection to the community.