Neighborhood Policing: Still An Idea to Come?

neigh policeI ran across one of the first articles I wrote on the subject of community and neighborhood policing. I wrote it over 40 years ago when I was in Burnsville, Minn. How much closer are we today to achieving the goal of this article? –

“The elusive goal of police professionalism will continue to be unattainable unless new concepts in policing are considered and experimented… This would lead to police who are, essentially, social workers, public servants, and community advocates with an allegiance to, and governed by, our Constitution.”  

CHIEF’S CORNER: The Delivery of Neighborhood Police Services: A Challenge for Today’s Police Professional

By David C. Couper, Director, Public Safety Department, Burnsville, Minnesota

The Police Chief, March, 1972

“A recent trend in our society is toward developing decentralized, locally controlled governmental systems. The efficiency of centralized systems is being challenged and replaced by grass roots, community-oriented governmental services. This trend will result in a more local concept of decision-making and the delivery of public services.

“The criminal justice system is also feeling these pressures. Certain functions such as court and correctional systems, and regional police support services such as training, forensics, records, and communications should continue to be developed. However, the delivery of police patrol services, the most personal and pervasive function of the criminal justice systems, should remain locally-controlled. Recent developments have suggested that police patrol services should be decentralized into even smaller districts, mini-precincts, or neighborhoods.

“A number of experimental programs that stress this are currently in operation in large as well as small police departments throughout the country. For example, the New York and Lost Angeles Police Departments are currently experimenting with neighborhood policing programs similar to this concept. In addition, London has village constables in small districts to promote positive public contacts. There are also numerous applications in other cities that also emphasize a neighborhood, know-your-cop approach.

“However, many of these programs do not carry out the full concept or realize the potential of total neighborhood police services. These services are designed to provide personal and professional services to neighborhood citizens. It is a tailor-made community concept designed to increase public trust and confidence and to reduce police-community tensions. Tensions which are primarily due to the overwhelmingly large number of negative contacts caused by aggressive and reactive police strategies. Neighborhood policing is a positive step against crime and disorder in the community through prevention and reinforcement of the social values of the community.

“The concept tries to develop a community awareness of order, safety, and justice because it is good for the community. It primarily does this through frequent face-to-face, non-punitive contacts between police and those they serve. For example, a typical neighborhood police operation would consist of a team of experienced, well-educated and trained officers who are especially selected for neighborhood duties. Their training would be include defining the role of the neighborhood officer, community goals, family crisis intervention, juvenile counseling, social services referral, alcohol and drug education, as well as on-going education in applied social science.

“One of the officers is the supervisor and works along with the neighborhood unit. Officers may be required to live in the neighborhood. They have great latitude in when, where, and how they work, based on general policy and incident information pertaining to their neighborhood. The supervisor reports directly to a community police supervisor who may be in charge of a number of neighborhoods. The community supervisor is regularly advised on matters of police policy and procedures by an advisory council comprised of elected representatives from the community and reports directly to the chief of police.

“A neighborhood officer is flexible not only in terms of hours worked but also in manner of dress (casual, business suit, or uniform), mode of transportation (foot, automobile, or combination), and program development based on guidelines recommended by the community advisory council. Neighborhood officers may also be supported by traditional, motorized patrol emergency units which are available to immediately respond to medical emergencies, crime-in-progress calls, and provide supportive patrol or traffic duties. However, these support units would work under the authority of the community or neighborhood to which they are assigned. The focus and effort is to develop neighborhood officers as professional generalists, with a wide variety of resources at their command, in order to effectively respond to community problems.

“The elusive goal of police professionalism will continue to be unattainable unless new concepts in policing are considered and experimented. Some of these concepts deal with the need to field police officers who are humanitarian and effective in their response to our nation’s social problems. This would lead to police who are, essentially, social workers, public servants, and community advocates with an allegiance to, and governed by, our Constitution.

“If experiments with police structure, upgraded entrance requirements, modes of dress, and use of non-sworn technicians are not conducted, then we will continue to be hamstrung by incompetence and inefficiency in dealing with the needs of our citizens and the benefits which come from the support and trust of those whom we serve.”


  1. Your points are valid david but i’d be curious as to whether or not the events of 9.11 shifted our views and priorities on neighborhood policing to “homeland security” and if budget issues are reducing our proactive, early intervention resources like neighborhood officers to other reactive units. alot changes since 1972.


    1. I agree, a lot has changed. But I would revert to my position in “Arrested Development” that after 9-11 we should have returned the National Guard to our homeland and gave them the para-military responsibilities of homeland security — not our local police. But then that’s my opinion. I have a strange feeling that history will prove me right on this.


  2. WHat I find most interesting is the reduction in violent crime nationwide (2000’s) following nearly two decades of federal grants for community policing initiatives that helped shape the conccept of getting closer to the people we serve, problem solving and working with our communities to help prevent crime and disorder. I wonder if our police reaserchers have studied the issue and made the nexus between the two or if we are just chaulking it up to “great police work”.


    1. That is THE question. As an old sociologist, I would hypothesize that it is all about demographics! In fact, one economist believes in his book “Freakonomics,” that the drop in “crime” has been due to more effective birth control — simply that less children were born to mothers who did not want them. Interesting thought… Meanwhile, the beat goes on and no one seems to know why the so-called “crime rate” (read: that which is reported) has gone down.


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