Once More: Policing is Community Policing

cop imageCommunity Policing is how a free society is to be policed. Period. Why is there still resistance to it?

Why do major police interest magazines and police-oriented websites still struggle with this important and essential style of policing; an idea that has been with us for the past 50 years?

In the June, 2014 issue of The Police Chief magazine, Yost Zakhary, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), made a strong statement about the Community-Oriented Policing style and how it is tied to police effectiveness:

“Community oriented policing deals with the core issue for police — building a working, trusting relationship with your community. If you don’t have that, your agency and its officers will not be successful in reducing crime (my emphasis)… The IACP, COPS (Office of Community Oriented Police Services, Department of Justice), and each of our 22,000 members must become ‘futurists’ and work to further advance and implement the community oriented policing model.”

In order to be a fair and effective, a police agency it must have the trust and respect of those whom they police. Trust and respect leads to support. And without support, a police agency never will be effective, will never reduce crime, nor will it be seen as fair.

In order to achieve trust, respect and support, the best known method for doing this is Community-Oriented Policing.

But the problem first may be in the definition, then the practice.

Here’s how I  define (and continue to define) community-oriented policing:

“Community-oriented policing is the work done by police assigned to a specific neighborhoods or business areas. They become not only community workers, but also organizers. They work collaboratively with citizens preventing, controlling, and eliminating crime and other disorder in their area.”

One of the teaching methods I used when I taught police leaders around the country is called “Is/Is Not.” The idea behind it is to delineate (and separate) the essentials of an idea or concept from what it clearly is not.



  • IS… An understanding that the police are the people and the people are the police.
  • IS NOT… A governmental agency responsible only for enforcing the law.
  •  IS… Incorporating a broad problem-solving orientation towards crime and public disorder and the protection of human rights.
  • IS NOT Focusing solely on crime.
  • IS… A continuous process of developing and improving trust, respect and support among community residents.
  • IS NOT… Using reported crime, numbers of arrests, or response times as the only measures of performance.
  • IS… Responding to the concerns of the community and the problems they identify.
  • IS NOT… Focusing only on reported incidents and calls for service.
  • IS… Understanding that policing is personal and involves people and their relationships.
  • IS NOT… Choosing technology over people and their rights.
  • IS… Understanding the role of police as guardian, community worker, generous listener, rights protector, and problem-solver.
  • IS NOT… Having only a warrior orientation.

“Two eras have now gone by our nation’s police: Wickersham and the 1967 President’s Commission. Wickersham addressed the police corruption brought about by Prohibition. The 1967 commission addressed the growing problem of police-community relations in our nation’s cities. We now are in the third era of policing—an era that, so far, is still evolving. It is the era I call community policing. Community policing emphasizes closer relationships between the police, their communities and a response to community-identified problems.[i] It may become another missed opportunity by our nation’s police.

“Yet it remains to be seen whether or not police will take advantage of this opportunity or go to something entirely different. Currently, police have spent over three decades ostensibly doing community-oriented policing; however, there are limited data available to measure the success of their effort.” (From my book, Arrested Development, 2012.)

Whatever you do, whether you call in community-oriented policing or not, it must accomplish the following:

  • Practiced in a specific area by one or a small team of police officers.
  • Responsibility is for the entire area regardless of time of day.
  • They must function as both community workers and organizers.
  • They listen to and work collaboratively with the community.
  • Their objective is to prevent, control, and eliminate crime and other disorder while keeping the rule of law and the respect of those whom they serve.


  1. How does your agency meet the above definition and description of Community-Oriented Policing?
  2. What percentage of your field operations meet this definition?
  3. As a leader, what would the first steps you could take to increase your department’s practice of Community-Oriented Policing?
  4. What problems your department currently faces could be addressed using COP?




[i] Herman Goldstein. Problem-Oriented Policing. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1990. I need to emphasize the critical connection between Goldstein’s problem-oriented policing and community (or neighborhood) policing. The community looks to police to solve problems; Goldstein’s method most effectively and in the long-run focuses on those community problems. Community, or neighborhood policing, decentralizes police to work in small geographical areas of the city—movement from doing work based on time of day to geographical area. I strongly supported the neighborhood policing concept in my article, “The Delivery of Neighborhood Police Services: A Challenge for Today’s Professional,” in the March 1972 issue of The Police Chief magazine.



  1. This mission to make a police force into a positive and life-affirming force is an idea that will not die. Thx for your work. Now, check out the latest from Madison from the capitol Farmer’s Market no less: http://www.bluecheddar.net/?p=40440 Anti-social personnel remain a stable of self-selecting people who often seek out the police (and the military). What do we do with a POS like the officer in the linked piece who attacked and brutalized a 71-year-old woman?


    1. A sad story. And a remarkable change in the approach and attitude of our Capitol Police. It shows that leadership matters — more than anyone can imagine. And that leadership does have of the good kind, either. Bad can spread just as fast as good.


  2. wow. I’d like to have a portion of your passion and energy in keeping these issues at the forefront of today and tomorrow’s police leaders. I dont know if you’ve talked about the importance of storytelling and how it impacts culture but i’d appreciate if you could share more on that in a future blog. When i came on board in the late 70’s storytelling was done by a few line workers and the foccus was on “war stories” and not on service. Retired Edmonton Canada Police Superintendent CHris Braiden started to get it right when he would tell problem solving stories and would challenge you to pick a number between 1 and 100 and then recite a great story on community policing. We need to accenutate the postive in our work which is the 95% of the good things with do with our community instead of the 5% of our encounters with difficult persons and using force. When i walk away from this career i want it to be defined by the 95% of my positive experiences and how i’ve made a difference .


    1. Quality policing is about passionate storytelling!

      Here’s the source I used in “Arrested Development”: Chappell, Allison T. and Lonn Lanza-Kaduce. “Police Academy Socialization: Understanding the Lessons Learned in a Paramilitary-Bureaucratic Organization.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Sage Publications, December, 2009.


  3. Reducing crime and detecting unknown offender cases are the two straws that break the back of the camel of good policing – be it C.O.P., P.O.P., Democratic Policing, Lawful Policing etc. etc. Unless we stop claiming effective crime control and detection to be outcomes of COP, the rank and file, knowing it is not true, will throw the baby of COP along with the bathwater of ineffectiveness. COP/POP have to be emphasized as the way policing can be done in accordance with our values of human rights, due process, rule of law, and democracy, even if at the cost of some ineffectiveness in controlling and solving crimes. We cannot have our cake and eat it too.


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