Effective Community-Oriented Policing: Some History

UnknownEditors Note: The following post comes from an article Sgt. Lobitz and I wrote three years after our article “Quality Leadership: The First Step Toward Quality Policing” appeared in the “Police Chief” magazine, a publication of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). It was an attempt during those years to share what we beginning to learn in Madison, Wisc. about police and improvement. In the following article, we offer a prescription of Vision + Leadership + Problem- solving as a way to achieve effective community-oriented policing.

We find that now, decades later, we would say the same thing.


Vision, Leadership, and the Problem-Solving Method

May, 1991

Chief David C. Couper and Sgt. Sabine Lobitz

In April, 1988, “The Police Chief” magazine published our article, “Quality Leadership: The First Step toward Quality Policing”. In this article, we reviewed what is happening to our nation’s businesses and pointed out the strong relationship these events have to the public sector, including police departments.

We observed recent trends in the work force that indicated today’s workers are bringing a new set of values, to the work place; expectations that leaders will give employees an opportunity to provide input on organizational decisions and allow them to experience personal growth in their work place. During this decade, we will experience a shortage of workers entering the work force. If we wish to attract and retain the “best and the brightest” in the police field, we will have to compete for those people. This will force us to change with the times. To meet this new challenge, we proposed a new management style called “Quality Leadership.”

Unfortunately, some of our police colleagues think this management style should not be part of policing. While others voice support of the new leadership style, their employees; however, observe contradictions between what their leaders say and what they do. We have witnessed similar differences between police departments and their communities.

Most police agencies still emphasize control over their employees. This control stifles the creativity so desperately needed in policing. We also have excluded the community from our operations. We felt we knew best how to handle any situation -after all, “we are the professionals — they aren’t!” These antiquated practices of control and exclusion are contrary to what we know about how successful, customer-oriented organizations operate today.


A shortage of workers entering the job market will adversely impact the American job market throughout the 1990’s. At the same time, the face of America’s work force will be dramatically changing. Within this decade, 85% of the new workers will be minorities and women. Most women will have a pressing need for quality child care and many will be single parents. For organizations who have previously hired mostly young white men, such as the police, it will require major changes in the workplace. On top of all this, many of the new workers will bring cultural and educational differences to the work place.

In order to keep a smaller supply of workers motivated, leaders will have to consider adjusting to the demands of the employment market by creating more flexible work arrangements, making sure employee training keeps up with changing complex, high skill job demands, and adjusting to systems favoring employees not employers.

One of the major demands from new employees will be for input into work-related decisions. It will clearly be a new era of work.

Although many people believe the autocratic style was an effective method in the past of leading workers from the industrial revolution into the 20th century, it is not effective today and will not effectively lead workers down the road to the 21st century. Autocratic leaders acting independently, deciding not only where the organization is going, but also the steps they will take and every decision along the way, have chosen a difficult, if not an impossible, route today.

Workers, including police officers, have little in common with their counterparts at the tum of the century. Workers in the past had little education and their contribution to the organizations in which they worked was mostly by the sweat of their brows, not their brains.

In the l 800’s, America chose to implant a European bureaucratic model into its nation’s schools, businesses and governmental organizations; it was a model that gave more importance to structure than to people. At the time it appeared to be the best known method of organizing, leading and educating people. This organizational structure, however, led to a worker-solider, manager-officer class structure in our nation’s organizations. It has since smothered creativity and the human potential at the very base of our organizations.

Much of 19th century bureaucracy still remains today, especially in our field. It appears that organizations that have resisted moving toward a more participative organizational model have paid for it in lost business and production; workers in those organizations paid for it by losing their jobs. It has been costly to the business world and it can be costly for us in policing if we continue to hold on to the past, despite what is happening today.

For example, from West Point to Paris Island, our nation’s military corps is changing its approach to leadership and is beginning to realize the importance of respecting the men and women who fill their ranks. Marine Commandant Al Gray, in a recent address to new officers stated, “If you put anything above those men and women you are privileged to lead, except for your mission, you must leave our Corps!” We are seeing more attention to people; coaching, facilitating, and training in our nation’s military services. The military is beginning to see that people are their most important product, and so should we. During the remainder of this article we will discuss what we believe to be the most important step American policing must take in order to move most effectively into the 21st century — community oriented policing.


A three-step approach is needed to implement effective community oriented policing. The first step is establishing a vision, the second is developing “quality leadership,” and the third is resolving community problems.

In this article, we will explore how combining these three concepts, vision, leadership, and the problem-solving method, can bring about effective community-oriented policing. We will also discuss what, has been learned by the Madison Police Department in their attempt to move these concepts from theory to practice. It is our hope that by sharing this knowledge, other police departments will take on the challenge of significantly improving their work places and their ability to meet community needs.


Where does a journey toward community-oriented policing start? As with most journeys, it begins with a vision of your destination. One of the most important tasks of a leader is to declare the vision; a clear, understandable, picture of the future. Creating a vision is one of the best ways to start to bring about organizational change. A vision statement can be as simple as:

“We will be a police department devoted to maintaining customer satisfaction and getting closer to the people we serve.” Ultimately, a vision is simply a statement to your employees and to the community of where you want your organization to go — it is notice and direction. To President John F. Kennedy, it was, “I want a man on the moon by 1970;” a simple, yet powerful start to the American space program in the 1960’s. Too often, employees may be able to say “we don’t know what they expect.” A vision statement tells them. To have employees not only know what the vision is, but adopt it as their own, is a powerful action.

To help leaders develop a vision, an assessment of employees’ needs, as well as the needs of the citizens they serve, must be made. This can be done by organizing a group to discuss the future of the department, development problem-identification groups, conducting opinion surveys and creating other internal “listening” methods such as an elected employee council. In order to assess community needs and input, leaders need to see that efforts are made to organize community focus groups to identify problems, and conduct community feedback surveys. Leaders must make presentations and constantly ask for input from citizens at community gatherings. The new leader’s job is listening and implementing.

Once all this information is gathered it is important to set a course so the department can meet these identified needs. Proper “course setting” involves the leader developing agreed-upon goals and a mission for the department. As an example, we offer Madison’s vision and mission statements which were crafted during leadership retreats and shared with members of the department.

Madison believes their vision for tomorrow, and mission for today, captures the essential needs for their department and the community, and will help them get to where they want to go.


“Closer to the people; quality inside and out.”


We believe in the DIGNITY and WORTH of ALL PEOPLE.

We are committed to:


Making the vision a reality involves developing two to three visible and achievable first steps consistent with the mission of the organization.

These steps should be viewed by employees as indicators of progress; that something is happening for the good. Above all, the employees of the department will need to know there is a strong, unalterable commitment from the chief executive officer and other leaders to work hard and move ahead.

The part of the vision and mission statement which should not be overlooked are the organizational “values” which drove them; not just the personal values of those who have been chosen and trained to be members of the department, but the police organization as a whole.

Police organizations need to identify, define, share, discuss, and practice their values. The following values were identified as important to members of the Madison Police Department. These values guide hiring and promotional decisions and policies, as well as tactical and problem-solving strategies. They are organizational “building blocks.”.


  • Is honest, trustworthy and courageous;
  • Respects people and their diversity;
  • Obeys the law and defends the Bill of Rights;
  • Is physically and mentally fit;
  • Views citizens as customers;
  • Delivers quality service;
  • Is community oriented;
  • Works to identify and resolve community problems;
  • Is courteous and an active listener;
  • Is a leader and team player;
  • Demonstrates control in the use of force;
  • Continuously improves throughout his/her career.

The power of effective community-oriented policing comes from police organizations who are “value-guided” rather than “rule driven.” This is a significant departure from our past.


We believe we must begin immediately to maximize the potential of our nation’s police; its people. This can most effectively be done by first improving the quality of work life for those inside our organizations and then moving to improve the service we provide to citizens through the problem-oriented method. The result will be effective community-oriented policing. You cannot effectively do one without the other, nor can you reverse the sequence; that is, establish problem-oriented policing without first improving the work place for your employees. It is putting the cart before the horse-it simply will not work.

Why is this important? Managers cannot effectively lead employees in work places that do not treat employees with respect and dignity and expect that they will in tum treat citizens with respect and dignity. Respect and dignity are important values in a free society and an important part of policing.

These values need to be constantly modeled by police in a democratic society – inside and outside the organization.

Few police leaders would admit they run their organizations in a manner that shows little respect or regard for the dignity of their employees. Yet, many police managers demand centralization of decision making, “top down” inspection, and an uncompromising chain of command. This results in closed organizations with little openness, creativity or feedback – essential ingredients for improvement.

What do employees want? Nationwide surveys such as the following conducted by the Public Agenda Foundation, confirm that they want these qualities in their jobs:

  • To work with people who treat them with respect.
  • Interesting work.
  • Recognition for good work.
  • A chance to develop their skies.
  • To work for people who listen if they have ideas on how to do their jobs better.
  • A chance to think for themselves.
  • To work for efficient managers.
  • A job that is not too easy.
  • Seeing the end results of their work.
  • To feel well-informed about what is going on.

How well do we meet these needs? Do we have an organizational and leadership style that will enable such a work place?

What do employees want from their leaders in such an organization? According to James Kouzes and Barry Pozner, in their book The Leadership Challenge, employees want very specific qualities in their leaders; they want leaders who are:

  • Honest
  • Competent
  • Forward-looking
  • Inspiring

How do we, as leaders, measure up to these qualities? How would our employees rate us if we asked them? It is risky questions like these that we as leaders need to have answers to if our organizations are to develop and grow.

Kouzes and Pozner also found that employees view certain leadership behaviors as extremely critical. These specific behaviors tell employees whether or not their leaders are living their values; that is “walking what they talk.”

These behaviors are “moments of truth”; the times when employees form opinions about the capability of their leaders. They are:

  • How leaders spend their time.
  • The questions leaders ask.
  • How leaders handle critical incidents.
  • The work behaviors leaders reward.

A survey of your employees is a quick way to identify whether or not your organizational practices are what you think they are. Ask them to rate you on the following ten characteristics: Honesty, competency, trust, creativity, respect, openness, solicits input, listens well, inspiration and future orientation.

Employee Survey

Always            Sometimes             Never

5               4              3                2           1

Honesty ___     Competency ___     Trust ___     Creativity ___     Respect ___

Openness ___     Input ___     Listening ___     Inspiration ___

Tabulate the results and then sit down with your employees and openly discuss your organizational behavior which they felt could be improved.

In 1987 and 1988, Madison Police Department leaders asked their employees what kind of leaders they wanted. They said they want leaders who were as follows:

  • Respect them as a person
  • Care about them
  • Have confidence in their ability to do the job
  • Have the ability to do their job right
  • Trust them
  • Will say something nice, even when saying something bad
  • Will spend time with them
  • Competent – they know their job
  • “Champions” – they “walk what they talk”
  • Fixers and improvers
  • Visible
  • Involved
  • Willing to take risks
  • Initiators
  • In touch with their employees
  • Providers of information on what’s going on
  • Understanding and give support
  • Respectful of their employees

In our April, 1988 article, we said that in order to move forward with community oriented policing, we must change the way in which we organize and lead our employees. Our solution then was to propose a leadership style called “Quality Leadership.” The Madison Police Department is now starting its fourth year practicing this new leadership style which they believe will enable them to move toward more effective community oriented policing.

Quality Leadership captures the main ingredients necessary to develop a quality driven, participative leadership style. It is the next important step you must take after establishing a clear vision of where you want to go.



  1. Improve SYSTEMS and examine processes before blaming people
  2. Have a CUSTOMER orientation and focus toward employees and citizens.
  3. Believe that the best way to improve the quality of work or service is to ASK and LISTEN to employees who are doing the work.
  4. Be committed to the PROBLEM-SOLVING process; use it and let DATA, not emotions, drive decisions.


  1. Be a FACILITATOR and COACH. Develop an OPEN atmosphere that encourages providing and accepting FEEDBACK
  2. Encourage CREATIVITY through RISK-TAKING and be tolerant of honest MISTAKES.
  3. Avoid top-down, POWER-ORIENTED decision-making whenever possible.
  4. Manage on the BEHAVIOR of 95% of employees and not on the 5% who cause problems. Deal with the 5% PROMPTLY and FAIRLY.


  1. Believe in, foster and support TEAMWORK

10.With teamwork, develop with employees agreed-upon GOALS and a PLAN to achieve them.

  1. Seek employees INPUT before you make key decisions.

12. Strive to develop mutual RESPECT and TRUST among employees; DRIVE OUT FEAR.

Any new leadership style has to begin with the top leader and it soon needed to be visibly practiced and experienced by other leaders in the department. Needless to say, not every leader in the department was enthusiastic about the change.

During the last three years, the values within these principles and their practices became the main foundation for training all members of the department. Department leaders continue to receive ongoing training on how to practice Quality Leadership and improve department work systems. Constant and continuous training is essential for successful Quality Leadership development.

How will leaders know when they are “quality leaders?” Quality is always defined by the customer, not the service provider. Police leaders will know when they are practicing Quality Leadership when their employees tell them so. Police officers will know when they are practicing community-oriented policing when their citizen-customers tell them so. It is both simple and difficult. Receiving honest feedback on your leadership style and your department’s policing practices within the community is absolutely necessary in order to move toward organizational improvement and effective community-oriented policing.



  • Your employees are your most important resource. They want to do a good job and they need you to help them. Help begins with training, develop and caring for your people. Help continues by removing the obstacles that prevent them from doing the good jobs they wish to do.
  • All work is accomplished through definable systems. The understanding of work system variation and eliminating the causes of problems in those systems are necessary in order to remove obstacles and to improve work for employees and services to citizens.
  • Improvement in employee treatment will result in improvement in citizen treatment. Employee treatment must first be improved before you can even think about improving citizen-customer treatment.
  • Your employees are your customers. Citizens are your employees’ customers. Only a customer can define quality treatment.
  • Feedback and open, unfettered communication to and from your employees are necessary for organizational growth and your improvement as a leader.
  • This applies to citizen-customers as well.
  • Employee work teams can solve major work and service delivery problems if you empower them, encourage them, and give them access to relevant information.
  • Data and graphs should be used whenever possible to make organizational decisions and show improvement.
  • Organizational improvement is constantly sought. It is a continuous journey, not a destination; it never ends. Improving things is the work of leaders.
  • Improvements are the results of a leader’s focus, attention, passion for quality and involvement of, and respect for everyone in the organization. Making work fun can also result in improvements.
  • Leaders must have a vision and the will to pursue excellence. However, in the end, what leaders believe, know or talk about has little consequence, the only consequence is that employees know their leaders have improved.  


After the creation of a vision for the organization, and implementing Quality Leadership in the work place, the next element of community-oriented policing is use of the problem-oriented approach. In the late 1970’s, Professor Herman Goldstein started exploring his ideas of problem-oriented policing with the Madison Police Department. In those early years, he helped the department develop a problem-oriented approach to drunk driving, repeat sexual offender, managing parolees, and helped officers of the department resolve a number of smaller problems. More recently department members used the problem-oriented approach to address a number of community problems such as aggressive panhandlers, “cruising” automobiles, street prostitution, disorderly neighbors and noise complaints. Since those early days, Professor Goldstein has developed a simple, powerful and effective method to implement effective community policing.

This method involves selecting those problems citizens feel are important, rather than those the police feel are important. It uses solutions outside of the criminal justice system, when appropriate, and utilizes the talents and resources of the men and women: within the police agency to conduct the problem-solving process. The method primarily seeks to cluster the repetitive and similar incidents in which police respond to specific “problems;” that is, instead of responding to a series of predictable noise complaints ever:


  • Problem-oriented policing is a new way of thinking embodying a greater concern for substantive community problems.
  • The problems addressed are those that the community expects the police to handle (not police organizational problems unless they bear directly on the ability of the police to address these substantive community problems).
  • It uses systematic inquiry and data-based decisions to identify the substantive matters to address.
  • It searches for alternative responses to these community problems that often go far beyond the police agency and criminal justice system and concentrates on preventative measures to these problems.
  • It recognizes that penetrating inquiries can be made using existing police personnel with a minimum of training support.

The problem-oriented approach uses the problem-solving method:

  1. Identifying the nature of the problem,
  2. Searching for all possible alternatives to solve the problem,
  3. Selecting the best alternative,
  4. Implementing the alternative, and
  5. Checking on how it is working and making improvements as necessary.

Friday night in a given neighborhood, the police would ask, “What is the cause of these noise complaints and what can we do to prevent their occurrence?” Their answer would attempt to prevent, reduce the number of, or minimize the impact of these calls for service.


The idea of community-oriented policing is not new to our field. In fact, the roots of community oriented policing go back as far as the mid-l 800’s when Sir Robert Peel wrote the fundamentals of policing a free society. The Cincinnati Police Department tried something similar in 1968 with their “community sector” program. These ideas continued under the “team policing” label in many other police departments through the late l 960’s and into the early l 970’s. Most were introduced with police chief or mayoral “fanfare,” and soon died because of a lack of internal support or long-term commitment by department leaders.

Recalling the failure, or limited success, of past innovative programs in policing, we strongly believe that only by first developing a vision of excellence, changing the “inside” of our organizations and employing the problem-oriented method, will we be able to effectively deliver community-oriented police services to our citizens.


George Kelling and Mark Moore captured the essential differences between “traditional” and “community” policing in the following excerpt published by the National Institute of Justice: (see below).


Questions and Answers


  • Who are the police?
  • What is the role of the police?
  • What are the highest priorities?
  • How is police efficiency measured?
  • What determines the effectiveness of police?
  • What, specifically do police deal with?
  • What view do police take of service calls?
  • What is police professionalism?


  • A government agency principally responsible for law enforcement.
  • Focusing on solving crimes.
  • Crimes that are high value (e.g. bank robberies) and those involving violence.
  • By detection and arrest rates.
  • Response times.
  • Deal with them only if there is no real police work to do.
  • Swift, effective response to serious crime.


  • Police are the public; the public is the police; the police officers are those who are paid to give full-time attention to the duties of every citizen.
  • A broader problem solving approach.
  • Whatever problems disturb the community the most.
  • By the absence of crime and disorder.
  • Public cooperation.
  • Citizen’s problems and concerns.
  • Vital function and great opportunity.
  • Keeping close to the community.

[Source: “Implementing Community Policing,” National Institute of Justice, November, 1988.]

In order to try out the equation Vision + Leadership + the Problem-Oriented Method = Effective Community-Oriented Policing, the Madison Police Department developed and implemented a 10-square mile Experimental Police District (EPD) in January, 1988. The three goals of the EPD were to implement quality Leadership, increase employee participation in decision making and use the problem-oriented police method to address citizen-identify community problems. The department began by developing a vision. Employees throughout the organization were trained in quality improvement methods and Quality Leadership and began working closer with community members in solving specific community problems.

Our definition is that community-oriented policing is the work done by police officers assigned to specific neighborhoods or business areas. They become not only community workers, but also community organizers. They are police officers working collaboratively with citizens preventing, controlling, and eliminating crime and other disorder in their assigned neighborhoods.

Community-oriented policing is, however, more than just getting closer to citizens-it is a reorientation of the way in which police work with, and relate to, citizens as “customers” and a commitment to resolve community-identified problems. Their efforts result in a high level of citizen satisfaction.


The department also implemented a new promotional system developed by an employee project team. The new system required that a Quality Leadership Academy be established to train all future leaders in the new management style before they were promoted. The knowledge and ability to practice Quality Leadership became a prerequisite for promotion within the department. Although Quality Leadership was a department-wide initiative, it was within the Experimental Police District that it was given the greatest organizational emphasis.

In the EPD, a work unit of 40 employees, the new leadership style began to be intensively practiced. As a result of this effort, there has been both real improvement in the quality of the work place and also the service provided to citizens. Some obvious examples are a reduction in sick leave and overtime used by employees as well as a reported increase in job satisfaction within the EPD. Externally, citizen-customers in the EPD report increased satisfaction in dealing with EPD employees. This satisfaction level is higher than citizens report in their contacts with other units of the department. The department obtains these satisfaction levels by conducting an ongoing survey of persons randomly identified in department incidents (including arrested persons as well as victims). This survey has been in operation for more than three years and provides the department with a base-line to compare citizen satisfaction with police services on a year to year basis. It also permits employees to see the results of their improvement efforts.

Since the department has established its vision for the future, instituted Quality Leadership as a new management style and started to address and resolve citizen identified community problems, it has noted increased citizen satisfaction.

Here are the basic ideas and concepts that leaders will need to know in order to build organizations that will be prepared to implement effective community-oriented policing. We must emphatically stress that without careful preparation of the organization by using the Quality Leadership style, community-oriented policing will falter and eventually fail.


Today our new police employees are entering the police profession with a different set of job expectations and values than their predecessors. They want and expect to be part of a team. They want their leaders to value their ideas and suggestions and to permit them to participate in organizational decision-making. They are uncomfortable with the rigidity and constraints of the bureaucratic paramilitary organization. If we, as police leaders, do not attempt to meet the needs of those entering our police ranks we will be maintaining organizations that are out of step with our employees and our communities. As quality leaders we are responsible for creating a vision for tomorrow, identifying department values, defining the department’s mission, and involving everyone in the pursuit of that vision. It is only when these elements come together with the problem-solving method to resolve citizen-identified problems that we will have effective community oriented policing.

This is a unique time in our history. It is the first time we have an effective alternative to the way in which we have conducted business for so many years. The choice is up to us in police leadership. It is not up to the Mayor, community leaders, or the rank and file to improve the police; they can and must help. It is a choice, we believe, the men and women in policing want us to make. We believe also it is a choice the people in our communities want us to make.

  • The time is right to fit the needs of our employees together with the needs of our communities and forge a new alliance -community-oriented policing. It is a heavy responsibility — will we accept it? Once accepted will we have the character and commitment to see it through?

  • In the last two decades since this article was first published, what has changed?
  • What has remained the same?

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