How Effective Is Community Policing In Preventing Crime?

Introduction

This research paper will firstly approach the problematic nature of offering a fixed definition of community policing before analyzing specific country experiences from Europe and ASEAN member states. The research paper will then attempt to demonstrate the complexities of conducting comparative studies vis-a-vis community policing in order to highlight the significance of context. Context is extremely important in any understanding of community policing, as a one-sized fits all approach is inappropriate and sheds little light on the effectiveness of community policing initiatives.

It is primarily important to offer some definitions to aid an understanding of what some of the merits and/or limitations of community policing could be. Tilley has noted that fundamentally ‘community policing stresses policing with and for the community rather than policing of the community. It aspires to improve the quality of life in communities. In improving the quality of life it aims to solve community problems alongside the community and as defined by the community’ (Tilley 2008: 376-377). However, it must be acknowledged that community policing is an extremely broad fitting term, which subsequently makes any absolute definition problematic. At the crux of community policing is the concept of decentralization, which plays exceptionally well at the rhetorical level. This could give some indication as to how the discussion of community policing has spread so far and has such wide reaching appeal.

The lack of an unambiguous and incontestable definition from a social scientific perspective means that there is no benchmark from which to test the effectiveness of community policing. This is problematic because the notion of a community is not a fixed term, but is a social construction that changes depending on historical, social and cultural contexts. This is without mentioning the different relationships between the state and its citizens around the world, as well as the different judicial and policing systems within different countries themselves.

It has been suggested that community policing is ‘simply too amorphous a concept to submit to empirical evaluation’ (National Research Council Committee to Review Research on Police Policy and Practices 2004; Lombardo and Lough 2007). It is not that community policing produces no tangible outcomes, as there are effective and ineffective consequences. The problem is that community policing has become a sort of popularized buzz word that has been overused. This has diluted its meaning to a large extent, but some clarity must be afforded if an understanding of what the merits and limitations of community policing are to be achieved.

The contestable definition of community policing has been acknowledged. However, it still remains to state that like a community itself; community policing is a social construction that must be understood contextually. Brogden has noted that ‘the development of community policing in different national and local contexts reflects the tensions between the legal, cultural and organizational structures of policing’ (Brogden 1999: 167). It is therefore very difficult for the community policing model to be easily transplanted from one community to another. Local context and conditions ultimately dictate the perceived appropriateness of the community policing model.

Goldstein has argued the importance of a clear definition. ‘Critically, a clear definition enables both the community and police to be informed about the parameters of this policing model. In the past community policing has been oversold as a panacea for crime problems to the police and to the community’ (Goldstein 1994: VIII). This is problematic, but again at the rhetorical level seems to fit with public consensus regarding decentralization and autonomy, as people want to be able to control their own destiny and create solutions to problems which seem appropriate and logical to them. Edwards has also suggested that ‘almost anything that is not a reactive strategy to deal with a particular issue has been claimed as a community policing initiative’ (Edwards 1999: 76). This is also problematic because it has diluted the definition of community policing even further still.

The discussion above has focussed on the problematic nature of having no absolute definition of community policing. This comprises much of the literature on the subject and is reflective of its ability to stimulate debate internationally. The problem, as already acknowledged, is that community policing is not easily transferable to other communities. Compounded by fluid conceptualizations, it has meant that it is challenging to measure how effective community policing initiatives have been; because they are not the same within European countries let alone between Europe and ASEAN countries.

There are methodological challenges that need to be addressed because some of the existing literature has focussed analysis on post-conflict and transitional societies, for example, Northern Ireland and Poland. These case studies present significant operational as well as methodological challenges. The problem of conducting a thorough literature review in the space afforded in this research paper is apparent, as the literature on the subject is exhaustive. The need for definitional clarity in Scotland has facilitated seven principles being identified. These principles have accounted for the diverse communities that exist and are policed in Scotland. There is no need to list them here, but simply to acknowledge that any comparative study must account for the specific context of a community.

The cost of poor policing is apparent in Indonesia where ‘some 40 attacks on police stations and personnel since August are clear evidence that community policing, the centre-point of the police reform agenda, is not working; police are too quick to shoot, usually with live ammunition; and little progress has been made toward police accountability’ (Asia Report No. 218). It is therefore important to note that community policing is not a panacea for ending all criminality, but is dependent on other deep-rooted societal factors.

Angell and Miller have argued that many people, including academics ‘do not understand community policing for what it is – a significant crime prevention, community problem-solving, structural and operational alternative to the traditional bureaucratic criminal apprehension arrangements used in urban policing’ (Angell and Miller 1993). This is fine, so long as community policing is not fixed, but is constantly evolving in order to put the beneficiaries at the heart of policing initiatives. To truly put the community at the heart of policing initiatives requires the reassessment of the needs of a specific community. Again, this is problematic because this defines community policing too broadly to measure empirically.

After analyzing European and ASEAN approaches to community policing, it is apparent that these approaches are far from homogenous. This research paper has stressed that what is relevant, and how the problem is perceived and solved varies from country to country. If the definition of community policing is reduced to a broad conceptualization of policing ‘for the community’ and not ‘policing of the community’, then it could be argued that community policing is effective. What remains crucial regarding community policing is ownership, and that those who benefit are able to shape and define it. However, the problems of measuring the effectiveness of community policing within countries and conducting comparative studies between countries have been explored.

This research paper has concluded that there are tangible outcomes, which deal with and prevent crime, but these outcomes are dependent on identifying what is important to a particular community and that is dependent on context. In Scotland, for example, seven principles were identified to give definitional clarity to community policing. Another problem is, what should the criteria to measure effectiveness beClearly this would change depending on the needs of the community. To conclude that community policing is effective or ineffective in dealing with and preventing crime would be inappropriate because the social scientist is ill equipped to make such a declaration. It is equally inappropriate to compare countries, which have very different historical; social and cultural contexts and police structures.

Bibliography

Angell, John and Miller, Roger (1993). Community Policing. Alaska Justice Forum. 9 (4), 3-5.

Asia Report No. 218 (16 February 2012). “Indonesia: The Deadly Cost of Poor Policing”. http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/south-east-asia/indonesia/218-indonesia-the-deadly-cost-ofpoor-policing.aspx (11 December 2012).

Brogden, Mike (1999). Community Policing as Cherry Pie. In Mawby, Rob (Ed.), Policing Across the World: Issues for the Twenty-First Century (pp. 167-186). Abingdon: Routledge.

Edwards, Charles (1999). Changing Police Theories for 21st Century Societies. Sydney: Federation Press.

Goldstein, Herman (1994). Forward. In Rosenbaum, Dennis (Ed.) The Challenge of Community Policing: Testing the Premises (pp. VIII-X ). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Lombardo, Robert and Lough, Todd (2007). Community Policing: Broken Windows, Community Building, and Satisfaction with the Police. Police Journal. 80 (2), 117-140.

National Research Council Committee to Review Research on Police Policy and Practices (2004). Fairness and Effectiveness in Policing: the Evidence. Washington, DC: National Academic Press.

Tilley, Nick (2008). Modern Approaches to Policing: Community, Problem-Oriented and Intelligence-Led. In Newburn, Tim (Ed.), The Handbook of Policing (pp. 373-403). Cullompton: Willan.

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