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Community Policing: Now More Than Ever

By Rob Chapman and Matthew C. Scheider

"Local law enforcement can play a key and very crucial role in maintaining the defense of our homeland." Chief Charles Ramsey, Washington, DC

Since September 11, federal agencies have increased terrorism prevention and response efforts, but much of the responsibility for dealing with these threats and the fear they create rests at the local level. Community policing can help law enforcement prepare for and prevent terrorist acts and respond to the fear such threats create by encouraging organizational change within law enforcement agencies, supporting problem-solving efforts, and seeking external partnerships.

While many U.S. law enforcement agencies have adopted community policing strategies in recent years, traumatic events like the 9/11 attacks can cause organizations to fall back on more traditional methods of doing business. Some police departments may abandon community policing for seemingly more immediate security concerns. Community policing, however, should play a central role in addressing these issues.

The community policing philosophy emphasizes organizational changes such as delegating decision-making power to line-level officers and assigning them to fixed geographic areas. This can be valuable in a crisis. When there is no time for decisions to move up the chain of command, officers accustomed to making decisions may be better prepared to respond quickly and in innovative ways. Officers assigned to specific geographic areas are also better able to build relationships with residents. Such officers may thus be more attuned to community fears and able to respond more effectively to them.

Community policing also helps to build trust between the community and law enforcement, which in a crisis can help law enforcement deal more effectively with community concerns. This trust also helps law enforcement to develop knowledge of community and resident activity and can provide vital intelligence relating to potential terrorist actions.

The problem-solving model is also well-suited to the prevention of terrorism. Departments can use a wide variety of data sources to proactively develop detailed risk management and crisis response plans. It can be determined which sites have the greatest potential to be terrorist targets, levels of vulnerability can be analyzed, and responses can be planned, implemented, and continually reevaluated.

As law enforcement is only one of many entities that respond to community problems, partnering with other agencies and community groups is central to community policing. Community policing encourages law enforcement officials to develop partnerships with civic and community groups to help address community needs and to involve the public in problem-solving efforts.

The threat of terrorism provides a unique opportunity to create these partnerships. Partnerships developed with other public service agencies and with the community aimed at intelligence sharing and developing coordinated response plans are vital to effectively dealing with terrorism.

Reducing fear of crime has always been an integral part of community policing. This applies especially to terrorism, where the primary goal is to create fear. This fear can negatively impact quality of life far beyond areas directly affected by any specific event. Unchecked fear of terrorism can also manifest itself in hate crimes. Law enforcement must be prepared to respond to and prevent such crimes.

While the fear of terrorism may be different from the fear of other types of crime, many of the same responses still apply. For example, law enforcement can conduct surveys to determine the extent and nature of citizen fear and tailor their responses accordingly. Awareness campaigns can inform citizens about local police and government activities to prevent and prepare for possible terrorist events and crisis response plans can be made public. Citizens can be informed about what they can do to prepare for possible terrorist events, such as preparing emergency survival kits for their homes, reviewing evacuation routes, and learning to identify suspicious activity. Encouraging citizens to partner with law enforcement and other community groups in prevention and preparedness efforts may significantly increase citizens' feelings of efficacy and security.

The burden placed on local law enforcement is great. Since 9/11, in addition to traditional responsibilities, America's law enforcement agencies have provided a visible security presence at potential terrorist targets, partnered with federal intelligence agencies, responded to an increasing number of hate crimes, and investigated a large number of terrorism related leads. Community policing can be an effective strategy for conducting and coordinating these and other terrorism prevention and response efforts.

Rob Chapman is a Senior Social Science Analyst at the COPS Office, where he has managed grants and cooperative agreements across a variety of community policing topics.

Matthew C. Scheider, Ph.D. is a Senior Social Science Analyst with the COPS Office. He currently serves as the program manager for a number of COPS Office evaluations and innovative cooperative agreements.

Read more articles from COPS' quarterly publication On The Beat.


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