The e-newsletter of the COPS Office | Volume 1 | Issue 2 | February 2008

Community Policing Nugget

The Purpose of Partnerships

Community policing encourages law enforcement agencies to forge partnerships with government agencies, community members and groups, nonprofits, service providers, private business, and the media. It is important to understand that partnerships within the context of community policing should serve the two interrelated goals of increasing trust and enhancing collaborative problem-solving efforts.

Partnerships to Increase Trust

One fundamental purpose of partnerships is to increase trust between law enforcement agencies and the customers they serve. Trust is the basis for any effective relationship, whether it is between two friends, between customers and a company, or between a public service agency and citizens. Citizens who do not trust the police are less likely to report crime and to participate in developing solutions to problems. They are also more likely to place blame for increases in crime on the shoulders of police. It takes only one volatile incident to create tension between the public and the police, even for the most respected police agencies. Community policing encourages agencies to build up accounts of trust and goodwill to call on when the inevitable crisis arises. Simply put, trust provides the necessary basis for fair and effective policing.

Partnerships for Collaborative Problem Solving

The second primary purpose of partnerships is to conduct collaborative problem-solving efforts. The first step of any problem-solving effort should be to prioritize crime and disorder problems. The roots of community policing are based on the belief that the public should have a say in how they are policed and in how the problems of their community are prioritized. It is not uncommon for law enforcement agencies to find that their priorities differ significantly from those of citizens. Part I violent and property crime will likely always be of interest to the public, but other public safety problems and fear of crime may be of greater importance than initially realized.

Once identified, the police can rarely solve crime and disorder problems alone. Long-term solutions to problems often require comprehensive responses, and enforcement typically represents only one aspect of an effective response. Other public service providers, nonprofits, or local government agencies can bring unique resources to bear on offenders, victims, and crime locations. Law enforcement agencies should seek to engage in SARA problem-solving processes with partners who have a stake in addressing specific problems and can play a significant role in developing innovative solutions.

Effective Partnerships

Forging collaborative partnerships is difficult and the vast majority of law enforcement agencies are familiar with public apathy when it comes to crime and disorder problems. Thus, law enforcement agencies need to be strategic about their partnerships and have very specific goals in mind at the outset. Is this partnership primarily for public relations or is it to develop a solution to a specific problem or set of problems? How will success be defined?

Collaborative problem-solving efforts work best with partners who have a stake in developing a solution to the problem and have specific identified resources that they can bring to bear on proposed solutions. Representatives of various agencies or constituencies should also have an appropriate degree of decision-making power to increase efficiency. Partnerships also work best when there are clear agendas and expectations among partners. Finally, although the police may have a natural leadership role in convening collaborative problem-solving groups, they should consider whether they are ultimately best positioned to serve in a membership or advisory role instead. When possible, police should seek to shift responsibility to, and share responsibility for public safety problems with, other entities.

See also “Shifting and Sharing Responsibility for Public Safety Problems”.

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