Report from the Field:
Community Policing in the Academy and Beyond
A decade ago, the Somerset County Police Academy, now located at the Raritan Valley Community College, developed a recruit program in which community policing was the underlying foundation. The academy’s director, Dr. Richard Celeste, a former law enforcement officer, recognized that policing of today “is about interacting with the public, not shooting guns.” As a result, he designed a police recruit program that reflects this approach. What makes the Somerset County Police Academy stand apart from the 20 other police academies in the state is the promotion of partnerships and problem solving, both inside and outside the classroom.
In the classroom, police recruits learn the fundamentals of community policing and get a unique perspective from parole recruits who train with them for various blocks of instruction. Somerset is the sole venue in New Jersey for the basic training of State Parole Officers. This is because the New Jersey State Parole Board liked what it saw in the challenging Basic Training Program in Somerset County. In addition, by training police and parole recruits, partnerships between the two disciplines are strengthened and cross jurisdictional contacts established. Like police officers, parole officers need strong communication skills. By learning the core components of community policing, parole officers are able to strengthen their interpersonal skills which is critical to their daily interactions with offenders. And, later, when the parole and police officers are in the field, both benefit from having developed trusting relationships in the Academy.
Highlighting that community policing is not just a classroom experience, the centerpiece of the 6-month program is a Capstone Project. This project requires the police and parole recruits to work with members of the community to identify a problem or community concern. Senior citizens, educators, community members, business leaders, and representatives of the faith community are invited to the academy to participate in the project. Community members, referred to as “community facilitators” are recommended by their local police chiefs and agency heads,and then paired with recruits based on either common interests or jurisdictions. These community facilitators work with recruits as they implement the SARA process (Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment) to identify and develop responses to actual community problems.
Recruits receive basic community policing training at the onset of the academy so they can dedicate the remainder of their time to their Capstone Project. Part of the project involves recruits writing a detailed analysis of the identified issue which often results in a 25–40 page paper. Along the way, monthly progress reports are submitted to Dr. Celeste as implementation occurs. Many Capstone Projects lead to the development of handbooks, curriculum, and/or strategic plans that recruits can take with them when they embark on their new careers. Past classes have implemented Capstone Projects on issues such as Compstat, Proactive Community Corrections: Do the Numbers Add Up?; Integrations of Parolees and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services; Community Connections; Parole Revocation Analysis; Minority Recruitment; and a Death Notification Handbook.
At the end of the academy, each Capstone team gives an oral presentation, thus enhancing their communication skills while sharing with the class how they addressed their community problem. Since the program was established, approximately 800 recruits have successfully completed a Capstone Project and received their community policing certification.
During the Capstone process, the recruits establish strong working relationships with members of the community. And, the community feels a sense of ownership in their role in the police/parole recruit academy. They also develop a vested interest in the success of the recruits and a greater appreciation for public safety officers.
As Celeste pointed out, “Communication skills are critical” in the law enforcement profession where so much time is spent interacting with the public. “In the 1970s, we took the biggest and strongest,” said Celeste, who has been director of the Somerset County Police Academy for 21 years. “Now we focus on community interaction and work with recruits to that end. It has had a tremendous impact on the community. They are extremely thrilled to have input in the development of a professional police or probation officer.”
This Community Policing Success Story was submitted to us by the Somerset County Police Academy. If you have a community policing success story that you think others could learn from, we invite you to send us an e-mail at CPDispatch@usdoj.gov. We don’t need fully developed articles, just a couple of sentences that give the general flavor of your project. If it is selected, our staff will follow up with you to help turn that idea into a story the Dispatch can share.