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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
As Chief of the Arlington Police Department, I am often asked if community policing really works. And the short answer to this question is yes. There is research to demonstrate that community policing is effective in reducing crime, and the Arlington (TX) Police Department (APD) can support these findings in our jurisdiction.
To assess the value of any policy or procedure, our department uses a comprehensive set of measures—a blend of statistics, hard data, community surveys, and what we hear from our officers. Judging from these measures, I can say unequivocally that community policing has helped to increase public safety and order in Arlington, Texas. Just as importantly, it has improved officer safety and led to a more positive work environment.
The long answer to questions about the effectiveness of community policing is that when properly implemented, it provides many advantages. To begin with, local people are more likely to cooperate with police, keep a watchful eye over their neighbors, and report suspicious individuals or criminal incidents when they know and trust us. And these benefits extend to a wide variety of safety concerns.
A geographic policing model for proactive problem solving
However, patrolling a neighborhood and talking to its residents is not nearly enough. A critical element of community policing is problem solving. Officers are expected to be proactive and creative not only in addressing, but in preventing, problems.
To implement this approach, APD uses a geographic policing model, assigning officers, beat sergeants, and sector lieutenants to a predetermined geographic boundary. These individuals keep their assignments for long periods to forge relationships with neighbors, business owners, and the faith community. Working with them, officers apply problem-solving methods to reduce crime and disorder while improving the overall quality of life in their beats. As each officer’s rank increases, he or she becomes responsible for more neighborhoods—not only for responding to crime, but for maintaining communication and engagement.
Increased safety for the community and officers
But these officers do more than meet and greet people; they take the time to share information and learn what is of interest in different sub communities within their area—geographic, business, ethnic, age related, and otherwise. Many of them get deeply involved, especially with the kids. Some teach special projects in the local school and many mentor young people. Others are involved in athletic mentor coaching programs, which are especially important because athletes are often the most respected leaders in their schools, but are just as often at risk for disruptive behavior.
Building relationships like these helps us all in the long-run. Young people develop a positive image of police and officers are safer when they are known and respected. Officers also enjoy the feelings of goodwill, personal connection, and individual accomplishment. This leads to more job satisfaction.
But, ironically, these relationships can negatively skew the data on crime rates. Because residents trust the police, they are more willing to report crime or suspicious behavior. Increases in arrests can be interpreted as increases in crime. This demonstrates the difficulty of trying to “measure” the positive effects of community policing.
Combining preventive and investigative methods
Another distinguishing feature of community policing is that it emphasizes proactivity rather than just reactivity. Our focus is on preventing crime—solving problems by getting to the underlying cause. One of the tactics we use is the SARA method: scanning, analysis, response, and assessment, a method which has been determined to be successful in reducing crime and increasing officer awareness of community issues.1 By defining the problem, analyzing its cause and effects, our team can not only respond more effectively, but evaluate the outcome of our response in order to prevent future incidents.
Technology and data sharing plays a large role in this, as does collaboration—both within the agency and outside—with social service providers, educators, health and other professionals, local government, and state and federal law enforcement. We have found that these partnerships increase our resources and our ability to solve problems.
Collaboration and data sharing
In 2016, APD upgraded our records management system, transitioning from summary crime reporting to incident-based reporting (IBRS). This enables us to more fully explore victim and incident information. With IBRS, officers must provide more detail surrounding an incident, enabling us to determine underlying causes. As a result, we can tailor our responses to each crime, react faster, and even predict overall crime trends.
To take advantage of all of our internal resources and promote the kind of synergy that leads to well-informed decisions, we have also decentralized our operations to a certain extent, which allows different areas to work together. Though we do have individual departments—homicide, for instance, is in its own physical space—conversation related to these and other crimes are in a virtual space where we can get input from many other specialists.
Everybody has an important role to play
The success of community policing depends upon the ability of individual officers to build positive relationships and take the initiative to solve problems. But everybody at APD has an important role to play in maintaining a positive public image, regardless of rank, assignment, or task. Non-sworn APD employees are as important as the officers in building community relationships. Good personal communications and the establishment of trust are as necessary at the records counter as in dispatch and the detention center.
Public communications are equally important. Everybody associated with our department, including our citizen volunteers, is also taught how to communicate and monitor information effectively through social media training. This is particularly important because we are constantly confronted with misinformation—some of which is deliberate, from individuals who want to promote divisiveness.
To counteract this after a serious incident such as a homicide, we institute community restorative efforts by flooding the neighborhood and initiating conversation with the residents, ensuring that they know exactly what happened. We connect with them virtually as well, asking them to share this information with their community and to let us know if they get misinformation. We also use social media to humanize the public image of our officers and law enforcement.
Successful enforcement operations
A good example of how community policing principles come in to play in an enforcement operation is our Operation Safety Net (OSN) program. Launched in 2016 after we noticed that robbery and aggravated assault crimes were trending up, OSN was a multidisciplinary approach combining intelligence, investigations, and field operations to form one team working on the same goals: reduction of robberies, assaults, and gun crime. Operations were based on weekly intelligence reports that provided field officers with information on areas and persons of interest, determined from "hot spot" mapping.
The program also required the cooperation of the public. To keep local people aware of increased police presence in their area and the goals of the operation, we launched public messaging campaigns—through social media and face-to-face communications—before OSN began. When the program began, robbery offenses were trending up in summary UCR reporting; when it concluded, these offenses had fallen to average levels.
In 2017, we launched a second initiative aimed at curbing gun crime. This program, known as the Violent Crime Task Force (VCTF), involved saturation patrols and zero tolerance, limited to targeting of enforcement of violent offenders and offenses. At its conclusion, violent crime involving guns had fallen to average levels, and later UCR summary reporting showed that violent crime fell six percent in our community.
A common denominator in these, as in all other operations, has been the support of our community. When we are proactive and approachable, citizens are more likely to cooperate and support the police. And we continue to work to earn that support—every single day.
Community support for police operations
So back to the original question—does community policing reduce crime and improve the quality of life in our city? The Arlington Police Department has experienced several great successes in our commitment to community policing. Most importantly, APD has the support of Arlington’s various communities when there are incidents and events that warrant police intervention.
We’ve also had a great deal of positive feedback from our outreach efforts, our partnerships with the faith-based community, and our citizen volunteer and participation programs. This is in addition to good reports from our patrol officers, who say that the members of their community—residents and small business owners alike—are aware of challenges of maintaining order and public safety, and satisfied with the strategies we’re using.
And here’s one more way I measure the success of our community policing model. One of the applicants for a job at APD was not only from out of state, but without any personal ties to Texas. When asked why he wanted to become an APD officer, he replied that an online search showed that we encourage our officers to invest in youth and participate in other programs that give officers the ability to work closely with the community. “I want to be part of that,” he said. At APD, we are all involved in building good community relationships—and take pride in what we’ve accomplished.
Chief Will Johnson
Arlington Texas Police Department
1 Maguire, Edward R., Craig D. Uchida, and Kimberly D. Hassell, “Problem-Oriented Policing in Colorado Springs: A Content Analysis of 753 Cases,” Crime and Delinquency 61, no. 1 (2015): 71–95.
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