The e-newsletter of the COPS Office | Volume 1 | Issue 3 | March 2008

Community Policing Nugget

The Role of Traditional Policing in Community Policing

police sirens Traditionally, police organizations have responded to crime after it occurs and, therefore, are structured to support routine patrol, rapid response to calls for service, arrests, and follow-up investigation. Community policing calls for a more strategic and thoughtful incorporation of these aspects of police business into an overall broader police mission focused on the proactive prevention of crime and disorder.

Routine Patrol

Community policing advocates for the strategic application of routine patrol that is conducted with an eye toward desired outcomes. Rather than just conducting routine patrol because “that is how we have always done it,” routine patrol should be part of comprehensive problem-reduction and community outreach strategies. Routine patrol, for example, may be used specifically to increase police visibility to reduce fear of crime; or preventive patrol may be increased in a particular hot-spot neighborhood as part of a larger comprehensive crime-reduction strategy.

Rapid Response to Calls for Service

Community policing advocates for the strategic application of rapid response. For the vast majority of police calls for service, decreases in response times do not increase the chances of arrest or prevent harm to victims. Community policing encourages the police and the public to determine how rapid a response is necessary based on the nature of the call for service and to align expectations to match these policies. Community policing also encourages the police to increase the means by which citizens are able to report incidents such as through online reporting systems or the use of trained volunteers who take police reports. These efforts should increase the time available to focus on the development of strategic responses to crime problems.


It is well-known to police practitioners and police scholars that the police can seldom arrest their way out of crime and social-disorder problems. Although arrests will always be a vital and important function of the police, arrests alone generally are not an effective nor efficient way to develop long-term solutions to crime problems, particularly considering that the vast majority of offenses do not result in arrest. Community policing views arrests as one potential response among many available to the police. Part of the proposed solution to any serious public safety problem likely involves arresting offenders (particularly targeting high-volume repeat offenders). For police activity to bring about long-term solutions to crime and disorder problems, however, a wider variety of responses that limit criminal opportunities and access to victims and decrease the crime-generating features of particular geographic places are typically necessary.


Conducting investigations (large and small) will always be central to the police mission. Community policing encourages agencies to have strong investigative functions in order to solve crimes, and also asks law enforcement to enhance the value of these investigations by linking them to broader problem-solving activities. Community policing calls both for full-time investigators and for individual officers who take incident reports to gather and share information to inform crime-prevention efforts. Investigations of thefts from construction sites, for example, can be enhanced by including information about building completion, the names of builders, the status of surrounding buildings, or the security level of the site (see Burglary at Single Family House Construction Sites). Investigations of known gang members and gang affiliations can feed efforts to understand gang relationships that can be used to inform comprehensive gang-reduction strategies (see Street Gang Interventions). Information gathered through sound investigative techniques can serve as a vital resource to feed problem analysis efforts designed to develop lasting solutions to problems.

Law Enforcement Information Sharing

Finally, traditional policing has generally emphasized the role of partnerships and information sharing with other law enforcement entities at the state, local, and federal level. Information about known or suspected offenders is often shared. Community policing advocates for a broader flow information between law enforcement agencies regarding potentially effective solutions to crime and disorder problems and crime trends and patterns. It also calls for police to broaden the array of potential partnerships beyond other law enforcement entities to include nonprofits, businesses, nonlaw enforcement government agencies, individual community members, and the media. Moreover, these partnerships should involve more than the sharing of crime or other relevant information with these groups, but rather should be focused on developing proactive long-term solutions to problems that are of concern to citizens.


Traditional policing activities are at the core of most police departments. These activities are not at odds with community policing; rather, community policing calls for a slightly different perspective. Slight modifications and changes in perspective regarding traditional policing activities can make a significant contribution toward advancing the community policing philosophy and thereby increase the capacity of police agencies to deliver fair, effective, and efficient police services.

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