The e-newsletter of the COPS Office | Volume 1 | Issue 10 | October 2008

One on One with David Carter, Ph.D.

intelligence frequency This month, the Dispatch is pleased to feature an interview with David Carter, Ph.D., professor and director of the Intelligence Program at the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice. Professor Carter responded to questions from Dispatch Associate Editor Calvin Hodnett.

CP Dispatch: In the past 2 (or 5 years) years, what has been the most successful community policing initiative or program you have seen applied in a community and why?

David Carter: I travel around the country on a weekly basis providing training and technical assistance for law enforcement agencies. As I’ve seen many agencies move toward Intelligence Led Policing, one of the apparent realities is that they are relying on the lessons learned from community policing to engage community members and the private sector. The need for public education in identifying threats and problems within their communities and engaging the community to report suspicious behaviors have been important and are increasingly being relied on for our homeland security efforts.

CP Dispatch: What three things would you say are necessary to develop and maintain a successful community policing program?

David Carter:

  1. Commitment from the chief executive that is demonstrated and enforced throughout the chain of command.
  2. A clear articulation of the chief executive’s vision of the community policing philosophy through a mission statement and through goals and objectives supported by policy, resources, and rewards.
  3. Training for all personnel so that they understand and apply community policing principles effectively.

These are absolutely essential ingredients. The best computers, cars, and facilities are nothing without a clear direction of what is to be accomplished, how it is to be accomplished, and expected outcomes.

CP Dispatch: What is the biggest challenge facing the advancement of community policing today?

David Carter: Sustainability. We are a compulsive society and tend to address a crisis or problem in a certain manner until a new, more serious crisis or problem comes along. As we change our focus, it is easy to throw everything out and start anew. This nearly happened after 9/11. As an illustration, during the PERF (Police Executive Research Forum) meeting held in conjunction with the IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) in Toronto in October 2001, barely 6 weeks after the terrorists’ attacks, one chief executive commented (sarcastically, during a discussion of terrorism and the law enforcement role), “Does this mean we are throwing out community policing and adopting Terrorist Oriented Policing?” That was the fear of many. Not that the law enforcement community wanted this to happen; they feared that politicians and new legislation would essentially change the method of police operations.

CP Dispatch: Do you think officers should be specialists or generalists? And why?

David Carter: My answer to this question is a little nontraditional, and I don’t mean to sound like I am equivocating, but “it depends.” Let me explain.

As a rule, uniformed officers are necessarily generalists in performing the range of their responsibilities from problem solving to traffic enforcement to responding to calls for service. And particularly in smaller agencies, virtually all personnel are generalists as a function of size. Specialization in these agencies, which are the backbone of American law enforcement, is a luxury that simply is not available.

In major cities and counties as well as in state law enforcement agencies, however, there is room for specialization by officers who perform their duties from a community policing philosophy standpoint. Cold case Investigators can effectively use problem- solving and community-based skills, as can school resource officers, gang investigators, repeat offender squads, and officers working on violence suppression programs, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods. While these officers are specialists because of their assignments, the philosophy of community policing can still provide a successful approach to accomplishing their goals.

In law enforcement intelligence, the area where most of my work has concentrated since 9/11, we are seeing community policing principles being broadly applied. The most apparent example is in Intelligence Led Policing. The lessons learned from all aspects of community policing—problem solving, crime mapping, crime analysis, community engagement—have direct applicability to Intelligence Led Policing.


David L. Carter (Ph.D., Sam Houston State University) is a professor in the School of Criminal Justice and director of the Intelligence Program at Michigan State University. A former Kansas City, Missouri, police officer, he has served as a trainer, consultant, and advisor to many law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S., Europe, and Asia on matters associated with officer behavior, community policing, law enforcement intelligence, and computer crime. In addition, he has presented training sessions at the FBI National Academy, the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar (LEEDS); the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest, Hungary; the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute (UNAFEI) in Tokyo; police “command colleges” of Texas, Florida, Ohio, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Kentucky; and served at the FBI Academy's Behavioral Science Services Unit, the first academic faculty exchange with the Bureau. Dr. Carter is also an instructor in the Bureau of Justice Assistance SLATT program, author of the COPS-funded publication, Law Enforcement Intelligence: A Guide for State, Local, and Tribal Law Enforcement, and project director of the managerial intelligence training program funded by the Department of Homeland Security. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, articles, and monographs on policing issues and is a member of the editorial boards of various professional publications.

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