The e-newsletter of the COPS Office | Volume 1 | Issue 4 | April 2008

Community Policing Nugget

Community Policing Nugget Community Policing Specialists vs. Generalists

police sirens Most police agencies are highly specialized, dividing themselves into a number of units, bureaus, or divisions, each with distinct duties. It is not surprising, then, that when some agencies chose to implement community policing, they did so through the creation of specialized community policing units. According to a 2000 survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately two-thirds of larger municipal (68 percent) and county (66 percent) police departments had full-time community policing units. Other agencies, albeit fewer in number, implemented community policing agency wide by creating community policing generalists, and assigning responsibility for community policing activities to all officers. Still other departments have experimented with hybrid models that combine aspects of both approaches. Agencies should consider the advantages and disadvantages of each approach when choosing from among the implementation models.

Community Policing Specialists

Having a group of dedicated officers assigned full time to community policing offers a number of advantages. This approach ensures that the officers have sufficient time to dedicate to proactive problem-solving and partnership-building efforts. In addition, it is easier for agencies to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to maximize efforts. Finally, specialized units can increase the visibility of community policing activities both within the department and to the community.

Specialized units, however, can breed resentment among other officers who may believe that the units receive special treatment and that their activities do not represent real police work (calling them “Grin and Wave Squads”). In addition, specialized units might encourage the idea that the majority of officers are not responsible for developing collaborative partnerships, engaging in problem-solving activities, or being attuned to the importance of community relations. Specialized units also expose a limited number of officers to community policing training and ideas, making it unlikely that community policing will ever grow beyond the bounds of the special unit. Community policing advocates (like the COPS Office) have generally supported agency wide implementation of community policing, premised on the notion that community policing is a philosophy that should inform all aspects of police business. Generalized models of community policing, however, are not without potential obstacles.

Community Policing Generalists

Adopting agency wide implementation by creating community policing generalists removes any potential tension between a special unit and the rest of the department. It enables agencies to emphasize the importance of proactive problem solving and partnership development to all officers and builds these activities into their jobs. Agency wide implementation recognizes the belief that community policing principles are applicable to all aspects of police business including routine patrol, investigations, arrests, and traffic stops. Agency wide implementation increases the potential scope and breadth of community policing efforts and facilitates its eventual institutionalization.

On the downside, agency wide implementation can result in a watered-down version of community policing (more reflective of community relations than community policing), with officers actually devoting little time to the core activities of partnership building and problem solving. If officers do not see these activities as integrated into their current duties, they might see them as extra work and resist their implementation. In addition, officers frequently report that they do not have sufficient time to devote to community policing and, therefore, will resist agency wide implementation. In addition, it can be difficult for large agencies to provide adequate training to large numbers of officers in the depth necessary to fully realize the benefits of community policing. Because of these potential concerns, a number of agencies have implemented community policing through a combination of both approaches.

Hybrid Approaches

Some agencies have implemented special units to support the community policing efforts of the entire agency, while encouraging all officers to participate in those efforts. For example, a special unit will set aside sufficient time to engage in in-depth problem- solving efforts for a precinct or an entire city. At the same time, it is made clear to all officers that some problem-solving activities are expected of them, focused on a specific neighborhood or even a single address. In addition, all officers are encouraged to rely on the special unit for assistance in implementing their own community policing efforts, thereby incorporating the special unit into all aspects of police business. Finally, all officers can receive training in community policing that is appropriate and tailored to their position.

Recommendations for implementing community policing for all implementation models.
  1. Set clear goals and expectations.
  2. Develop measurable outcomes and outputs.
  3. Develop accountability mechanisms.
  4. Ensure that officers have the skills, training, and resources necessary to implement problem solving and partnership building successfully.
  5. Build community policing into the regular duties of officers, including their traditional activities.
  6. Communicate the importance of community policing throughout the agency.
  7. Share information within the agency regarding successful problem-solving and partnership-building efforts.
  8. Reward officers for successful efforts representative of the community policing philosophy.

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