The e-newsletter of the COPS Office | Volume 1 | Issue 5 | May 2008

Community Policing Nugget

From Community Policing to Community Governance

Police agencies throughout the country have worked toward adopting the principles and practices associated with community policing. Instead of reacting to crime only after it occurs, community policing calls on the police to implement organizational changes that support the proactive prevention of crime and social disorder through partnerships and systematic problem solving. These principles and practices can be used to address a host of issues confronted by any unit of local government, be it a state, county, city, or tribe. This translation of the community policing philosophy to broader local governance has been termed “community governance.”

Although there is no commonly agreed-on definition, in general, community governance is a philosophy focused on improving the quality of life of citizens and their satisfaction with local government services through government-wide organizational changes designed to support proactive collaborative problem solving and interagency and community partnerships. This philosophy, based in large part on community policing, can guide units of local government in their quest to improve the overall quality of life for their citizens. Closely paralleling community policing, the basic concept can be broken down into three interrelated parts: partnerships, problem solving, and organizational transformation.


Like community policing, a central component of community governance is the development of strong partnerships to foster trust and collaborative problem solving. These partnerships may range from informal relationships to true two- way partnerships with regular meetings, shared resources, and clearly defined goals. Community governance encourages strong partnerships and coordination among all government entities and between these entities and the broader public at large to address issues of shared responsibility and mutual concern. Each segment of local government has different resources, expertise, and perspectives that it can bring to respond to jurisdiction-wide issues. It is a matter of strategically coordinating these efforts, making them seamlessly experienced by the public, and developing more effective responses that add greater value to the public service being provided.

Community governance also encourages reaching out in systematic and strategic ways to develop working relationships with the business community and nonprofit and community groups such as victim services, neighborhood associations, faith-based organizations, service clubs, support groups, and advocacy groups. Governments can take a strategic approach to these partnerships by identifying the universe of potential partnerships that may occur, and examining the resources and input that these groups can bring to specific public service issues.

Problem Solving

Problem solving has a recent and rich tradition in policing, from which lessons can be translated to broader government applications. The problem- solving model (often operationalized in the form of four distinct phases: Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment, or SARA) offers a framework for approaching crime problems that also can be applied to address a wide range of public service issues that confront many jurisdictions such as traffic flow, neighborhood improvement, school and educational issues, park and facilities use and maintenance, pedestrian safety, uncollected trash, nuisance pay phones, car alarms, or overgrown weeds.

In the past, police departments handled incidents or calls for service as separate and essentially unique occurrences and only infrequently looked beyond individual crimes or criminals to examine the underlying conditions that gave rise to these problems. More recently, in addition to tracking down individual burglars or rapists, agencies have begun to address the overarching problems of burglary and rape. It is likely that this conception of problems parallels the experiences of other government agencies. A public works department, for example, may treat incidents of graffiti, trash, broken street lights, and abandoned automobiles as individual occurrences. In addition to responding to these individual incidents, community governance encourages the systematic identification and analysis of recurring problems in the hopes of developing coordinated, long-term solutions in cooperation with other stakeholders (both within and outside of the local government bodies). Moreover, the responses can be implemented jointly or in coordination with these stakeholders to bring all appropriate resources to bear on the problem and maximize the likelihood that improvements will be sustained.

Organizational Change

Community governance promotes specific organizational changes to support partnerships and problem-solving efforts. These changes can comprise including principles into strategic planning and broadening outcome measures that are used to evaluate government services. It also involves hiring people who are oriented toward public service, problem solving, and critical thinking, thereby increasing their decision-making authority at lower levels, holding them accountable for their performance, and evaluating them based on these principles. One of the most common manifestations of community governance involves implementing multidisciplinary teams of government employees who are responsible for the community welfare in specific neighborhoods. These groups can be organized around SARA-like problem-solving processes to develop a more complete understanding of what is taking place in that neighborhood that feeds into comprehensive and innovative solutions to their prioritized problems. Community governance also encourages altering the culture so that government employees think of themselves first as a representative of a larger proactive jurisdictional government and second as a member of their specific agency. Finally, integrated technology and information systems, including 311 call systems, facilitate the move toward a more unified and proactive government. Integrated technology can improve the flow of information within a city government and enhance the analytical capacity of governments to improve their understanding of problems.


The police have recognized that including other government entities such as parks and recreation, legislative bodies, sanitation, public works, public safety (fire, EMS), utilities, community services, and community development can greatly enhance their efforts to improve public safety. If governments as a whole are encouraged to adopt similar models, community policing/community governance can provide the basis for more effective and efficient delivery of services to address the host of difficult issues confronted by jurisdictions.

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