Community-oriented policing is regarded as commonplace today, but the foundation for it dates back hundreds of years. Jennifer Knight, Columbus, Ohio’s Deputy Police Chief, explains that the principles of this type of policing date back to the early 1800s.
It was then that Sir Robert Peel, often credited as the founder of modern policing, embraced the overall idea that police should be members of the public at large, giving their full-time attention to the existence and welfare of the community.
Below, Jennifer Knight describes more about the evolution of traditional policing methods and how we got to where we are today.
What is Community Policing?
While principles of community policing date back more than 200 years, the approach to law enforcement only started to appear in the late 1970s. At that point, nearly 50 years ago, crime rates were on the rise and were seemingly unaffected by the traditional methods of policing.
This led to a movement for community policing, generally characterized as having ongoing initiatives that promote greater community involvement in police activities. At the heart of this approach is an emphasis on improved communication between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.
Community policing is seen as a proactive approach to controlling crime, emphasizing partnerships with the community, finding new ways to solve problems, and transforming the entire organization to support and reinforce the community policing approach.
The Elements of Community Policing
Jennifer Knight, Columbus, Ohio, Deputy Police Chief, says community policing initiatives typically foster five elements: a commitment to preventing crime, public scrutiny of the law enforcement agency, accountability of police actions to the public at large, police service that is customized to the community, and organization within the community.
The ultimate goal of the community policing model is first to establish and then build up strong relationships between police officers and the residents of the community who they serve and protect. The relationships, in turn, serve as the foundation for developing methods to reduce crime by impacting underlying social issues that lead to criminal activity, including racism, substance abuse, illiteracy, and poverty.
How Far Community Policing Has Come
In the 20 years between the late 1970s and late 1990s, law enforcement agencies in America adopted community policing en masse. Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief, says that roughly 90% of law enforcement agencies that served communities of at least 25,000 people incorporated the model into at least a portion of their overall operations by that point.
A significant reason for that — and the continued integration of community policing principles — is that research suggests there are quantifiable benefits of a healthy relationship between the police and the community. When there is a generally positive police-community relationship, it often results in neighborhoods being safer.
On the flip side, studies have shown that when community members have negative perceptions of police, they are less likely to alert them to criminal activities, serve as witnesses for criminal trials and cooperate with police investigations. They will also be more likely to delay reporting a crime and even disregard the law altogether.
This is why community policing is a key to building stronger and safer communities across the country.
About Jennifer Knight
Jennifer Knight, Deputy Police Chief in Columbus, Ohio, is known for dynamic leadership, innovative community engagement, and excellence in the field of law enforcement. After earning her Juris Doctor, she received the National Women’s Law Association Award of Excellence. Ms. Knight is a strong advocate for women in law enforcement and is a passionate community volunteer.police