January 21, 2015

Community, Policing, and Accountability

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

In response to the recent murders of unarmed black men by local police officers in Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island, and Oakland, to name a few, the Obama Administration created a task force to improve community policing.  The idea is that if police officers are embedded within the communities they serve, instances of racial profiling, and excessive use of violent force would be less likely to happen. The task force also hopes that community policing will help to facilitate greater conversation, interaction, and friendliness between police officers and residents.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, community policing is a philosophy and organizational approach to police work that emphasizes partnerships with community members, such as residents, nonprofit staff, other governmental agencies, the local media, and businesses in order to collectively create solutions that address public safety issues. As part of this, community policing calls for the organizational, and institutional transformation of police department culture, climate, leadership, and transparency to name a few.    

A few examples of community policing—in Nashville, Tennessee and Richmond, California-- have been heralded lately as successful programs.

In Nashville, police officers shut down city streets so that protesters could march without the worry of vehicle traffic; they also offered coffee, hot chocolate, and handshakes as marchers arrived to the police headquarters. Furthermore, in response to criticisms of this approach to protest marchers, Steve Anderson, chief of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, stated:

It is our view that every decision made within the police department should be made with the community in mind. Obviously, there are some matters in which we have no discretion. On matters in which we do have discretion, careful consideration is given as to the best course of action, always with the welfare of the general public in mind… The police are merely a representative of a government formed by the people for the people—for all people. Being respectful of the government would mean being respectful of all persons, no matter what their views.

In Richmond, Police Chief Chris Magnus has been able to both decrease violent crimes and police violence since his tenure began in 2005. In 2013, the city had 16 murders (the lowest rate in 33 years), fewer unsolved homicide cases than previous years, and “averaged less than one officer-involved shooting per year since 2008.” Some of the reforms that Magnus implemented include: rewarding officers for connecting with the community, hiring for diversity, partnering with activists and city groups, the inclusion of nonlethal weaponry such as tasers and pepper spray, and greater communication via the use of social media.

 Anderson and Magnus’s approaches are laudable; they both appear to be holistic and comprehensive approaches to policing, and appear to embrace the philosophy of community policing.

Yet, criticisms of community policing approaches still abound. These range from practicalities (there is often little support in terms of infrastructure, guidance, funds, and training to adequately implement programs like these – this support often must come from the mayor’s office and/or higher taxes), to issues of accountability (police actions may become more acceptable; not more scrutinized), to a form of image control (note the role of social media, the internet, and various news outlets in supporting both Anderson and Magnus).  In addition, some critiques have highlighted the overemphasis on the role of the community. The very notion of community policing relies on the inherent assumption that citizens will eagerly step up to work with the police.  

This is not to denigrate the actions of police departments or residents of Nashville or Richmond, but rather to critically highlight the potential tensions and the possible extension of inequality that can occur within community policing. A major criticism of the outcomes in both the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases is that there is little accountability or recourse for police officers who kill unarmed suspects.

Part of these criticisms stem from a disconnect between police officers and residents. However, increased community policing does not inherently impose accountability nor does it address issues of systemic and implicit structural racism. Furthermore, as Sally Raskoff highlighted in her recent Everyday Sociology post, many are often reticent to impose or support social change for fear of losing certain privileges.

So how do we move towards increased accountability and a change of culture within police departments? Drawing from his work on the Chicago Public School System’s Local School Councils and the Chicago Police Department, Archon Fung argues for a process of accountable autonomy within community policing practices.

Accountable autonomy requires that citizens and public officials work together to set their own agendas and preferred outcomes. For police departments, this includes relying on local citizen knowledge regarding public safety issues, hotspots, and collective practices to address these issues. At the same time, it requires a multifaceted approach to public safety that draws on other public services (such as streets and sanitation, park districts, et cetera). Yet, how is this different from the definition of community policing above?

Accountable autonomy also includes extensive training for participatingresidents and public officials, changes to laws and regulations regarding policing, collective pooling of knowledge and experience, and technical assistance.  In addition, it requires the presence of a centralized authority to provide support and also to hold these groups accountable to the residents they serve.

In order for this to work, however, we need to recognize the changes that must happen in terms of regulations and the legal code. It is one thing to say that there are mechanisms in place to hold police officers responsible; it is another to actually do so.  At the same time, there needs to be a real discussion on issues of race and racial inequity in this country.  Improving “community relations” and “hiring for diversity” do not inherently address power imbalances, racial profiling and racial inequity, the particular criminalization of men of color, or the mass incarceration of men of color within the U.S.


What is your arguement? And to illustrate 3-4 police departments that are using your definition of community policing is wrong as a scholar. Miss you need to realize that departments around the country that have been using the “community policing” model for years now. It just needs to be remodeled, James Bratton’s model of Community Policing does not work any longer, that is one of the problems that you did not point out or bother to reaserch for your article.

Additionally, what about the fact (I have written a thesis on this) that only white kids shoot up their schools, do you find that interesting? You fail to point that out as well!

Drug laws are the problem behind mass incarceration, we both know that, and to argue differently is well absurd. To drag these terrible shootings into the mix, well that is not social science it is looking for adverts and visitors! Shame, Shame!

Community policing is a strategic policy approach that is specifically enacted in order to develop a great working relationship between the community and the law enforcement agencies. This is done to ensure a more effective approach to address the increase of crime within a specific community. It is a collaborative effort between local law enforcement agencies and the local community that identifies issues of insecurity and disorder within the community and tries to find solutions to the identified problems. Does community policing produce the desired expectations and results of the police and the community? This is among the several questions that most individuals have about this relatively new approach to fighting crime. This philosophy is hugely dependent on the belief that the community as a whole deserves to be part of the law enforcement process, in return for their input in terms of information and support.
For community policing to succeed all the philosophy should be well understood by all the stakeholders involved in keeping law and order. The involvement of the community is only an incorporated part that ensures that the philosophy of community policing is successful. Generally, community policing requires the input of the community so as to facilitate towards the success of the program through collaboration with the police and other security organizations. The main hindrance that the program faces is the fear of change. Law enforcing officers are required to change their view of policing while at the same time the public needs to reconsider their position about the police and willingly accept the change that comes with community policing.

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