20th May 2010
Five Myths About Community Policing
The following is a brief discussion of five common misconceptions about Community Policing. As with any widely publicized phenomenon, certain misconceptions arise and tend to dilute the actual focus of concepts or programs. Community Policing is a value driven philosophy of police service delivery. It is not the real cops versus the social
worker, a mini station, or a walking beat or a foot patrol. It is concerned with forming partnerships between service
delivery personnel and the community members it serves with the belief that the whole of greater than the sum of the
part. Because of several existing misconceptions concerning Community Policing, police administrations are forced to
use valuable time and effort dispelling rumors and myths that tend to hold back progress. The following are insights and
comments designed to clarify or dispel five myths about Community Policing.
The Five Myths Are:
Community Policing is social work, soft crime.
Community Policing is too expensive.
Traditional police work has no place within a Community Policing environment.
A police agency can adopt full transition to a Community Policing philosophy in 30 days or faster.
Our department has Community Policing Officers and “real” Police Officers.
1. Community Policing is social work, soft crime
There are many reasons why Community Policing is not what is typically identified as social work but the main reason
is that Community Policing involves partnerships with the community and social work per se does not. Where
Community Policing is practiced, it is not a situation where the police department delivers service to the community or
for the community. This requires active community involvement and responsibility for solving problems shared with the
police department. The key is that while both the community and the police attack problems, each does it from its own
perspective and with its own capabilities being utilized. Social work generally does not simply equal responsibility of the
part of those individuals receiving service to that of the people delivering the service. Partnership means both people are
involved and responsible and both have a stake in the outcome.
Because Community Policing deals with problem solving and addressing the underlying conditions causing the
problem, it is anything but soft crime. Actually, where Community Policing is actively engaged in and applied with
consistency, it is much more difficult for crime to flourish than within a traditional police environment. Also, Community
Policing with a problem-solving outcome moves away from a process where reports are taken, arrests are made, or
citations issued outside of the context of problem solving. The difference between outcome and output has long been a
difficult concept for entities involved in service delivery to embrace.
Community policing is extremely communications intensive. Perhaps the emphasis on communications within and
without a police organization has caused the label of, “soft on crime” to be applied to the philosophy. If we examine
police work of any form we find that communications is, by far, the largest single activity engaged in police personnel. The only difference is under Community Policing; hopefully we get better at communications.
2. Community Policing Costs Too Much
This may be the widest spread of all the myths bout Community Policing. Remember that Community Policing is a
value driven approach to service delivery, the idea that it cannot be afforded severely misses the mark. In actuality, no
amount of money can pay for or buy Community Policing. As with friendship and other value-oriented concepts, it is not
for sale and cannot be purchased. Administrators need to focus on how to do it and how to free up time for it
instead of how to pay for it. Over-emphasis on how to fund Community Policing will actually retard an agency’s
adaptation of the philosophy. This is true because preoccupation on procuring funds spends mental energy and time
that could be used on development of innovative ways to change the organization or to alter service delivery into a
Community Policing concept.
3. Traditional Police Work Has No Place In An Agency Which Practices A Community Policing Philosophy
Of all the myths this is probably the most blatant. When adopted within an agency, the Community Policing philosophy
becomes the umbrella under which all other types of policing and law enforcement operates. Traditional police activities,
problem oriented policing, crime prevention, direct patrol, and many other types of special police activity exist under the
philosophy of Community Policing. In fact, Community Policing cannot be practiced and cannot exist without traditional
police work. Because of the problem solving focus and also because of the heightened violence in our society, police
officers do not need to forget traditional policing - - instead they need to be better at it. Tactics, marksmanship, unarmed defense are all vital, critical skills that police officers must continue to excel at. Because Community Policing
is focused and problem oriented, police officers dealing with the current environment are more apt to encounter danger
than they are in an environment where they often miss the very heart of a problem because of their traditional
As long as our society continues in the direction that it is, police officers will be involved in handling in-progress, violent
types of calls. In responding to these types of instances, they must be tactically proficient and competent in the spirit
of Community Policing. Obviously, this is true because protection of life is at the very top of the service that police
officers provide in any context. Traditional police skills and activities are here to stay.
4. Police Agencies Transition To A Community Policing Philosophy Can Be Accomplished In 30 Days Or Less
There are currently significant amounts of misunderstanding about the difference between doing certain activities that can be described as “Community Policing” and actual transition of a police agency to a Community Policing philosophy. The former, obviously, can involve mere performance of certain behaviors or mere acquisition of certain types of equipment. Many agencies have foot patrol, horse patrol, or mini stations and say they have converted to Community Policing. Obviously, this is not a true statement, especially when one understands that for Community Policing to survive within an agency, it must be put into the core culture of the organization. When Community Policing becomes part of the core culture of an organization, it will sustain itself. Where it is not part of the culture, Community Policing will cease to occur as soon as the immediate impetuous behind it is no longer there or change focus. Many agencies claim to have transitioned to Community Policing in a week or two. City administrators have said, “We’ll we’re all in favor of this – how long will it take you to make it happen?” the expectation there being three weeks or a month. Although Community Policing behaviors can begin instantaneously, the organizational change involved in true transition, where Community Policing is put in the culture, is a long rocky road. It is now estimated that a true, self-sustaining change to a Community Policing organization by a police department will take years to accomplish. This type of change can be retarded by the inability to plan over a period of years, certain fiscal issues, such as long-term budgeting, and resistance from within the organization or outside of it. Agency-wide transition to a Community Policing philosophy is definitely a long-term proposition.
To aid in the long-term transition, police agencies must plan strategically over a period of years, be able to budget for more than one year at a time, train leaders, and selected officers, supervisors, and administrators who are Community Policing orientated. Departments where Community Policing has failed are clearly departments that have not attempted or succeeded in putting Community Policing into the core organizational culture. Differences between superficial Community Policing and when it is adopted into the culture is the same as the difference a symptom and an actual root cause for an illness. You can treat the symptom and not deal with the root cause, but your cure will be temporary. In Community Policing, you can exhibit the behavior and not deal with the culture, and as soon as you cease emphasizing the behavior, the core culture will return.
5. Our Department Has Community Policing Officers and Regular Police Officers
This occurs in agencies where a driven approach to Community Policing is not stressed. Once again, Community Policing is more about how to do the job than it is about what you do on the job. If it is our wish to have Community Policing be value drive and have it embraced by the entire agency, if we foster the idea that there are community policing officers and real police officers, we are defeating ourselves. Community Policing is “real police work”, it is not an adjunct to traditional policing or something that is done when all the radio calls are answered. Conscious division of community policing activities and traditional policing activities will retard assimilation of Community Policing values in the culture because most police officers will believe it’s something that somebody else does. This perception internally will cause traditionally minded police officers to resist change, waiting for the old way of business to come back again.
Even though it is much more difficult to put Community Policing in the organizational culture, if it is to survive, ultimately it must be done.
The five preceding examples are only some of the myths typically associated with Community Policing. These myths must be understood as such and must be replaced with actual knowledge about the concept of Community Policing if it has a chance of surviving.
The Tulalip Police Department
Marysvale, Utah, U.S.A.