In the late 1980s and early 90s, there was a major push in our country for traditional police to adopt the concept of community-oriented policing. Basically, it consists of developing a strong working relationship between police and their communities. What actually happened was a small effort by a few officers while the rest of the department continued policing in the old way.
In this community-oriented style of policing, police must consider all the people they serve, not just people of means. And that requires police who can operate comfortably in multi-cultural and diverse groups of people.
This style of policing is both necessary and difficult because it requires major changes in most police organizations. They must change their thinking, training, and behavior. Change comes slow to police, and that’s why we need to keep talking about community-oriented policing and push for its total implementation.
Every police department today that is not fully practicing this style of police and deeply connected with the many communities it serves is out of step and less effective than they could be. Police effectiveness is based on the trust and support of the community, not counting reported crimes as the sole method of evaluating police effectiveness. Instead, it is more important for police to know and understand what the community thinks of them. Are they fair? Respectful? Honest? Trustworthy? Effective in what they do?
A good police department knows the important role healthy neighborhoods have in maintaining a community’s norms and values, reducing crime, ensuring community safety, and identifying persistent problems. That kind of information is gathered by police officers who are committed to the neighborhood in which they work, able to deeply listen to residents, relate positively to every community member, are controlled in their use of force, and who always treat everyone with respect.
I began to see the wisdom of this style of policing very early in my career. It worked for me when I was a patrol officer walking a foot patrol beat within in an all-black neighborhood. When I became a chief I never forgot that. I saw that I could enlist help from the community if only I would ask. But getting answers means being respectful – always.
Having retired from policing to work as a Christian pastor, I feel called to teach others about this important concept. I am convinced it will bring God’s Reign ever closer when we actually seek justice and protect and serve others. It happens when we get our elected officials and police to sign on to this important way of providing city police service.
As people of faith we need to press forward and encourage police to work with us and, together, build strong communities — one neighborhood at a time. That’s what police in a democracy do and that’s what we must expect and encourage from our city’s leaders.
We need more of those community-oriented seeds planted today which move this idea forward through “gentle persuasion” and help police nurture and grow this proven method. I predict that one day this way will be the only way police in our nation’s cities “protect and serve.”