Community policing has been around for many years now. How can police use their community policing efforts to enhance investigations?
What are some of the barriers and how can the police overcome them?
With all of the good that community policing does, and I am all for it, sometimes people cannot lay aside their long history of feelings about police. My son was a foster parent for several children. One of the girls who was three at the time heard a police car siren, and immediately ducked her head down in the car seat. Being the teasing child that she is, she told her older sister that the sirens were for her. Whether teasing or not, she would never go to a police officer for help because she has been taught to fear them. Because her family is in chaos all the time, she is never in one place long enough to learn the benefits of community policing. She only sees the police taking her father to jail or breaking up fights. Police will never be a good thing to her way of thinking.
Depending upon the neighborhood or community considered, one challenging aspect of community policing is trust. When community members start paying more attention to the crime that happens around them and reporting it to the police, more arrests can be made, but the people involved may feel threatened by the criminals, so the police must take measures to protect the good citizens that involved in the program. If they don't, people may choose to "turn a blind eye" and stay out of the fray.
After a rash of "problems" on my normally quiet street, the neighborhood started a community watch program. We had officers come and speak with us and tell us about doing our part. This helped to create a trusting relationship with the officers of our hometown. Now, there is more police presence in our neighborhood and officers sometimes stop to simply chat. It has been an amazing thing for everyone. Community policing should be a part of every community given the relationship it establishes between the community and the police force.
Community policing helps police departments because of the intelligence (information) they gain by being part of the community. By understanding the community, who is who, etc. the police are better able to make sense of criminal activity and who may or may not be involved. The essence of investigation is collecting and synthesizing information, and community policing assists with both. By understanding the community better, information is already at hand.
As stated in the posts above, one major benefit to community policing is trust. If people trust the police officers in their area, they are more likely to report crimes and work with the police to solve others. Another benefit to police falls under crime prevention. If police officers know the area and the people in it, they can spot suspicious activity much more easily. For instance, a police officer familiar with a community might notice a stranger hanging around and be able to prevent a break in because he/she knows that person does not belong in that community. A hardship for community policing is the economy. Most departments simply do not have the funds to keep enough officers on staff for each officer to have a designated community.
A major barrier is that it is very hard to reconcile the idea of the police officer as community resource with the fact that this is a person who has a gun and can arrest people. The one role calls for the officer to be a friendly figure while the other calls for him/her to be the authority. It is hard to play both roles at once in an effective way.
The idea of police working with community members is an old one that combines the force of law with the pressure of a community that can also be brought to bear on crimes or other problems within the community. If you look at efforts of even radical community groups like the Black Panthers you can find examples of effective community policing, but of course this grows more effective when the police are also present and cooperating.
I have an uncle who is a police officer in a city with a high crime rate. Before cutbacks, he worked as a community outreach officer. Sometimes he was able to prevent crimes simply by working with community members to get them to trust the police. No "no snitch" movement prevents many good, law-abiding people from coming forward.