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Some Conceptual and Practical Considerations
Much rhetoric about getting tough on criminals or about establishing community policing lack the understanding of why crime takes place and therefore are short-sighted in terms of possible impact by the proposed policies. Typically, these policies are ideologically driven and if they have any merit, there is a gap between what these programs propose and how they are being implemented. Community policing is one such example. Recently touted by public officials as a step in the right direction - some even suggest it as a panacea for solving crime - community policing has been either misunderstood or not well, or fully, implemented.
Very little public discussion of what crime is and understanding of why crime takes place can be found. Without understanding what "produces" crime in society how can any intervention have an impact on it? The legal approach to crime is interested in the very limited focus on the exact point where crime is defined as simply a violation of a (written) law. In this sense, any jurisprudence system (of the federal government or that of local government) views the violation of the law as a conflict that now needs to be settled between the violator (an individual or a corporate entity) and the violated entity (other individuals, corporate entities, the state). Here crime is viewed as a specific behavior that needs to be reacted to, punished and hopefully deterred. Reasons for committing the crime may be used later in legal procedures when sentencing takes into consideration various mitigating circumstances. However, beyond this relatively narrow focus it is fair to state that crime is a societal product that agreeably we need to have less of. In a society that is used to producing more, (consumable goods) curbing production (as in smoking, heart ailment, skin cancer) is a most difficult task that requires a comprehensive - not a patchwork - approach of a very large magnitude. Community policing seems to offer the appropriate rhetoric and conceptualization, and bears a promise for a better future. However, it risks the danger of its self-demise if there will be no insistence on a better understanding of the causes for crime and on fully implementing a comprehensive policy.
Other than counting crimes (as they are reported) and offering dubious ranking systems, there is little public discussion of the underlying causes of crime. There is also very little offering of a justification or rationale for why a certain (policing or other) strategy will reduce crime. Community policing, if taken seriously, can offer such a comprehensive approach to reduce crime. Within this strategy, law enforcement acts as a catalyst in a process that changes itself, other social service agencies and the community, simultaneously. Considering the fact that about 80% of police activity and response to calls is non-criminal in nature and that police can do very little to prevent a crime that is about to happen, the discussion then has to focus on a more long-term, proactive approach. This stems from the very simply fact that crime is produced by societal forces that are non-stop-able by police. This is true both about the nature of crime (i.e., such as in crimes of passion) and the volume of crime and its economic appeal (i.e., drug use, prostitution). If this premise is acceptable then its derivative is to look at social control issues as encompassing more than formal law enforcement. Rather, normative behavior, evasion of norms, violation of laws and the forces that produce (or could minimize) them should be the focus of any policy with reasonable chances for success.
Any policing policy that adopts proactive planning assumes that intervention needs to be targeted to effectively reduce the amount of crime produced in (and by) the community. Until rhetoric about community policing appeared in law enforcement circles in the early 1980s, it had been assumed that crime control is the sole responsibility of police. This was particularly emphasized during the "professional period" of the policing movement in the U.S. which itself developed out of a reaction to police brutality and corruption because of the sense of it being too close to the community. However, with police professionalism came along the distancing of police from the community and thus the loss of valuable intelligence and the necessary contacts that breed trust and positive relationship.
In the early 1980s community policing became a "buzz-word" in policing circle, replacing such terms as police-community relations, team policing, and problem oriented policing. However, to date, community policing is still an illusive term meaning different programs and approaches to different police departments. In fact, until 1992 there was not a definition available in the literature. Despite the ever increasing popularity of the term the closest to a definition in the professional literature were two sets of ten principles on community policing. The first was offered by John Alderson (1979) and the second by Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux (1990). Alderson's ten principles related to policing under conditions of freedom with emphasis on guaranteeing personal freedom and free passage while the principles offered by Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux have more to do with the implementation of the concept in a given police force. Yet in most communities the shift to community policing was characterized by introducing (or re-introducing) foot-patrol and the beat officer returning to the neighborhood.
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