Community policing is a crime management philosophy that combines law enforcement efforts with civilian volunteer work. By making police officers and community members allies in the fight against crime, community policing can help to create a more cohesive policing policy as well as a more transparent and accessible law enforcement program. Some experts suggest that a community policing framework may be a more successful tool for crime prevention and reduction in the 21st century than traditional policing methods.
There are several reasons why community policing strategies are gaining momentum in some parts of the world. Dwindling budgets due to economic woes often significantly reduce the capabilities of a police force, making them less able to manage crime on a comprehensive basis. The spread of drug trafficking and gang activity throughout all levels of modern society has led to a major call for help from community members, since they live on the ground floor of the situation. Additionally, the predominance of households where all parental figures are working full-time jobs has created a large population of unsupervised youth, an issue which may be managed, in part, by a strong and active community. Moreover, while police may be excellent at fighting crime, it may take the efforts of an entire community to create effective crime prevention programs; by working together, both law enforcement and civilian efforts can be combined to create a wide-ranging strategy that both reduces and prevents crime.
According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which is a part of the United States Department of Justice, community policing comprises two main areas: problem solving and partnership. Partnership is the relationship created by police and civilians working together; by forming a bond of mutual goals and proving a willingness to listen and respond with action, police and community members can create a reservoir of trust that may be necessary in difficult situations. By partnering with the community, law enforcement stands to gain inside information about criminal activity that may lead to important busts. The community can also gain by getting to know the police force; a bridge of trust may help reduce a natural suspicion or fear of the police, and lead to community-created crime prevention programs that are backed by the efforts of the police force.
Problem solving is the process that law enforcement and neighborhood members go through in order to identify, target, and solve criminal problems in the community. Through problem solving, both sides have the opportunity to suggest remedies to an issue, and both can find the specific areas in which their resources are the most effective. If, for instance, the district is facing problems of vandalism by youth who are unsupervised after school, a local gym owner could offer to start up an after-school sports league to help reduce the problem. Equally, the police could offer to step up patrol efforts in the hours after school gets out. By creating a working model in which both sides can help each other, community policing can help establish a cycle of trust and communication that can significantly reduce crime levels in a region over time.