In an effort to combat increasing crime rates, many jurisdictions have begun instituting community policing, a system in which police officers leave their vehicles to patrol neighborhoods and business districts on foot, bicycle or horseback. The approach is considered innovative by many law enforcement professionals, but it certainly is not new.
Community policing harkens to a simpler time, when officers walked a beat and knew almost everyone in the neighborhood by name. By returning to such a system, we get officers out of patrol cars to increase their visibility, build trust and respect between officers and citizens, and reduce crime and violence.
Current Philosophy Flawed
The emphasis of today's motorized patrol system is efficiency: An officer in a car can cover a considerably larger area in a much shorter time period than an
officer on foot. Patrol cars also provide officers with direct communications through two-way radios. Unfortunately, this has caused police departments to measure success by how many calls for service are processed, how quickly the officer arrives and how many reports he or she writes. This philosophy is flawed because a high number of traffic and parking tickets and increased arrest rates does not necessarily result in lower crime rates. Instead, police become slaves to the bottom line, with its emphasis on delivering the most policing for the least amount of money.
The use of neighborhood officers has been discouraged because of insufficient resources. Direct police involvement in communities has been sacrificed to concentrate on more easily measurable efforts such as response time and arrests. Lawmakers and citizens have been demanding efficiency over service, mistakenly believing they would get more services for their money and reduce crime simultaneously.
The Common Sense of Community Policing
By walking or riding a bike or horse through an area, officers become more familiar with all aspects of a community--its streets and alleys, faces, names, addresses, safe havens and trouble spots. Such information is invaluable to an officer in preventing and solving crimes.
In addition, the officer is seen by children and adults as a friend, role model, authority figure and an immediate and comforting presence during emergencies. The positive reinforcement the officer receives is not in arresting people, but in solving problems and making the neighborhood more livable. Thus, the officer becomes an integral part of the...