What is community policing? Part I

Originally published on the Santa Rosa Police Department Facebook page in June, 2015.

We go to meetings frequently with neighborhood groups and community organizations, and we frequently hear questions about community policing and what we are doing to accomplish it. At one meeting within the last year I had a community member ask me what we do for community policing and I thought, “Yes! An easy question.” I started talking about all the different things that the Santa Rosa Police Department does to excel in the area of community policing. I talked about how it is a philosophy that is embedded in our culture and how all our officers and staff have a responsibility to engage in community policing. I talked about our patrol structure and the how officers take on projects within their assigned areas, or “beats”. I mentioned all the ways people can find out about the Police Department and how they can get in touch with the officers and supervisors working in their neighborhoods. I talked about all the ways our employees participate in and engage with the community both on and off duty. I went on for quite a while, thinking I “nailed it”.

When I finished, feeling pretty proud of myself, my questioner was unsatisfied. He said something like, “That’s great, but I want to know what your strategy is. How much time do you make officers spend out of their cars every day to talk with people?” I didn’t know how to answer this man, and almost felt like we were speaking two different languages. I felt like I had just spent the last several minutes giving a detailed explanation of our philosophy, strategy, and many of the things we do to accomplish community policing. We get questions like that frequently, and I realize that many of us have different ideas or definitions of what Community Policing is and how to accomplish it. Please take a look at the examples below and tell us what you think.

Say we have two groups of officers. The first group goes out to a neighborhood and talks casually with residents, handing out stickers to kids and playing basketball with them. Maybe they arrange a barbecue or meeting so that they can build relationships with the neighbors.   The second group of officers has information that someone in the same neighborhood is selling drugs from his home. They conduct an investigation and go to the neighborhood to serve a search warrant at the suspect’s home. They have to force open the door to the home and end up making arrests and seizing evidence of drug sales. They bring code enforcement officers with them on the search warrant and the house is red-tagged so that the occupants have to leave until all the code violations are fixed.

Which group of officers is doing community policing? How do you define it? In Part II we’ll examine some of the responses and I’ll share my view

  • Captain Craig Schwartz

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