What is Community Policing? Part II

Originally published on the Santa Rosa Police Department Facebook Page in July, 2015

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about community policing, talking about how we sometimes define the term differently and how those differences can contribute to a lack of understanding between the police and the people we serve.

In that blog post about community policing, I gave two scenarios of officers at work and asked which group was engaged in community policing. In one scenario, officers were out in a neighborhood interacting with adults and children, handing out stickers and having casual conversations. This example is much like the barbecue event our Gang Crimes Team hosted recently on West Ninth Street or the numerous other community events we participate in on a regular basis. The second scenario involved a group of officers responding to a complaint of drug sales from a house in the same neighborhood. The officers completed an investigation, got enough evidence to write a search warrant for the suspects’ house. When they served the warrant ad forced open the door they made arrests and seized evidence of drug sales. In the example, the officers brought code enforcement officers with them and the house was red tagged so that the occupants had to leave until the violations were fixed.

Many people would look at the two examples and say that the first group is doing community policing while the other group is not. The second group might even be accused of being overly “militarized” as they force their way into the suspected dealers’ home to take enforcement action. The trick to the original question is that there was only one group of officers.

We sometimes think of community policing in very narrow terms of activities I prefer to call community engagement. These trust-building activities are a critical part of community policing, but they alone do not make the whole. In the examples given, officers worked to build relationships with the community members who then feel like they can trust the police to help them solve their crime and safety problems. The neighbors tell the police about suspected drug sales in their neighborhood and work with the police to help them gather evidence of the crime. The officers also realize that criminal prosecution doesn’t necessarily resolve the neighbors’ concerns and sometimes the best resolution for them is achieved through code enforcement efforts or working with the landlord to get problem tenants evicted. In the end, the officers are able to take enforcement action and use their partnerships with the residents, other government agencies, and perhaps with community or faith-based organizations to provide a longer-term resolution to a crime, safety, and quality of life problem in the community.

The United States Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services defines community policing as follows: “A philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder and fear of crime.” I shorten the definition in my mind to say that we work to build and use partnerships within government and within our community so that we can bring the right resources to solve problems.

In that way, almost everything we do should help us improve our community policing abilities. Does the way we align our department structure and personnel, or participating in community events and activities mean we are practicing community policing? Is an officer making an arrest or chasing a suspect not engaged in community policing? I think the questions have complex answers and we need to look at the big picture to answer those questions. Obviously I think that we are a community oriented policing agency, but I recognize that in many cases the solutions we seek for neighborhood problems are difficult to reach and people are sometimes disappointed with the outcomes. Those cases are frustrating for us as well, and we will continue trying to improve our services.

The opinions that really count are yours, and we look forward to working with you. For more information about the Department and our community policing efforts, check out our annual report. It is on our website at www.santarosapd.com.

– Captain Craig Schwartz

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