SARGE: Community Policing
Community policing (CP) is a philosophy promoting organizational strategies, supporting systematic usage of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, proactively addressing the immediate conditions giving rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime. - www.cops.usdoj.gov (paraphrased)
While a kid in Rhode Island, I was experienced a form of police activity in my neighborhood we only occasionally see in the America of today. Back in the day (over 60 years) ago and in an area noted for its congestion and compactness of living conditions (we lived in three story tenements stacked literally on top of each other covering square miles of ground surface) we had our personal “beat cop”.
He literally walked the streets of the neighborhood, engaging with the people he met and coming to know the citizens under his care. It was the way it was done. He’d stop at a Police Call Box hanging on a telephone pole and check in with his desk sergeant for reports and instructions every occasionally as was required. His supervisor traveled to him occasionally and they discussed whatever they had to discuss. Detectives traveled to him to gain intelligence on crimes and suspects. The police structure rotated around him and the community they served.
As populations increased and police personnel resources didn’t, the patrol procedure changed drastically. Modernizing technology (in-car two-way radios) allowed patrol officers to drive to and from calls faster and with greater efficiency than before when officers were on foot and alone. Officer safety became a priority with the increases of violent crime after World War II.
Protective back-up was a radio-wave away. But that back-up was for the police only. It really removed the officer from the neighborhood and put him in a patrol car. It insulated him from his community. Police work was no longer proactive where an officer could counsel, intercede and act before the commission of crimes; officers became strictly and institutionally removed from their population on the beat. They became as they are now, almost always a step behind the criminals.
The growth rate of the criminal element has been meteoric in comparison to the growth rate of police departments. This requires police work not only harder but smarter. They’re seen as the enemy. They’re seen as combative, non-responsive to the problems in the neighborhoods and interfering in the lives and lifestyles of the community’s members. Add to the mix an element of racism and perceived slights accumulated over the years and decades and you have a fusion of distrust, cynicism and suspicion.
Today we see more and greater efforts to “police smarter”. This calls for the NEW approach of COMMUNITY POLICING! New? This is the same thing I enjoyed as a child when a neighborhood cop knew where I played. He went there almost immediately after I was reported missing (overdue for dinner by an hour). A cop fully engaged in the protection of the neighborhood knew where to go; knew what to do and was aware of almost all that happened on his beat.
He was involved and proactive much as Chiefs around the country are trying to become involved and proactive today. But these CP programs require the cops get out of the car, walk the beat, engage the people in the street in anon-threatening manner and develop allies on the battlefield the streets have become.
This isn’t always appreciated by the troops required to leave the air conditioned comfort of a car and stand in the heat and humidity, a five pound Kevlar® protective vest pulling the perspiration out of his/her body while hoping to keep the bullets and knife slashes from coming in. It requires the officer to rein in the natural suspicions of a cop and listen to the person he may not even like associating with. It requires attention to be paid to issues the officer may not find important. But, he/she’s not there for personal enjoyment. They serve the people and protect them; whether either of them likes it or not.
John Donne said: “No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
Thanks for listening.