According to the National Criminal Justice Commission, community policing is based on the notion that police “should serve residents in a neighborhood rather than simply police them” (Donziger 1996). Yet one significant problem with community policing is that many minority communities “feel both overpoliced and underprotected—overpoliced because the drug trade flourishes with the same vitality as before, and because police are often slow to respond to 911 calls from minority neighborhoods” (p. 160; emphasis in original).
Legislators have voted to place more police in these neighborhoods on the basis of the belief that there is more crime there and that the presence of more police will reduce crime. The evidence from studies such as the now famous Kansas City Patrol Study (Kelling et al. 1974) and its replications (Police Foundation 1981) suggests that more police will not reduce crime. These studies found no evidence that patrol activities of police, whether proactive, reactive, or even absent, had any effects on crime rates.
This is why the National Criminal Justice Commission concludes that “we need to learn how to police better before we add new police” (Donziger 1996, p. 160). Walker (1998, p. 79) explains why adding more police will have no effect on crime rates. He argues that patrol will always be spread thin in a geographic area, so that its crime-preventive benefits will be minimal. He also suggests that many crimes are not suppressible by patrol because they happen in private areas between people who know one another.
There is some research suggesting that adding more police to large cities will reduce street crime there, especially when patrols are directed at hot spots of crime (Sherman et al. 1997). The number of violent street crimes, as measured in the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), declined 34% between 1990 and 2000, and the number of UCR property crimes fell by 31%. During this time, the number of full-time officers increased 17% (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2003). Policing likely had something to do with these declines but was not responsible for most of them.
President Clinton boasted that crime rates fell in the nation’s cities because he had put 100,000 new “community police officers” on the street. In fact, we still have not hired those additional 100,000 officers, and most of those that we did hire are not engaged in community policing. The good news is that in 2000, of all city police departments, 66% had full-time sworn officers engaged in community policing activities, as did 62% of sheriff’s departments. Almost 70% of local police departments had a community policing plan of some type.
The bad news is that only 18% of local police departments (who employed 52% of all officers) had a formally written community policing plan, and only 17% of departments offered training to citizens on community policing issues. As for sheriff’s offices, 55% had some community policing plan, and 62% used full-time community policing officers. Yet less than one-third (31%) of departments, employing 51% of deputies, trained all new recruits in community policing, and only 13% had formal policies on community policing.
Only 9% of sheriff’s offices included problem-oriented projects in performance evaluations for officers and only 8% surveyed citizens regarding perceptions of crime problems in the community. Thus, it is safe to say that community policing is more of a buzzword than a widely used approach to crime prevention. It should be noted, however, that ideology did play a role in the perceptions of community policing. As we have discussed, people have differing ideologies, but politically they tend to fall into two camps: conservative or liberal.
Community policing would appear at first blush to represent a more liberal perspective on crime control because of its emphasis on community partnerships and power sharing as well as its focus on due process. Conservatives would not necessarily care for community policing because it does not represent a conservative viewpoint on how best to deal with crime. As Craig Uchida, a senior-level official in the Justice Department, stated, “I don’t think [the Republicans] cared. They viewed community policing as part of a liberal, soft-on-crime agenda. It didn’t resonate well for them.
” In fact, Ted Gest, in his book Crime and Politics, offers a good example of the negative response of conservatives (Republicans) to the concepts of community policing when he described the attorney general striking community policing from a draft of recommendations to combat violent crime because “it sounds too much like social work. ” Recognizing the ideological basis and perceptions of policymakers is important for understanding the success of a public policy. Community policing by itself was not going to win the heart and minds—and, more important, the votes—of the Republicans.