What is Community Policing? We hear this term thrown around a lot, and in reality, every police chief will tell you it is what their agency is doing. But, there are some key characteristics of Community Oriented/Problem Solving Policing (COP/POP) that should be present for an agency to lay claim to this philosophy of policing: 1) A genuine partnership between the police and the community it serves. 2) That partnership is focused on solving problems; the solutions should be sustainable and not “band aids”. 3) The police organization must evolve from being rule-driven, with top-down leadership to being mission-driven, empowered employees who are active in the problem solving process.
When this model of policing first evolved in the 1980’s, the most prominent problem solving model suggested was called the SARA model (Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment). The Newport News Police was an early pioneer in using SARA and focusing on problem solving. However, like so many organizational theories and models, with changes in leadership and competing priorities, the Department drifted from some of the practices of COP/POP while still staying focused on solving problems.
Since my appointment in 2014, we are very focused on returning to COP/POP in a practical manner. Rather than require strict adherence to any one specific problem solving model, our focus is more on the relationship building needed in order to foster strong community partnerships. Once those partnerships are solid, officers and community members alike can apply a variety of problem solving techniques to improve quality of life in neighborhoods and sustain the improvements.
Doing all of this requires that our patrol officers are assigned to specific neighborhoods and not only become intimately aware of everything within their assigned areas, but also become well known and trusted within the community. This takes time, and it takes effort on the part of the officers beyond simply responding to calls for service.
Currently, we are one of many agencies across Virginia and the entire country experiencing an unusual number of police officer vacancies and a scarcity of qualified applicants. This reality has significantly detracted from our ability to practice COP/POP in its purest form….officers getting out of the cars, building trust and relationships in neighborhoods, and proactively working with residents to identify and address quality of life problems. Instead, our officers often are running from call to call, with little time in between to do foot patrols or engage in dialogue unrelated to a call for service.
It is important for our community to understand that our goal for COP/POP isn’t being met, not because we don’t desire to do it, but due to our inability to provide officers the free time they need to practice this time-proven method. With aggressive and innovative recruiting, and with YOUR help in the community (send us your best who want to make a difference!), we continue to strive for filling our vacancies and fully practicing COP/POP.
Just because we can’t meet all of our COP/POP goals doesn’t mean we haven’t adopted the philosophy. At its core, the relationship between police officers and the citizens we serve is the essence of COP/POP. Even if we’re running call to call, the manner in which we engage with citizens defines our philosophy as an agency. We know we have some history to overcome, we know we have a national narrative about police that we have to overcome, and we know that all it takes is for one officer to step away from this partnership role to create a major gap with our community. But, we believe it is worth the effort we’re making in order to fully adopt a COP/POP philosophy.
Another myth about COP/POP is that it is soft on crime. In truth, agencies that fully adopt COP/POP can be very aggressive on crime reduction. The difference from traditional policing, however, is that the police don’t fight crime alone; with COP/POP, the police and the community together get tough on crime and the results far exceed those seen in “leave it to the police to handle” places.
In 2017, as we continue to evolve our COP/POP philosophy, and fill vacancies so that we can properly staff to achieve it, we turn to you, the community, to provide that partnership piece that is so critical. The more we join hands and work together, the better a community we will all enjoy.
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