It is a unique thing when the police are written into the headlines more than the criminals are. And when this is the case, it is a clear sign that a problem exists, one that needs to be fixed. We are living in such a day and age.
There is a new story every week out of X state, in Y city, where a police officer has unjustly shot a civilian with any given motive. Multiple solutions have been given, some meeting more criticism than others. One of these aforementioned solutions is the idea of community or neighborhood policing.
The concept of community policing involves police forces, generally in larger cities, splitting officers into smaller regiments within neighborhoods. This, in theory, would allow these officers to become more familiar with the local inhabitants, and would eventually lead to more understanding and a strengthened relationship among citizens and police officers.
As our country and our world continue to urbanize, cities grow more and more, resulting in more fragmenting of urban areas into neighborhoods and centers of communities. In larger cities with an array of diverse neighborhoods, this can be a powerful tool. Understanding is perhaps the most powerful word that can be used to describe a betterment of the currently tense relationship between citizens and their police forces in many American cities. A more focused approach for police officers, among many other things, would inevitably result in greater understanding between the force and the civilians they are enlisted to protect.
Michael Jenkins, Ph.D., of The University’s department of criminal justice has provided expert analysis for many nationally published articles over the last few months in The Washington Post and The New York Times. In these, he speaks to the issues that he believes cause the kind of issues between police and everyday people. He attributes basic police conduct as one of the factors that can be improved to reduce the strain in protection-protected relations. In a New York Times article published April 26, Jenkins states that police officers have the ability to “reduce the likelihood of a situation getting out of control either verbally or physically by the ways they are treating individuals.” These police officers have to simply remember to treat all the people they serve with dignity in order to keep the kind of respect from citizens that they seek and likely deserve. Jenkins cites issues with police training, including a recent release stating that federal monitors are suggesting the NYPD add to their police training instructions such as “don’t be racist,” “don’t mock people that you stop,” “don’t make sexist comments,” and “don’t hassle people for no reason.” The fact that these are just now being added to police academy training is disturbing.
In a January New York Times article, Jenkins also pointed out that community policing can be effective, but a fine line must be drawn over the boundaries that the police should not overstep. “Different neighborhoods have different ideas about the problems they’ll want police responding to,” Jenkins said in the article. With police focused on a certain area, they’d be able to become more familiar with the citizens of the community and their desires and concerns. However, Jenkins said, these police cannot act as some sort of occupying force that tries to interfere in every issue it sees arise, and must be careful to avoid “disrespectful or unnecessary interactions with citizens.” Keeping that line uncrossed is key in community policing. If that is respected, then the concept of community policing could end up being at least a first step solution to frayed civilian-police relations in this country.