Legitimacy Through Policing

This blog post is part of a series highlighting best practices in community policing by police departments nationwide as part of IACP’s Community Policing: The Next Generation project. The project showcases modern, innovative, and cost-effective solutions to crime problems and public safety issues through collaboration and partnerships between law enforcement and community stakeholders in order to adapt community policing efforts. The project is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Guest blogger: Chief Steve Dye, Grand Prairie, Texas, Police Department

If policing has truly moved from an occupation into a profession then why is overall public trust not in alignment with the advancements in our profession? I suggest a large part of the solution to enhance police legitimacy lies in embedding an effective community policing philosophy into every department. I would offer that community policing should no longer be considered a “type” of policing, but rather the default manner in which all law enforcement agencies should operate. Community policing should be the guiding philosophy in knowing our communities and collaboratively working with all community partners toward jointly identifying long-term solutions to problems and improvement of quality of life. When community policing permeates through every level of a police department, it alleviates the impossible task of having to create relationships in a time of crisis as the lines of communication are already in place when controversial events occur. A healthy community policing agency reflects and signifies the understanding and realization that communities and police departments share the same goals – to live, work, and recreate in a place that is safe and feels safe.

A comprehensive commitment to a community policing philosophy can be the driving force toward effective collaboration resulting in more community members viewing police as legitimate and procedurally just. It can be the method in which we humanize the good men and women of law enforcement through the facilitation of interpersonal relationships with citizens. As a result, the current focus on the future of policing provides a collective chance to reinforce existing levels of police support in many areas while building relationships and improving support in other areas. Optimistically, this is an opportunity for current negativity in some communities to transition from a short-term problem to a long-term chance for law enforcement to solidify professional policing and heighten levels of legitimacy.

Community policing can pave the way to the understanding that crime and quality of life are not “police problems”, but rather a community partnership and responsibility shared by all stakeholders. Community policing succeeds in facilitating joint problem-solving and returning the ownership of neighborhoods back to community members as the primary guardians of the places where they live and work. Through community policing, middle ground can be identified with communities toward jointly addressing improvement in social programs, mental health responses, poor parenting, and poverty in lieu of solely dumping fault at the doorstep of police departments.

Community policing is the mechanism that best develops trust and builds equity in a community to prevent crime, explore new ways of dealing with certain offenders and eliminating perceived unfairness. Through community policing, the police and the community predicate their relationship on being united and not as opposing forces to one another – treating each other with dignity and respect, every interaction, every day.

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One Response to Legitimacy Through Policing

  1. Steve I couldn’t agree more. There is no such thing as “traditional policing” any more. The default method should be community policing. I’ve long tied our move from a trade to a profession with educational standards and I think now is the time we need to stop talking about it and move forward with it. The Wickersham Commission, LEAA, and now The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing has been saying almost the same thing for 80 years. We also need to embrace procedural justice as a means to legitimacy. The four principles of listening, neutrality, respectful treatment and trustworthiness is not rocket science, its the golden rule. We can train for technical skills, procedures, etc. but we can’t train a person to be a decent person, we need to recruit the right people that have shared values and care about the community they police. Your comments about dumping some problems at the doorstep of the police was unfortunately illustrated last night on the news when it showed video of a 9 year old boy handcuffed by an officer. The first question is why was the police called to a school for a 9 year old misbehaving and secondly, why wasn’t the officer trained in dealing with autistic children or mental health issues? The officer probably defaulted to what he knew and now we have another negative optic to combat in the public eye.

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