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Community Policing

Community policing is a philosophy that promotes the systematic use of neighborhood-based policing and community partnerships to proactively address the causes of crime, social disorder, and fear of crime. Community policing recognizes that the people who live and work in a community are its most valuable resource, and that the best way to address community concerns is to engage that community in a collaborative, problem-solving process.


Community policing places a large emphasis on respect for communities served, which includes all residents and their identities, as a value on its own as well as a way to build trust. Most cities with new community policing programs have acknowledged that implicit biases influence police encounters, often with very harmful outcomes for residents, and hold up equity as a central pillar of their new vision. Concrete program elements include hiring programs to recruit a police force that better reflects the racial diversity of its city and training programs that equip officers with de-escalating and respectful tools to interact with residents of marginalized identities. Police department leaders are recognizing that to serve a community, it is also essential to relate to all members with dignity and seek to counteract the influence of implicit bias. 


The creation of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1994 has resulted in the adoption of community policing principles by thousands of police departments and agencies. It has also led to the hiring and training of thousands of new community officers and law enforcement support personnel.


More recently, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocated $1 billion to support community policing. It allowed more than 1,000 different law enforcement agencies to hire or rehire nearly 5,000 officers for three years to create and preserve jobs, and to increase their community policing capacity and crime-prevention efforts. Mayor’s offices and police departments should establish community policing policy and train officers on community policing principles and best practices.


As more cities around the country face scrutiny and intensified mistrust from citizens in the wake of fatal police-involved shootings, momentum behind community policing has grown considerably since 2014. Leading think tanks as well as a Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing convened by President Obama have been calling for cities to shift their approaches, especially reevaluating protocols around the use of deadly force, increasing transparency and accountability about police encounters with community members, and addressing implicit bias that shapes both departments as well as encounters between officers and residents. Learn more on the resources page about best practices to ground policing in a guardianship mentality and community focus that strives to counteract the influences of inequities. 

Policing By the Numbers, Post-Ferguson, Christopher Moraff, Next City, August 4th, 2015. Read more.

What Mayors Needs to Know About Their Police, David Couper, August 1st, 2015. Read more.

Process Evaluation for the Office of Neighborhood Safety, National Council on Crime and Delinquency , July 1st, 2015. Read more.

A Police Chief’s Call for Reform, David Couper, June 1st, 2015. Read more.

Stepping Up: Strengthening Police, Youth, and Community Relationships, Youth Justice Board, June 1st, 2015. Read more.

Police-Youth Dialogues Can Build Trust, Relationships, National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth, May 13th, 2015. Read more.

Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, May 1st, 2015. Read more.

Community Policing Defined, Community Oriented Policing Services US Department of Justice, October 1st, 2014. Read more.

Principles of Community Justice: A Guide for Community Court Planners, Center for Court Innovation, January 1st, 2010. Read more.

Programs Offered through the Salt Lake City Prosecutors Office, Salt Lake City Prosecutors Office, July 1st, 2007. Read more..

Courting the Community: Justice Center will Address Causes of Crime by Aiding Offenders, Victims, Gavid Newsom, Kamala D. Harris, SF Gate, May 13th, 2007. Read more.

Restoring Hope—Justice Programs Address Offenders’ Problems, Doug Smeath, Desert News, January 14th, 2007. Read more.

Red Hook Experiment: How a Neighborhood Court Fights Crime and Solves Problems, ABA Journal , June 1st, 2004. Read more.

Police-Community Relations, Center for Court Innovations. Read more.

San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, Kamala D. Harris. Read more.

Cities around the country are transforming their police departments to integrate community-based approaches. Cincinnati, OH has become known for its Cincinnati Model, praised by many residents and observers for its focus on police roles in positive community outcomes rather than strictly crime reduction as well as increased department transparency about use-of-force incidents (which have halved since the launch in 2001) and a citizen advisory board. Camden, NJ created a county-wide force that now prioritizes walking and biking interactions, intended to build trust and improve relationships with the communities officers are serving. The federal government has also recognized both Hartford and East Haven, CT for their community policing programs adopted in the wake of severe racial bias in policing practices. The mayor of Ithaca, NY has made significant progress on the challenge from communities of color to reduce racial bias and increase the community focus of the city’s police force.


Police departments are also shifting to incorporate greater resident involvement in both police oversight as well as determination of punishments for crimes committed in their neighborhood. Pittsburgh is one of several cities working to incorporate greater citizen oversight in the policing process with resident positions on officer hiring panels. Restorative justice prioritizes actions that will repair the community affected by crime (which includes rehabilitation for the perpetrator) over solely punishment, and several cities have experimented with alternatives to arrest and community courts. San Francisco and a Brooklyn neighborhood have established community courts to involve neighborhood residents in deciding restorative outcomes for minor crimes. Salt Lake City also experimented with mental health courts and other programs intended to provide alternatives to arrest for non-violent crimes, especially for marginalized residents.


Matthew Braunginn
Read more about community policing in your city in our report Cities at Work: Progressive Local Policies to Rebuild the Middle Class.


At our 2015 Summer Meeting, we heard from cities leading in community policing. Learn more or view the presentations here.