One of the most important things a police service can do is work with local citizens to fight crime. Local citizens should be encouraged to be vigilant against crime and feel comfortable to speak openly to police when they have concerns. Police should strive to form healthy, cooperative relationships with the communities they are serving.
The goal should be to create a “we’re in this together” mentality on both sides. Not only can local citizens be instrumental in preventing and combating crime, but when communities trust and appreciate police, it makes the job of policing easier and more rewarding. Police should work hard to make sure local citizens see them as part of the community and should encourage citizens to actively take part in preventing and solving crimes.
What is the Essence of Community Policing?
Did you know that establishing trust with local citizens is the goal of community policing?
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Before police can work effectively with local citizens to fight crime, they need to establish a relationship of trust and respect with local citizens. This is, in essence, the goal of community policing. Some basic elements of community policing include:
- Having police viewed by a community as peace officers rather than forces of control.
- Consulting regularly with the community about the approaches taken by police.
- Developing a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach to policing.
- Focusing on problem solving rather than crime control.
- Cooperating with other non-police agencies in the community.
- Regularly interacting in a positive way with local citizens.
- Holding police accountable when misconduct occurs.
Every police officer feels a duty to help carry out the objectives of community policing. Every interaction between an officer and a citizen shapes how a community will feel about police. A report published by the Canadian Department of Justice puts it well: “The responsibility for community relations is on every officer.”
Although the term “community policing” is now prevalent throughout Canadian law enforcement, its implementation varies from community to community. The needs of different communities may require different approaches. The exact techniques and protocols best used depend on the community.
Citizen-Organized Crime Prevention
In communities where police have established a healthy relationship with locals through community policing, citizens will likely feel motivated and empowered to contact police anytime they have useful information. Because they trust police, they will feel safe talking to police about criminal activity they are aware of. It is important for police to give and keep assurances of confidentiality in these cases. Citizens that wish to report criminal activity will feel safer if they know that police will keep their names confidential. Police should also highly publicize how important it is that local citizens speak to them. Campaigns to solicit information from citizens can reap huge rewards.
There are a number of examples in Canada of police harnessing the power of the local citizenry to fight crime, for example:
- The Vancouver Police Department’s Citizens’ Crime Watch (CCW) program has been helping provide the Vancouver police with extra eyes and ears since 1986. CCW volunteers are trained and given radio contact with police so they can quickly report suspicious activity. According to the Vancouver Police Department, volunteers are able to “learn about the role of law enforcement in Canadian society [and] achieve a great sense of accomplishment with the knowledge that they are making a difference in the fight against crime in their community.”
- The Calgary Crime Stoppers website shows an excellent example of a police service teaming up with local citizens and publicizing their efforts successfully. This organization is a community-media-police cooperative designed to involve the public in fighting crime. The primary mission behind this cooperative is to encourage local citizens to contact law enforcement if they have any information about a crime with the slogan “Be an everyday superhero!”
- Another example is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Neighborhood Watch Program, which encourages neighbors to look out for each other.
Police services should work hard to develop good relationships with local citizens so that they can more easily elicit useful information from them and should encourage local citizens to create community-based watch programs, which can prevent crime. If these goals can be accomplished, there will be less crime, police will have an easier job, and communities will feel safer.
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