An Exploration of Community Policing In Democracies


Policing communities is one of the interesting and challenging areas of policing work especially in a democracy. Policing communities in democracies has even led to the evolution of the concept of community policing, which has been defined as "a philosophy of full service personalized policing, where the same officer patrols and works in the same area on a permanent basis, from a decentralized place, working in a proactive partnership with citizens to identify and solve problems" (Bertus, 1996). The idea behind community policing has also come from the challenges that are involved in policing communities, especially in sensitive contexts of poor localities, policing youth, or policing in communities that are minorities and have specific perceptions of crime such as terrorism. In that sense policing communities can be linked to different areas of policing, such as, terrorism, drug trafficking, domestic violence and smuggling.

Policing Communities: Issues, Challenges, Perspectives

The concept of community policing has been evolved within the area of policing communities and it forms an interesting and relevant theoretical perspective in this area. The focus of community policing is on building relationships between the police and the community so that partnerships and strategies can be created for reducing crime and disorder where interactions between local agencies and members of the public play an important role (Mastrofski & Warden, 1995). The concept of community policing has been linked to the ideas of John Alderson, who was the former Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall police (Alderson, 1979). The concept of community policing is based on the premise that the police also needs to get cooperation from the public in crime prevention, which can be in the form of intelligence inputs to the police by members of the public or in other ways of partnerships between communities and police (Alderson, 1979). Over time, community policing as a concept has come to be recognised as including many different ways in which such policing can be effected. One way of doing community policing would be by encouraging the community to help prevent crime by giving talks at schools, or forming neighbourhood watch groups, which are some of the ways in which partnerships can be increased between the communities and the police (Watson, Stone, & DeLuca, 1998). Another method of community policing can be the use of foot or bicycle patrols wherein officers patrol the same areas as their usual beat or having teams of police officers for designated neighbourhoods (Watson, Stone, & DeLuca, 1998). An effective way of community policing is to create accountability for specific police officers with respect to the communities they may be allotted (Watson, Stone, & DeLuca, 1998). Community policing stresses on the improved means of communication between police and the communities, wherein the police can talk to their people about their objectives and strategies and the communities can also talk to the police about their concerns and wishes (Watson, Stone, & DeLuca, 1998). Partnerships between communities and police can also involve nonprofit service providers, private businesses and even the media (Watson, Stone, & DeLuca, 1998). These methods of community policing are meant to provide more support to the idea of community and police interactions.


In the UK, there has been increased consensus on community policing, that is, increasing the positive interactions between the community and the police (Home Office, 2008). The concept of neighbourhood policing has been proposed as a method for implementing community policing in the UK (Home Office, 2008). It has been considered that community policing in the form of neighbourhood policing has had a positive impact on the relationship between police and the communities (Home Office, 2008). The concept is also encouraged for its ability to empower communities and citizens by involving them in the policing of their communities. Communities can be involved in raising awareness of importance of decreasing crime in the society, organising neighbourhood vigils, and organising lectures in the schools and community centres. This can empower the communities as well as make them more engaged with policing in the communities (Home Office, 2008). Ethical issues in policing within communities can include a variety of issues. These issues involve ethical issues of racism, gender equity, and policing minority communities. In recent times, the ethical issues involved in policing racial communities have become significant. One of the concerns in this area is that of the interactions between Black and Ethnic Minorities and the police, such as, when the police exercises it’s stop and search powers wherein the police is often the first contact between the individual and the criminal justice system (Bowling, & Marks, 2015).

There is also an issue of alienation in the youth of the communities when policing is seen to be too oppressive, especially in low socio-economic communities or minority racial communities. Studies in this area suggest that there are definite issues with regard to policing in these contexts. One study was conducted with the participation of 100 police officers, who were interviewed by the researchers. This study found that the officers were more likely to conduct a stop and search when their suspicions are aroused with respect to certain persons (Quinton, Bland, & Miller, 2000). The participants identified the factors based on which they form such suspicions as appearance, behaviour, intelligence and information (Quinton, Bland, & Miller, 2000). Age is identified as an important factor for the officers to consider the appearance of a person to be suspicious and the interviews revealed that police officers are more likely to stop and search young people (Quinton, Bland, & Miller, 2000). In communities that are minorities or racially diverse, there is a possibility of more stop and search being conducted (Quinton, Bland, & Miller, 2000). Interviews also reveal that police officers may base their opinion on the suspicious character of the individual on their clothing, the type of vehicle they are driving, and ethnicity, these being among the general markers of suspicious activity (Quinton, Bland, & Miller, 2000). Police officers are also likely to consider someone suspicious if they are ‘be out of place’, or they do not ‘not fit in’, or ‘stand out’” in the community (Quinton, Bland, & Miller, 2000, p. 23). Most of these markers lead to suspicion being attached to individuals on socio-economic and racial basis (Quinton, Bland, & Miller, 2000). Policing in communities that are racially diverse or are poor may see greater markers being depicted due to clothes or race or other characteristics of the individuals. This makes policing communities a sensitive area. This study involved interviews of more than 100 officers and 340 hours of observation of operational patrol officers and therefore, it provides insight into how far race, age, and socio-economic status can impact the decision making of officers involved in policing the communities (Quinton, Bland, & Miller, 2000).

For people living in communities that are racialised, interactions with police that lead to more stop and search orders, may lead to the perception that the police is racially influenced (Bland, Miller, & Quinton, 2000). This perception may be stronger in the case of younger men as research shows that stop and search powers are used disproportionately against them (Bland, Miller, & Quinton, 2000). This is revealed in a study conducted with young male participants from the East London Borough (Hollsworth & Ransom, 2008). This study found that younger people in the locality felt hostility towards the police because of their perception that they are targeted by the police in stop and search operations (Hollsworth & Ransom, 2008, p. 38). For most of the participants, stop and search orders were a normalised and consistent experience of their lives and most of the participants had been subjected to stop and search orders by the police at some point, which they saw as unfair and arbitrary as the police did not give reasons for their decision to stop and search them (Hollsworth & Ransom, 2008, p. 39). With respect to Black and Minority Ethnic communities, the experiences with policing may not necessarily be defined by their socio-economic status, as even well-placed members of these communities have been subjected to stop and search by police. This is reflected in the following excerpt: “Police powers to stop and search individuals in public remain amongst the most contentious aspects of British policing. The issue was highlighted by both the Scarman and Stephen Lawrence inquiries into particular policing incidents. It became particularly controversial at the turn of the millennium when prominent people of African Caribbean origin, including the late Bernie Grant MP, Lord Taylor of Warwick, Lord Herman Ouseley and the Most Revd. and Rt. Hon. Dr. John Sentamu Archbishop of York, disclosed their personal experiences of being unjusticiably stopped and searched” (Bowling & Phillips, 2007, p. 936).

Institutional racism therefore becomes one of the important issues in policing communities. Institutional racism has been a subject of concern in some important committees that were established such as the Scarman inquiry (Lord Scarman, 1981) and Stephen Lawrence inquiry (Macpherson, 1999). Although institutional racism was not uncovered by Stephen Lawrence inquiry, there were important points made with respect to racism and policing, which have implications for the policing of communities. With respect to minorities and policing, the Stephen Lawrence inquiry found that there is a lack of public trust and confidence in police use of stops as well as searches, which is particularly related to minority ethnic communities (Macpherson, 1999). When minorities are perceived to be targeted by the police through such procedures as the stop and search procedure, policing within a community may become controversial and sensitive due to the perception of increased criminal victimisation of a particular community; this also leads to the dissatisfaction amongst the members of a particular community with the police (Skogan & Frydl, 2004). Policing in communities may become complicated because of this and this may ultimately have an impact on community policing, as social perceptions may be strong enough to impact social cohesion and possible partnerships between the police and community members (Bradford, 2011). Policing in communities can have specific implications in certain contexts, where the values of the community may clash with that of the police or the law in general. This can be

to view the issue as a family matter and at times may not think that it is supposed to traditionally respond to domestic violence as police work (Hayes, 2012). Even if the police responds to issues of domestic violence, there are impediments to its work in certain communities, such as, South Asian communities, where the issue of reporting domestic violence to police may be seen with disapproval by the community members. This is because of the issue of ‘honour’ which is seen by the wider community as something that can be jeopardised if a woman approaches police against members of her family (Veigh, 2015). Therefore, one of the challenges that the police may face with respect to policing communities in context of South Asian communities is that of community not wishing to involve police in what it considers to be purely family matters, which are outside the scope of police intervention (Siddiqui, 2005). From the perspective of community policing, this may present a problem because the community may not even see as domestic violence as a crime, which should be decreased by greater partnership with the police. In other words, the police may find itself limited in certain kinds of areas within community linked crime prevention or the community may refuse to partner with the police with relation to these crimes. Finally, one of the major issues in policing communities in the recent times has come with relation to terrorism. Muslims have been treated as a “suspect community” in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in America and the subsequent terror attacks in the major European cities including London (Pantazis & Pemberton, 2009). The labelling of communities as suspect communities also has impact on policing of communities, because there is a generalised view on suspicion about the community, which is perpetuated by continuous public discourse, media and the wider community, which may also impact how the police perceives and polices the community in general (Pantazis & Pemberton, 2009). In the aftermath of the war on terror, there has been a tendency to view the Muslim communities in the UK with some suspicion, which can be seen from the growing number of Islamophobic attacks against Muslims and vandalism of Muslim establishments in some parts of the country (Githens-Mazer & Lambert, 2010). This is similar to the experiences of the Irish during the Irish insurgency years.

From the context of policing specifically, the suspect community notion would have the impact of there being a mutual suspicion between the police and the communities, which is also perpetuated by use of specific strategies like the Prevent strategy with relation to Muslim communities in the UK (Mythen, et al., 2016). Muslim communities in the UK have been critical of the Prevent strategy and they have claimed that there is an increasing lack of transparency and accountability for the police in their actions towards members of the Muslim communities under terrorism prevention laws and policies of the state (Thornton, 2010). It is also a fact that has been noted in research on Prevent strategy that it has been used for the most part with respect to Muslims, meaning that the community is the one from which the most concern about terrorism stems (Awan, 2012). Such perceptions make it difficult to continue positive interactions and engagements between the police and the community. In order to respond to these challenges the police will have to decrease the trust deficit that it has with the community through community policing and partnerships.


To conclude this essay, policing communities requires mutual trust and respect between the police and the communities. Police can increase the trust in the communities by following the concept of community policing, which has been implemented in England through the practices of neighbourhood policing and police and community partnerships. This can be useful in empowering communities and can help the police to get assistance from communities for implementing measures aimed at lowering crime rates in the community. There are however some challenges for the police in community policing. Most of these challenges are related to policing communities that are minority communities, poor communities, or racially diverse communities. In such communities, there is still a trust deficit between the police and communities, particularly seen in Black and Ethnic Minority communities and the Muslim communities. With respect to Muslim communities, the post war on terror phase has been particularly complex as they have emerged as suspect communities, which complicated policing in such communities as there is an increased perception within the community members that they are being targeted. Such complex challenges do exist in the area of policing communities. Community policing and local partnerships can be useful in responding to the trust deficit between the police and the communities in such situations.

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