Understanding Community Policing in Democratic Societies


Police is involved in the task of policing communities. Within democracies like the United Kingdom, policing communities can be a complex matter because balance has to be drawn between the powers of the police and the rights of the individuals in the communities that are being policed. The concept of community policing has been evolved to respond to the challenges of policing communities in democratic countries, where police may be involved in policing poor localities, youth, and communities with ethnic minorities. The idea of community policing involves engagement between the police forces and the members of the community, where the police can talk to the members of the community about the strategies for preventing and reducing crime and involve the members of the public in the reduction of crime (Watson, et al., 1998). In a sense, community policing involves a partnership between the police and the communities, including the non-profit service providers, private businesses and the media (Watson, et al., 1998).

This report discusses community policing, the ethics involved in community policing, misconduct, criminal offences, and victim and public interest focus involved in community policing.


Community policing: Meaning, purpose and significance

The concept of community policing has been evolved 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). Community policing is also called neighbourhood policing. Neighbourhood policing has been defined as that which concentrates on “initiatives that variously involved foot patrol, community engagement, problem-solving and partnership working in some combination. Other policing strategies were regarded as being in scope if they were felt to be particularly suited to integration with neighbourhood policing (for example, hot spots policing, focused deterrence policing and procedural justice)” (Colover & Quinton, 2018, p. 6).

The concept of community policing focusses on building relationships between the police and the members of the community. Community policing was once considered to be a radical innovation in the area of policing; however, now community policing has become more common within the policing function (Schaefer Morabito, 2010). The purpose of community policing is to form partnerships between the police and the community members which can lead to the development of strategies for the reduction of crime and disorder (Mastrofski & Warden, 1995). It is considered that the interactions police forces and members of the community can play an important role in development of strategies (Mastrofski & Warden, 1995).

The concept of community policing is generally linked to the concept developed by John Alderson, who was the former Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall police (Alderson, 1979). Therefore, there is a specific English connection with the concept of community policing, although the idea of community policing has been adopted in other countries like the United States and the Netherlands (Schaefer Morabito, 2010). Alderson (1979) believed and argued that the police can work more effectively if it receives cooperation from the members of the community, which can help in crime prevention. One of the principal ways in which this can happen is when the police receives intelligence inputs by the community members regarding specific criminal activities (Alderson, 1979).

Police can involve in different kinds of activities for doing community policing. For instance, members of the police forces can give talks at schools, especially to high school level

students, policemen can help form neighbourhood watch groups, and local police stations can form community engagement programmes; all these methods can allow police forces to encourage community members to help the police to prevent crimes and increase engagement between the police forces and the members of the public (Watson, et al., 1998). Police personnel can also engage in foot and bicycle patrols with set beat in the same locality, which helps improve the visibility of the policemen in set neighbourhoods because the officers would be patrolling in the same designated neighbourhoods (Watson, et al., 1998).

Code of Ethics

Community policing involves some ethical issues because police engages with communities in a variety of ways. Ethical issues can relate to the issues of racism, gender equity, and ethnicity. Racism is one of the principal issues in this situation because policing communities may involve more interactions between Black and Ethnic Minorities and the police. Literature suggests that in the increased interactions between police and Black and Ethnic Minorities communities, there can be a possibility of racism. An example can be seen in the use of stop and search powers by the police, where research indicates that policemen are more likely to stop and search young boys and men from Black and Ethnic Minorities communities (Bowling & Marks, 2015). This is important because often the stop and search operation is the first contact between the criminal justice system and the person being searched (Bowling & Marks, 2015). The ethical issues involved in community policing can be resolved by increasing the accountability of police officers for the designated communities (Watson, et al., 1998). There can be an emphasis on improving the communication between the police and the communities (Watson, et al., 1998).

The Code of Ethics expressly provides:

“The police service operates on the basis of openness and transparency. This is essential to maintaining and enhancing a positive relationship between the policing profession and the community” (College of Policing, 2014, p. 5).

The above noted principle of the Code of Ethics is clear about the role that the police plays in the community and the need to maintain and enhance the positive relationship between the police and community. This is called as covert policing (College of Policing, 2014). There are specific standards that are provided in the Code of Ethics which are related to the concept of covert policing. One of the standards in the Code of Ethics is that the police officer will always act in a way that conforms to the public expectations to maintain the highest standards of behaviour (College of Policing, 2014, p. 13). The Code of Ethics itself promotes the use of the National Decision Model for the police officers to make decisions that are based on ethical reasoning and as per the principles of policing and expected standards of behaviour (College of Policing, 2014).

The National Decision Model and the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2014 are applicable to the situation in which police forces engage with the communities under community policing. The latter also provides certain standards that the police forces are supposed to follow in their actions. Two important standards are related to ‘Authority, Respect and Courtesy’, which require to police officers to act with self-control and tolerance, and treat members of the communities with respect and courtesy, and ‘Equality and Diversity’, which requires the police officers to always act with fairness and impartiality.


Possible misconduct by the police officials is one of the important areas of concern in the context of community policing. As police is entrusted with important functions that may also involve use of powers, there is a possibility that police may misuse powers and this would lead to the violation of rights of citizens (Prenzler, 2009). Misconduct by the police may be in the nature of police corruption or violation of the Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics by the police officers (Prenzler, 2009). This becomes an issue of concern because of the generally wide powers that are given to the police forces, which always keeps relevant the question of the power being misused (Prenzler, 2009). This brings the issue to the accountability of individual police officers; because police officers are public officials authorised to use force, it is the task of the authorities to also ensure that accountability of the police forces is maintained for the individual police officers.

One of the important factors to be considered for understanding the scope of police accountability in the UK is that there is no unitary body of police forces in the UK. Rather, there are 43 forces undertaking territorial policing on a geographical basis in England and Wales; eight regional police forces in Scotland, and a separate police force in the Northern Ireland (Mawby & Wright, 2005). Therefore, when talking about police accountability in the UK, one has to factor in the different police forces that make up the UK police. This means that there are different mechanisms for ensuring police accountability in the UK (Mawby & Wright, 2005). It is important to maintain police accountability in the context of human rights because there is a need to balance any unwarranted exercise of coercive power by the police with the need to enable to police to perform their core functions (Mawby & Wright, 2005). Moreover, policing is political which means that there are competing options for policing priorities and style. Most importantly, police in democratic states have to be seen to be acting with legitimacy in order to receive cooperation and trust of the communities that are being policed (Mawby & Wright, 2005). All these reasons means that it is important to ensure that accountability of the police is maintained and they are seen exercising their powers with responsibility and respect for human rights and also seen to be acting legitimately.

In order to limit misconduct by police officers and ensure that those who have acted in a way that amounts to misconduct, accountability standards are established. There is a tripartite structure of police accountability, which is followed in England and Wales, which was established under the Police Act 1964. The tripartite system of accountability sees three levels being responsible for police accountability: the Home Office, the local police authority, and the chief constable of the force (Mawby & Wright, 2005). The Police and Magistrates Courts Act 1994, the Police Act 1996, and the Police Reform Act 2002, have all adopted this tripartite system of accountability. As per this system, the Home Secretary is accountable to the Parliament and has the responsibility for policing policy. The local police authorities have accountability to local populations through a system of local councillors, magistrates and business representatives (Mawby & Wright, 2005). The Chief Constables are accountable to the Home Office. In this way, a tripartite system is established under which police misconduct is sought to be limited and relevant authorities are identified who are supposed to ensure that there is accountability fixed for any misconduct by the police.

In the context of community policing or neighbourhood policing, misconduct by the police forces can have serious repercussions for the police policy (Colover & Quinton, 2018). Community policing has been developed with the objective of increasing cooperation between the police and the community members and bring a higher level of engagement between the police and the community. This can be jeopardised if police officers are involved in misconduct (Colover & Quinton, 2018). In the UK, review of literature and empirical studies exploring the effects of community or neighbourhood policing has found that there have been positive impacts of community policing, which include three important impacts: reduction in public perceptions of disorder, increase in trust and confidence in the police; and increase in the perceived legitimacy of the police (Colover & Quinton, 2018, p. 7). This indicates that there has been a successful in integrating neighbourhood policing practice with standards of accountability, which is manifested in empirical findings in literature indicating higher trust in police forces and in community policing.

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Victim and public interest focus

The purpose of the community policing projects in the UK has been to increase the positive interactions between the police and the community (Home Office, 2008). There is a public interest focus behind the idea of community policy because it is considered that the concept of community and neighbourhood policing can be useful in engaging and involved communities in raising awareness about the importance of decreasing crime in the society (Home Office, 2008). The police can help organise neighbourhood vigils with the members of the communities, organise lectures in the schools and community centres with the help of the school authorities and non-profit service providers, all of which can help the police to engage more with the communities within which they are policing (Home Office, 2008). The public interest component is also involved in the creation of a positive impact on the relationship between police and the communities, which can lead to the reduction of the crime in the society (Home Office, 2008).

Studies indicate that community policing pilots in the UK have reduced victimisation and have had other positive outcomes (Quinton & Morris, 2008; Tuffin, et al., 2006). The positive outcomes of community policing in the UK include the following impacts. First, the use of targeted foot patrol led to higher community engagement and problem solving at local levels. Second, there was more community and partner involvement in problem solving. Third, it was suggested that there was strong governance, accountability and support (Tuffin, et al., 2006). With specific reference to victimisation, targeted foot patrol and community engagement is suggested to reduce criminal victimisation and disorder (Tuffin, et al., 2006). More importantly, there is a suggestion that targeted patrolling and community policing leads to improved feelings of safety, increased trust and positive public perceptions about the police forces (Tuffin, et al., 2006).

Empirical data that indicates the positive impacts of community policing in the UK have led to more endeavours in this direction; at the same time research indicates that there has been some reduction in the foot patrols, which have led to concern within communities who have indicated that they prefer higher rates of foot patrols to engage more with the police and to increase a feeling of safety and trust in the police (House of Commons, 2018). This indicates that the concept of community policing has come to achieve a high rate of interest and trust from the communities.


Community or neighbourhood policing is a concept of policing which involves a higher rate of engagement with the communities that are being policed. Literature explored for this report indicates that there is a high rate of acceptance for the concept of community policing, which has led to the increase in the use of community policing in the UK. At the same time, community policing is a sensitive area because it may involve misuse of powers or it may involve certain ethical issues. In the UK, Code of Ethics and a number of legislations related to the police functions and powers respond to these concerns about community policing. As community policing has the potential to increase cooperation between police and community members, it also has the potential to decrease crime within communities, as has been noted by a number of empirical studies related to community policing in the UK. Therefore, it is suggested that the concept of community policing is a positive concept for its ability to increase the feeling of safety and trust in the police forces within communities.


Alderson, J., 1979. Policing freedom : a commentary on the dilemmas of policing in western democracies. Estover: Macdonald and Evans.

Bertus, F., 1996. The Use and Effectiveness of Community Policing in a Democracy , Washington D.C.: Prod. National Institute of Justice.

Bowling, B. & Marks, E., 2015. Stop and Search: towards a transnational and comparative approach. In: Stop and Search: The Anatomy of a Police Power. London: Springer.

College of Policing, 2014. Code of Ethics: A Code of Practice for the Principles and Standards of Professional Behaviour for the Policing Profession of England and Wales, Coventry: College of Policing Limited.

Colover, S. & Quinton, P., 2018. Neighbourhood policing: impact and implementation, London: College of Policing Limited.

Home Office, 2008. From the neighbourhood to the national: policing our communities together. London: The Stationery Office.

House of Commons, 2018. Policing for the future, London: House of Commons.

Mastrofski, S. & Warden, R., 1995. Law Enforcement in a time of community policing. Criminology, pp. 539-63.

Mawby, R. & Wright, A., 2005. Police Accountability in the United Kingdom , s.l.: Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

Prenzler, T., 2009. Police corruption: Preventing misconduct and maintaining integrity. Boca Raton : CRC Press.

Quinton, P. & Morris, J., 2008. Neighbourhood policing: the impact of piloting and early national implementation, London: Home Office.

Schaefer Morabito, M., 2010. Understanding community policing as an innovation: Patterns of adoption. Crime & Delinquency, 56(4), pp. 564-587.

Tuffin, R., Morris, J. & Poole, A., 2006. An evaluation of the impact of the national reassurance policing programme , London : Home Office.

Watson, E. M., Stone, A. R. & DeLuca, S. M., 1998. Strategies for Community Policing. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall Inc.

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