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Community Policing: History, Definition And Effectiveness

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In the late 1960s, with an increase in crime rates and a growing dissatisfaction with police effectiveness, academics and other experts on policing called for newer and innovative practices in policing. The model at the time, which would later become known as the “standard” or “professional” model, represented the long-standing traditional aspects of policing. These strategies were generally reactive in nature and focused primarily on the enforcement of law. For instance, since police response time to a crime scene was seen as a key indicator of police department efficacy, increasing the number of patrol cars and finding other methods of decreasing response time were seen as primary solutions. Such strategies often led to agencies becoming more concerned with logistical efficiencies rather than their impact on safety as a whole. In the standard model, police departments were quite insular, having little need for collaboration with other community groups or institutions. Furthermore, police departments used similar strategies of enforcement across differing geographies and demographics. They derived their legitimacy through enforcement power rather than increasing rapport and respect through mutual connections with the community. Powers to detain and arrest, granted by the letter of the law, was their primary method to prevent and control crime (Weisburd & Eck, 2004).

One of the early implementations to diversify strategies of policing came was a program in the state of New Jersey called the Newark Foot Patrol Experiment. It was funded by the state as part of its comprehensive Safe and Clean Neighborhoods program. The hypothesis for the experiment was that shifting patrol officers from their cars to foot patrol would connect them more tightly to their specific neighborhoods. The hope was that officers on foot would get to know both the residents and business owners during their routine daily patrols. They would learn not only who the trouble-makers were, they would also gain familiarity with the neighborhood’s unique culture. Having such close ties with all of the inhabitants (residents, business owners, adolescents, etc.) minimized the longstanding the one-size-fits-all method of policing. Police officers could use greater discretion in their patrols because of their familiarity with the inhabitants (Kelling, 1981).

An extensive report was written by George Kelling (1981) for the Police Foundation describing the results of increased foot patrols in the Newark neighborhoods. One of the surprising findings of the experiment was that bringing patrol officers out of their automobiles and onto the streets did not actually decrease the crime rate in those neighborhoods. What it did, however, was decrease the perception of crime in those areas amongst the residents and business owners by bringing a sense of order and immediacy to managing crime-related problems. Officers targeted minor infractions such as loitering, panhandling, and prostitution, because it was believed these frequent and visible crimes created a sense of pervasive disorder. As a result of the consistent enforcement from foot patrol officers, meaning increased summonses and citations, law-offenders knew which lines they could and could not cross. For instance, “Drunks and addicts could sit on the stoops, but could not lie down. People could drink on side streets, but not at the main intersection” (Kelling & Wilson, 1982, para. 8).

A second finding from study became known as the broken window effect. Later described in an Atlantic magazine article by the author of the report, the social psychology theory stated that if one broken window was left unrepaired in a building, it attracted further vandalism and soon other windows would also get broken. In other words, maintaining the perception that the neighborhood was well patrolled, and that criminal behavior was immediately dealt with led to residents to feeling safer. The foot patrol officers also disrupted noncriminal behavior such as loitering and panhandling. This meant they were more comfortable walking the streets, shopping at local businesses, and spending more time outdoors. Philip Zimbardo, the noted Stanford social psychologist, created an experiment that reproduced the effect. He left an automobile in a Bronx neighborhood with its hood up and license plates removed. He hypothesized that its abandoned appearance would attract further vandalism, and it did. Within minutes passersby began to remove other parts and further destroy the car. Across the country, in Palo Alto, California, Zimbardo left a similar car on the street but this one had no signs of abandonment (hood closed and with license plates). The car remained untouched in California for an entire week until the researcher smashed its windshield. Similar to the results in the Bronx, once windshield was broken and the car showed signs of abandonment, passersby in California also destroyed the car over the following days (Kelling & Wilson, 1982).

In terms of race, little was mentioned in the report from Kelling (1981). Race was not a substantive finding or consideration between police and residents. In fact, it was only noted in the follow-up Atlantic article that although the majority of police officers were white and the neighborhoods they patrolled in Newark were predominantly African American, residents and believed the “function of the police was performed to the general satisfaction of both parties” (Kelling & Wilson, 1982, para. 6). However, in the coming years, policing based on the broken windows theory would be widely criticized particularly because of its disproportionate impact on citizens of color.

One of the most visible proponents of the broken windows theory was NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton. By the mid-1990s, the NYPD had instituted policies that increased enforcement of misdemeanor crimes, similar to the strategy that Newark foot patrol officers used. In the year 2000, NYPD officers had made 51,267 arrests for smoking marijuana in public view, abbreviated at MPV. As a comparison, in 1994, there were only 1,851—an increase of 2,670 percent. African Americans and Hispanics were disproportionately affected. While each group made up about 25 percent of the city’s population, they accounted for 52 and 32 percent of MPV arrestees for the years 2000-2003 (Harcourt & Ludwig, 2007).

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Analyzing data from earlier research by Golub, Johnson, and Dunlap (2007), Harcourt and Ludwig (2007) found no evidence that arrests for MPV could be associated with reduced violence or property crimes in New York City. Given the dramatic racial disparity for MPV arrests, NYPD would have needed to believe that such unfairness could be justified by the larger societal goal of reducing marijuana consumption overall, but there was no evidence that these two minority groups were the majority consumers of marijuana. Additionally, believing that these marijuana-related arrests reduced overall crime ignored the fact that other substances such as alcohol and cocaine are more highly correlated with violent or criminal behavior (Harcourt & Ludwig, 2007).

Endorsed by the federal government through legislation called the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Acton of 1994. Created the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to manage funding and reported on progress.

The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) of the U.S. Department of Justice defines community policing as “a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime” (***, p. 3). It is typically implemented through three strategies: community partnerships, organizational transformation, and problem solving.

According to statistics from a Police Foundation survey as far back as 1997, each of the police departments serving populations over 100,000 who responded to the survey all reported incorporating community policing principles. Although this statistic appears to make community policing quite pervasive, the research tells a different story.

There have been numerous studies of individual programs over the years, but few studies exist comparing specific aspects of programs to each other. Part of the reason for this is the lack of consistent implementation given the many variables that potentially may be included within a department’s adoption of the framework. Given that there has been a governmental office (COPS) funding much of these initiatives, it is surprising that more research does not exist (Gill, Weisburd, Telep, Vitter and Bennett (2014).

Results of a recent study by Braga, Brunson and Drakulich (2019) indicate that stronger analysis of crime data is needed to better inform policing policies and practices. The authors describe the “policing paradox” where residents in impoverished areas, often of color, feel both under-policed as well as over-policed. Disproportionate crime statistics in those areas call for increased police presence yet their residents’ longstanding history of mistreatment by police make them more likely to resist police involvement.

The authors not that it is particularly problematic to label entire neighborhoods as troubled when data shows that small numbers of frequent offenders are responsible for the majority of crime. (Thurman, Reisig, 1996)


  1. Braga, A., Brunson, R., Drakulich, K. (2019) — pdf
  2. Community Policing Defined (COPS Office) (PDF) ISBN: 978-1-935676-06-5
  3. Gill, C., Weisburd, D., Telep, C. W., Vitter, Z., & Bennett, T. (2014). Community-oriented policing to reduce crime, disorder and fear and increase satisfaction and legitimacy among citizens: A systematic review. Journal of experimental criminology, 10(4), 399-428.
  4. Golub, A., Johnson, B. D., & Dunlap, E. (2007). The race/ethnicity disparity in misdemeanor marijuana arrests in New York City. Criminology & public policy, 6(1), 131-164.
  5. Harcourt, B. E., & Ludwig, J. (2007). Reefer madness: Broken windows policing and misdemeanor marijuana arrests in New York City, 1989–2000. Criminology & Public Policy, 6(1), 165-181
  6. Kerley, K., Benson, M., (2000) Does Community-Oriented Policing Help Build Stronger Communites? Police Quarterly Vol 3 No 1 p.46-69
  7. Kelling, G., & Wilson, J. (1982). Broken windows. Atlantic monthly, 249(3), 29-38. Retrieved from
  8. Kelling, G., (1981). The Newark Foot Patrol Experiment. Washington, DC: Police Foundation
  9. Kelling, G. L., Pate, A. M., Dieckman, D., & Brown, C. E. (1974). The Kansas City preventive patrol experiment: A technical report. Washington, DC: Police Foundation.
  10. Article defining community oriented policing

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Community Policing: History, Definition And Effectiveness. (2021, September 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from
“Community Policing: History, Definition And Effectiveness.” Edubirdie, 21 Sept. 2021,
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Community Policing: History, Definition And Effectiveness [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 21 [cited 2022 Aug 12]. Available from:
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