A Note on Community Policing

Stephen M. Sachs,*

A lot of things are called community policing that really aren't, even though if undertaken properly in the right circumstances they may be beneficial. Simply having a community watch or patrol is not community policing, though it may be good to have or not depending on the details.

Real community policing is police teaming with the community and its various services in an inclusive manner that includes all the people in the community in serving their legitimate interests. At its best, it should focus on community problem solving, with everyone, and all organizations and services collaborating to solve problems and act as necessary. Thus, for mental health problems, mental health workers should be called, with police only as backup if needed. Where police come across a mental health case, they should call for mental health workers to come and take charge.

Keys to community policing working well are to operate from the start with police partnering with (and to the extent practical living in) the community; having officers oriented to and trained properly for problem solving collaborative, inclusive, policing; Working to prevent threatening situations, and to the extent possible deescalating threatening situations; Using only the level of force necessary in any situation, with the emphasis on solving matters peacefully to the extent possible.

This requires demilitarizing policing, as part of reorienting police officers, and holding them responsible as necessary. To the extent practical, officers, often with involved or witnessing civilians, should take part in post incident team discussions (as the U.S. Army does) to learn from mistakes and improve performance and communications.

Community policing requires an inclusive approach, and becomes more difficult in divided communities, or communities with discriminated against members. However, if police are trained and oriented to be peacemaking facilitators, they can do a great deal to ameliorate discrimination and community tensions.

What I am putting forth here is that policing needs to take place according to traditional Indigenous principles, as applied to current situations. This is discussed in Stephen M. Sachs, "Red Lives Matter: Transforming Policing by Indigenizing It," to be given in April 2021 Session of the Virtual Western Social Science Association Meeting, American Indian Studies Section, and posted in the WSSA 2021 on-line proceedings. A copy can also be provided as an E-mail attachment by the author: ssachs@earthlink.net.

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