Dear Editor: Community policing can be “effective strategy”; but here’s why it’s not working yet

EPL Infrafred Sauna

“[…] Communities are diverse, and their needs and challenges can vary significantly. Addressing complex social issues such as poverty, drug abuse, mental health, or gang violence requires a holistic approach involving multiple agencies, organizations, and resources beyond the scope of traditional policing.

“[…] Monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of community policing programs is crucial to ensure they are achieving their intended goals. However, the lack of rigorous evaluation mechanisms and accountability measures can hinder the ability to assess the impact of community policing efforts accurately…”

The following Letter to the Editor on potential issues that may affect community policing was submitted to Wired868 by Orson Rogers of Belmont:

Sergeant Marlon Glodon (centre) hugs two children within his community in Valencia.
(Copyright TTPS)

Both the Police Commissioner and the Minister of National Security have heralded the use of community policing as a major weapon in their fight on crime.

As a Trinbagonian I welcome any new weapon in the arsenal. But I am realistic and I apologize in advance to those who think that I am being too negative.

While community policing has shown effectiveness in many contexts, it is important to acknowledge that its success can depend on various factors. Here are some reasons why community policing may not work as intended:

1. Lack of resources:

Implementing community policing requires adequate resources, including funding, staffing, and training. If a police department does not have sufficient resources to invest in community engagement, problem-solving initiatives, and officer training, the effectiveness of community policing may be compromised.

Police officers WPC Samantha Batson (right) and PC Stefan Oneil walk through City Gate in Port of Spain.
(via TTPS)

2. Resistance to change:

Community policing requires a shift in organizational culture and practices, which can be met with resistance from both police officers and community members. Some officers may be resistant to change, skeptical or reluctant to embrace new practices preferring traditional enforcement-focused approaches.

Similarly, some community members may have skepticism or mistrust towards the police, making it challenging to build collaborative relationships—hindering the adoption and success of community policing initiatives.

3. Limited community engagement/ involvement:

For community policing to be successful, active and sustained community engagement is crucial. Building trust between the police and the community can be challenging, particularly in communities with a history of strained relationships with law enforcement such as a history of negative experiences with law enforcement.

Police officers square off with Morvant/Laventille residents after protests against the police killings of Joel Jacobs, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on 27 June 2020.
(Copyright Trinidad Express)

Overcoming these barriers and fostering meaningful engagement will be challenging. Community policing relies on active participation and collaboration from community members. Some communities have low levels of civic engagement, making it challenging to establish and sustain meaningful partnerships with the police.

4. High crime rates and challenges:

In communities with high crime rates, community policing will face additional challenges. Addressing deeply rooted social issues, systemic problems, and complex criminal networks require long-term efforts, resources, and multi-sectoral collaboration beyond the scope of traditional community policing. The fear and risk associated with criminal activity can discourage community members from actively engaging with the police or participating in crime prevention efforts.

5. Community diversity and social issues:

Communities are diverse, and their needs and challenges can vary significantly. Addressing complex social issues such as poverty, drug abuse, mental health, or gang violence requires a holistic approach involving multiple agencies, organizations, and resources beyond the scope of traditional policing.

Police officers monitor protest action in Barrackpore.

The success of community policing will be influenced by socioeconomic factors such as poverty, unemployment, and social inequality. If communities face significant socioeconomic challenges, it will impact their engagement, resources, and capacity to actively participate in community policing initiatives.

6. Inadequate training and support:

Proper training and ongoing support for police officers in community policing techniques are crucial for success. If officers do not receive adequate training or are not provided with the necessary resources and support, the implementation of community policing may be ineffective.

7. Lack of support and leadership:

Effective community policing requires strong support and leadership at all levels, including police leadership, political support, and community leaders. Without sustained commitment and support, community policing initiatives may struggle to gain momentum or may be abandoned over time.

Commissioner of Police Erla Christopher competes the formality of promotion for a fellow officer.
(Copyright TTPS)

8. Limited evaluation and accountability:

Monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of community policing programs is crucial to ensure they are achieving their intended goals. However, the lack of rigorous evaluation mechanisms and accountability measures can hinder the ability to assess the impact of community policing efforts accurately.

9. Political and institutional factors:

The political will and commitment of government officials, police leadership, and other key stakeholders are critical for the success of community policing. Without sustained support and prioritization at the policy level, community policing initiatives will struggle to gain traction or face inconsistent implementation.

Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds (third from right) talks to police officers in the vicinity of the Rose Hill FC Primary School on 3 November 2022.
(Copyright Ministry of National Security)

It’s important to recognize that these challenges do not necessarily render community policing ineffective in all situations. While these challenges exist, it is important to note that community policing is a dynamic approach that can be tailored to specific contexts and continuously improved.

They highlight the need for addressing underlying issues, providing adequate resources and support, and fostering trust and collaboration between the police and the community.

Community policing requires long-term commitment, adaptability, and continuous evaluation to ensure its success in diverse contexts. It has the potential to be an effective strategy in enhancing public safety and building strong relationships between the police and the communities they serve.

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