What is Community Policing?

In an era where the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve is under intense scrutiny, the concept of community policing emerges as a beacon of hope and a transformative approach to law enforcement. Community policing is a strategy of policing that focuses on developing relationships with community members. Traditional policing models have often left communities feeling disconnected, mistrustful, and marginalized. However, the tide is shifting as more law enforcement agencies recognize the many benefits of community policing. Let’s discuss 5 reasons why this form of policing is so effective.

Builds trust and encourages community compliance 

Establishing trust within the community that you are policing is crucial to the success of law enforcement. Unfortunately, many people fear law enforcement and do not trust them to keep them safe. Community policing lays the foundation for building trust and a profound sense of security by creating open lines of communication and collaboration between law enforcement officers and residents. When officers actively engage with community members on a regular basis, they become familiar faces. It is much more comforting seeing a familiar face in a time of need rather than a stranger in a uniform who you feel is looking at you as a potential threat. This familiarity humanizes the police force and allows residents to see officers as allies who genuinely care about their well-being.

Many community members refuse to be witnesses to crimes or pretend not to have seen anything because they do not trust law enforcement to protect them. Because community members are not confident in law enforcement’s ability to stop crime, the fear of being seen as a “snitch” and being retaliated against stops them from assisting in investigations. While it seems like a vicious cycle; the distrust of community members leads to officers not solving crimes, there is a solution. Community policing is about more than just showing up when a crime has occurred. It is about being present in the community: always helping members and participating in events so that the community sees the officers as people who have their best interest at heart, rather than patrol officers waiting for the next threat. This creates an environment where residents feel empowered to actively participate in maintaining public safety, thus fostering a mutual trust that is vital for effective crime prevention and a lasting sense of security.

Creates a positive perception of law enforcement for children

When many children see police, they are scared and not because they have done something wrong, but because they fear that the police will hurt them. It is very common in a Black American household to give your children “the talk” as Black youth are disproportionately threatened and arrested by police officers. An executive director at NPR, Kenya Young, reflected on how she gave her three Black sons, “the talk.” This involves telling Black children not to wear hoodies, not to act suspicious, to either hide from police officers or put their hands up as soon as they are in the presence of one.

With community policing, police officers are active in the community and not just by patrolling, but by spending time with community members and getting to know them. In 2017, Roselle Police Department in New Jersey launched “Book ‘Em: Read with a Cop” where officers host Family Reading Nights, which involves crafts, snacks and officers reading books to children from kindergarten to middle school. Events like these are important for members of the community, especially children, to get to know their law enforcement in a positive way and see them as allies and protectors.

Reduces crime rate

Another extremely beneficial component of community policing is its effectiveness at reducing the crime rate. Police officers are tasked with a large duty: keep communities and community members safe. While it is impossible to have zero crime, community policing makes it possible to reduce it. Camden, NJ has been reaping the rewards of community policing. 2012 was the last year before Camden implemented their community policing program. In 2020, violent crime was down 52% compared to 2012. The reduction of crime in the community has allowed for billions of dollars in investment in the community and thousands of jobs to be created. Camden officers note that force is now a last resort and they focus on utilizing de-escalation techniques. Officers are also encouraged to go out and engage with the community rather than patrol from their vehicles.

While Camden is just one town, it is not the only one benefiting from community policing initiatives. Community policing works and it promotes safer communities with less crime.

Promotes accountability in policing

Community policing promotes accountability in police officers by establishing a strong foundation of transparency, interaction, and collaboration with the communities they serve. By getting to know the community members, it forces police officers to pay more attention to how their actions affect the people they serve. When officers have personal relationships with community members, they look out for their best interest and focus on keeping those people safe and out of trouble.

It is beneficial to police officers

Community members are not the only ones that benefit from community policing, so do the officers. One initiative that was implemented in New Jersey by the Attorney General in 2019, along with other community policing initiatives, was the “Officer Resiliency Directive” which was created to support the emotional and psychological well-being of law enforcement officers. It provides agencies the skills and resources to notice when officers are at risk for harmful behavior and be able to support them and help them.


Another way in which officers benefit from community policing, again, is by having the community collaborate in reducing crime in the community. Having the trust of your community means that they are willing to tell you things they saw, report misconduct and crime, and in turn reduce the crime rate. In Camden, community policing changed the entire culture of the police department. The department was able to clear 96% of homicide cases and there was a significant decrease in excessive force complaints.

What’s next?

While there is much that needs to be reformed about the criminal justice system in America, community policing is a very important part of changing the culture of policing and the attitude towards it. Community policing is proven to work, now New Jersey has to focus on implementing it and ensuring its success across the state. In 2018, the Attorney General launched the Community Policing Project 21/21 which asks “the 21 County Prosecutors to organize quarterly public events to discuss issues relevant to community policing in the 21st century.” I have not been able to find these events and am unsure if they are still occurring in 2023.

If you feel that your community needs to establish better community policing, reach out to your legislators and advocate for more initiatives and push for your community to participate in the 21/21 Community Policing Project. Create events in your community that involve police officers such as school events or picnics. You are an important part of your community and advocating gives you the opportunity to change the world around you and fight for a better tomorrow.


About the Author: Gabriella Manresa is the Service Specialist Intern of the Lesniak Institute for American Leadership. Gabriella is a student at Kean University obtaining both a Bachelors and Masters of Public Administration through the university’s BA/MPA Honors Program.