Community Policing is What We Do

By JOE COUTO
Director of Government Relations and Communications
Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police

Published May 1, 2013

When I was invited to speak at a session of the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s 2010 Annual Conference in Orlando, FL, it gave me a chance to drop in on other sessions and get a sense of how police in other jurisdictions look at issues impacting us. The great thing about the IACP’s annual gathering is that you run into police personnel from across the world. If you want to understand how policing is done differently nation-to-nation and even just across the U.S.-Canada border, the IACP conference is a great if somewhat overwhelming experience. On this occasion, one of the sessions I made sure I took in was on community policing.

Community Policing Is What We Do

Community policing is one of those things that means different things to different people. A good place to start is the U.S. Department of Justice and its excellent fact sheet that no one should really have a problem with. The problem we have when we talk about community policing is that while we all agree with the concept, not everyone involved in policing agrees on how it should be actually put into action. Is this about hugging-a-thug? Vigilantism? Is community policing about having cops do less policing, particularly when we’re dealing with demands for cuts to police budgets from many politicians?

Some policing groups in Ontario say all the right things about community policing. They say it’s about partnerships, involving groups that have sometimes had poor relationships with law enforcement in how their communities are policed, building community services as part of the whole concept of “healthy and vibrant” communities”. But at the same time, these same groups are actively undermining the ability of police services to engage in community policing by cutting police budgets. Some are even questioning whether police officers should be doing things like crime prevention and assistance to victims as part of a crusade to redefine “core” policing as basically reactive law enforcement.

Community policing takes (1) organizational commitment, (2) a commitment to change from a reactive police culture to a proactive, community-based approach to policing, (3) investments in training and getting officers out into their communities, and (4) a long-term commitment. In the current climate of budget battles, a long-term commitment to investing in our organizations and our communities is difficult to achieve.

Ontario’s Mobilization & Engagement Model of Community Policing model of developed by the OACP and endorsed by the Government of Ontario is being carefully studied in jurisdictions as far away as the People’s Republic of China. It can be found in criminology textbooks, and new officers coming through the Ontario Police College are being immersed in it. Inspector Robert Keetch and Dr. Hugh C. Russell (LINK) wrote an fascinating article in OACP’s Summer 2012 edition of HQ Magazine detailing the impact our new model has already had in Sudbury which anyone who doubts the benefits of community policing should read.

Community policing is here to stay regardless of the politics of policing because the citizens of Ontario demand their police services adhere to the principles of policing Sir Robert Peel articulated many years ago. Partnerships are the key – between police organizations, oversight bodies, governments, the corporate community, schools, community groups and (most importantly) the citizens of this province.