Community policing or homeland security: A hard choice for local police?Not necessarily, as experts say community policing and homeland security are not mutually exclusive policing philosophies
By Doug Page
The 9-11 attacks changed how many local law enforcement agencies relate to the communities they serve.
Police departments that had previously embraced community-oriented policing policies to address crime suddenly found themselves on the front lines on the war on terror, a shift encouraged by the federal government.
Washington had recognized the enormous anti-terrorism resource that local police comprise. There are more than 600,000 local police officers spread across nearly 13,000 autonomous local police departments, compared to only 12,000 FBI agents.
The new emphasis on homeland security, however, often resulted in reduced or eliminated community policing, which degraded community-police relationships, particularly in Arab-American neighborhoods. ("Community policing" here refers to traditional proactive policing, problem-solving and community partnerships, whereas "homeland security" emphasizes police activities designed to prevent or respond to terrorism.)
For instance, toward the end of 2001, the Department of Justice initiated a voluntary interview project focused on roughly 5,000 Middle Easterners holding temporary U.S. visas from countries where Al-Qaeda was strong. DOJ asked local police departments to help with the interviews.
"That was a big source of tension between local police and the Arab-American community," said David Thacher, a University of Michigan professor of public policy and urban planning. Arab-Americans believed the interviews were a form of ethnic profiling.
Robert Friedmann, a Georgia State emeritus professor of criminal justice and a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police Community Policing Committee said, "After 9-11, community policing was shoved to the wayside as budgets went to homeland security."
Friedmann said community policing is not simply being friendlier with citizens, like London’s Bobbies; it means being proactive, developing partnerships and addressing sources of crime as a precursor to reducing crime.
"Community policing and homeland security are not mutually exclusive philosophies," Friedmann said. The importance of community policing to homeland security is that the principles of being proactive and partnership-creation are also relevant to minimizing the likelihood of a terror incident.
"Focusing only on counter-terrorism is no longer enough, because more people are affected by traditional crime than by terrorism," Friedmann said.
Thacher also believes community-oriented policing can be reconciled with the new demands of homeland security.
"You do this by focusing on what local police do best in this area, which is community protection," he said.
Stanley Supinski, director of partnership programs at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security and an instructor in the Homeland Security Management Institute at Long Island University, said proven methodologies, especially those that serve to develop and improve ties to communities and constituents, can support homeland security demands.
Supinski advocates a "Community Oriented Homeland Security" concept that uses community policing to both support law enforcement and engage the public in homeland security. He said the key is to develop and maintain strong, positive community relations that clearly support law enforcement’s role in homeland security.
"Traditional intelligence methods have limited power to penetrate Middle Eastern communities," Supinski said. Instead, cooperation, along with solid communications networks and increased trust, allows police to develop sources for information inside the community, which could provide vital intelligence relating to potential terror activity.
"Otherwise, it will be impossible for intelligence officers to penetrate these communities," Supinski said.