Crime and crime prevention have long been important issues to politicians and the constituencies they represent. The intensity of political interest in crime and community interest can be attributed to a number of factors:
- Crime is an emotional issue which draws on insecurities about safety and security.
- Crime touches most people, directly or indirectly, at some point in their lifetimes.
- Nearly everyone, regardless of political allegiance, race, ethnicity, age, gender, or lifestyle, supports taking action to control violence and crime.
- Citizens are willing to make sacrifices to increase their protection from criminals.
While there is much agreement on the need to control crime, there are many views on the best way to achieve this. In recent years, politicians have increasingly viewed community involvement as the most effective means to deal with crime while at the same time providing better public services. Yet, few fully understand the concept.
Analysis of crime and call for service data alone are not sufficient for determining neighborhood problem priorities. Police must engage face-to-face with neighborhood residents, interests, and institutions to understand their priorities. These may be the same as police data suggest, but they are often quite different.
Regardless of the problem, community resources can and should be mobilized to manage it. Partners should include district and city attorneys, probation and parole departments, neighborhood organizations, business improvement districts, and other private and governmental agencies. Different problems will require different partners but "going it alone" is a recipe for failure.
New issues or controversies tend to generate emotional rather than logical responses. Community involvement may generate initial opposition because it challenges traditional policing at many levels.
Focusing on a small part of the community policing effort--such as neighborhood watch programs--may enhance political backing for the larger project.
Citizens must be kept informed and their reactions should be taken seriously. Lack of communication can destroy an initiative, but is easy to avoid.
Success is never guaranteed when implementing new ideas; even failures provide lessons. Both within the police organization and broader political system, the "freedom to fail" is required to encourage creative new ideas.
Forcing the reevaluation of entrenched traditions can be politically unpopular and may generate counteroffensives. Community groups prepare to defend themselves and their supporters against personal and professional attacks.
Those who make a personal commitment to making change work, must be rewarded through positive reinforcement, creative freedom, recognition, awards and financial support.
Manhattan Institute Center for State & Local Leadership
School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University