Mind the (implementation) gap: A critical analysis of police department commitment to community-oriented policing (COP), its implementation process, and outcomes
Jan Mooney, University of North Carolina Charlotte
Amidst a backdrop of national conversations about police brutality and misconduct, more recent demands for action have focused on enacting police reforms that decentralize authority. Historically, many excessive uses-of-force have involved Black victims. Lack of police accountability for these tragedies has been repeatedly voiced by Black communities and other concerned citizen-allies. Notably, police are disproportionately more likely to use force on and kill Black people compared to White people (Fagan & Campbell, 2020; Peeples, 2019). Evidence suggests that demographic similarities (e.g., race) between police officers and civilians do not change policing use of force disparities (Menifield et al., 2019). This highlights the need to determine organizational drivers of disparities (e.g., police department norms), rather than conceptualizing instances of police brutality as “a few bad apples” (Menifield et al., 2019; Nicholson-Crotty et al., 2017).
Community-oriented policing (COP) is an organizational approach that is expected to reduce police misconduct and diminish experiences of racial injustice. COP is commonly distinguished from traditional, hierarchical, order enforcement policing by its focus on shared-power relationships with communities and by its emphasis on addressing root causes of crime and disorder (e.g., poverty rather than inherent characteristics; Rohe et al., 1997). Broadly, increased racial justice and reduced police misconduct are expected to be facilitated through activities consistent with three main aspects of COP: proactive problem-solving, establishment and maintenance of collaborative community partnerships, and an organizational structure that is supportive of these activities (Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2014). Collectively, these processes are referred to as “community policing practices.” However, the extent to which a law enforcement agencies’ mission statement reflects COP or highlights the department’s enactment of key COP processes is currently unknown. It is also unclear the degree to which agencies actually enact these key processes (e.g., in police recruit training efforts, in the development of formal community partnerships, in creating and maintaining supportive structures for these efforts).
Overall, despite findings indicating a positive impact of community policing practices on citizen perceptions of policing (e.g., increased satisfaction; Crowl, 2017; Gill et al., 2014) a lack of comprehensive data surrounding police-community contacts has prevented an assessment of how different policing strategies affect important outcomes including community perceptions of police, safety and wellness, and officer safety and wellness (Can & Frantzen, 2019; Johnson et al., 2017; Nadal et al., 2017; Reinka & Leach, 2017; Robinson, 2020; U.S. DOJ, 2019). Moreover, there appear to be direct and indirect associations between mission statements and performance outcomes, suggesting that a police department’s overall orientation toward COP (i.e., communicated by their mission statement) may differ in its impact on real-world outcomes via its implementation (Eterno et al., 2020; Foster-Fishman et al., 2007; Jacobs et al., 2013). However, no prior research has investigated these associations in law enforcement organizations, specifically. In addition, critics of the police and criminal justice system ultimately advocate for abolition, rather than simply organizational reform (Jacobs et al., 2021; Kaba, 2020; Littrice, 2021; Taub, 2020), further emphasizing the need to better understand COP within current systems or potential alternatives.
Building on the limited research that has examined the possible contributions of COP elements (e.g., hours of community policing component training, mention of community policing components in mission statement) to racial disparities in police use of lethal force (Ingrams, 2017; Lott, 2016), this planned project leverages diverse data sources to fill existing research gaps. Broadly, this secondary analysis will explore the mediating role of specific practices for the relationship between departmental values (i.e., mission statement content) and community-level outcomes of police-citizen interactions. More specifically, the planned work will critically evaluate how COP is reflected in organizational values across law enforcement agencies, how COP is implemented (i.e., presence of community policing practices) and how these structural elements impact police-citizen interactions (i.e., as reflected by racial disparities in police use of force incidents), across North Carolina, a state characterized by a significant degree of racial and ethnic diversity.
Findings may be used by activists to inform their position on the role of police in their community, by police departments to inform their implementation of community policing practices, by funding agencies to shape their priorities, and by researchers to direct future research regarding the utility of community policing practices and the nature of implementation.
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