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Cover Story

The Bias Against Community Oriented Policing

Across America law enforcement agencies have implemented Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solv­ing, hereafter referred to as COPPS, a new name for an old method of policing some still refer to as "professionalism."

October 01, 1998  |  by Andrew J. Borrello

Across America law enforcement agencies have implemented Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solv­ing, hereafter referred to as COPPS, a new name for an old method of policing some still refer to as "professionalism." Today, COPPS has formal guidelines and is backed by the federal government through specific grants.

Agencies may obtain partial funding for COPPS to hire new police officers or hire civilians to fill non-sworn assignments, thus allowing sworn officers to be redeployed to the street where they are needed.

COPPS can generally be described as the reunification of the police and the com­munity they serve. COPPS is meant to be a partnership, a shared responsibility based on trust, to reduce crime, violence and fear in our neighborhoods. To many, it is the changing of policing in America.

Community oriented policing as a concept even became an official part of the federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which outlined as a goal, the funding to hire 100,000 officers over a six-year period.

COPPS Basics

Success stories are being reported from across the nation with achievements sup­ported by statistics of reduced crime, de­creased violence, improved government and community relationships and a de­crease in complaints against officers. Many law enforcement and government officials praise COPPS as an essential el­ement to answering many of today's prob­lems in law enforcement. As of mid-sum­mer, the U.S. Department of Justice boasts that more than 10,000 law enforcement agencies have received grants from the COPPS office to add more than 77,000 police officers and sheriffs' deputies across the country.

Misguided Dissatisfaction

Despite such strong federal backing, aggressive public relations and substan­tial support by police administrative of­ficials, there has been a growing consensus of malice towards COPPS philoso­phy and strategies. This anti-COPPS dis­position is most prevalent among street ­level police officers and frontline supervisors. COPPS has been rejected as a "politically correct" program or sim­ply a method to obtain federal money.

These sentiments, in part, are based on the fear that COPPS instruction is being squeezed into academy curricu­lum at the expense of important tactics and officer safety training.

COPPS is further charged with forc­ing police to be kinder and gentler and that this improper demeanor is the cause of officers getting hurt or killed.  COPPS is receiving recognition and acclaim as being responsible for lowering crime levels while the efforts of hard working officers go unnoticed.

Many officers dissatisfied with community policing refer to those involved with COPPS as the "hungry police" or view them as soft on crime.  They blame COPPS for draining resources and manpower away from understaffed patrol operations.  Self proclaimed "real cops" or "traditional cops", are insulted by depictions of uniformed Community Oriented Police in a park setting pushing a happy child on a swing.  They feel that this portrayal is not true to life and misrepresents the department as well as an officer's duties.

Skeptics claim COPPS IS JUST A CUTE name for what police have been doing in a variety of ways for more than 40 years. Even more militant officers say that COPPS is turning the police into social workers and the program is endorsed and controlled by politically motivated liberal executives who have personal agendas, are building resumes or are competing with the agency next door.

Keeping Focused on the Facts

While some of the criticism and ap­prehension generated by COPPS may have basis in fact, primary disapproval is rooted in confusion, misinformation and a lack of factual knowledge about COPPS and its potential. The implemen­tation and strategies of COPPS varies from city to city and should be unique within every agency. COPPS should em­bellish quality and service.

It is not meant to replace traditional policing, but to compliment it, support it and enhance it. Community policing is not designed to transform "real cops" into social workers, but to augment their capabilities and assist them to success­fully participate in productive change.

If any academy, field training officer program or in-service training, compro­mises issues of officer safety or any other mandatory training in order to teach or train about COPPS, a tremendous disser­vice has been done to the officers, their departments and the community. This sort of problem is not a consequence of COPPS itself, but the result of improper decision-making and a distorted view of priorities by the trainers involved.

Police officers who place themselves or others in jeopardy or at a tactical disadvantage, due to an overexertion of COPPS philosophy, should be corrected immediately.  Safety, control, proper tactics and preservation of life are second-to-none in law enforcement.  COPPS should not be condemned or blamed as a singular or fundamental cause of declining officer safety.

More appropriate areas in identifying the true causes of deficient tactics or conduct should include the quality of the department's selection and hiring process, academy training and curriculum, the effectiveness of field training officer programs, the probationary performance and evaluation period, the quality of supervision, and in-service training.

Officers must never allow a single philosophy or strategy of any kind to subvert safety.

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