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Cover Story

The Bias Against Community Oriented Policing

Across America law enforcement agencies have implemented Community Oriented Policing and Problem SolvĀ­ing, 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

COPPS as a Tool

COPPS is not the prima­ry cause of falling crime rates. Any official, article or training that claims this to be true, is unquestionably flawed. The application of COPPS strategies is only a tool, one of many that law enforcement can utilize to aggressively combat crime. It is the responsibility of management and adminis­tration in police agencies, when claiming a victory over crime with the imple­mentation of COPPS, to rec­ognize and praise the efforts of the street officers who made it work.

COPPS is futile without intelligent aggressive personnel to make it a suc­cess. For COPPS to be effective, the commitment of personnel must be de­partment-wide, a coordination of concept and effort by every employee.

COPPS has been blamed for taking re­sources away from areas where person­nel are desperately needed. The grant funding available from COPPS allows agencies to hire more officers. If an agency gets funding to add two posi­tions to the work force and these posi­tions are assigned as COPPS personnel, then the department has only gained and-benefited. If only two positions are funded and six officers are assigned ex­clusively to COPPS functions, then it is the agency that must be faulted for im­proper staffing, and not the implemen­tation of COPPS funding or philosophy.

Examining the Image of COPPS

Media reports, photos and city newsletters that portray happy officers holding hands with happy children in a picnic atmosphere is simply part of the public relations game. These are ways to show that the police are committed, through COPPS, to making things better. Pictures and related media of this type are simply commercials to advertise a positive message - that of a partnership between the police and the community.

Is it true to life? No. Is it a genuine representation of an officer's duties? Hardly. But this type of public relations is not exclusive to COPPS.

Similar media techniques have been used in promoting the DARE program or even when an agency wants to gain public acceptance for new equipment or programs such a motor traffic unit.

Although model-like police officers, unrealistically posed in surreal environ­ments, are used to promote specific programs or the implementation of COPPS, it is only a technique that does not affect safety, staffing and is non-detrimental to an agency or its officers.

Skeptics declare that COPPS is uno­riginal and has been practiced for many years. They will tell you that COPPS is just a catchy title to rename police work that already exists. This may be partially true; however, prior to 1994, there has never been such a huge commitment through grant funding - at the federal or any other level to support law en­forcement. The 1994 Crime Bill resulted in 8.8 billion dollars being committed to law enforcel1lent with a large portion specifically directed to COPPS.

Additionally, there is nothing inappropriate about standardizing and giving a title to a method or philosophy of ser­vice. For example, testing drunk drivers was standardized and formally called field sobriety testing.

Identifying, solving, and preventing problems to reduce cost and liability was neatly packaged with the term risk management.

Inappropriate behavior in the work­place was identified and labeled sexual harassment.

COPPS may have been practiced in varied ways over the years, but today it simply has been given an official title.

More militant officers swear that COPPS is a scam; that it is turning police into social workers and forcing them to perform functions police should not be in­volved with. They blame administrators with political aspirations or charge those who support COPPS of being liberals.

Other officers, many who have been in law enforcement for more than 20 years, dismiss COPPS as nothing more than intrusive meetings that serve no purpose. To these officers, I would ask that they educate themselves about what COPPS truly is, what it is not, its purpose and intent and the favorable re­sults already documented. At the very least, I would ask any skeptics to con­sider the substantial benefit to law en­forcement of a goal to fund 100,000 additional police officers and deputy sheriffs for our nation's streets.

Tags: Community Policing


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