A common – and unfortunate – misconception among many Americans is that police don’t prevent crime, they simply show up after a crime is committed. That misconception is especially popular within the defund the police movement, who mistakenly believe that police officers do not proactively protect the communities they serve.
Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, research suggests that adding 10 to 17 police officers within a given jurisdiction can save one life. Additionally, adding officers decreases both the crime rate and the number of arrests within a community. This correlation suggests that the mere presence of more police officers within criminal “hotspots” reduces crime overall. However, it is when those officers proactively engage their community to stop crime that we see exactly how police officers help protect their community.
Florida Deputy Royce James who searched for a missing 13-year-old girl after she was reported missing, is just one example. To retrace her steps, Deputy James engaged in what is known as community policing – a tactic in which police departments partner with the community, such as business owners and community leaders, to address issues within the community.
Deputy James first entered a store the missing girl frequented and immediately built rapport with the employees who allowed him to see their security footage, giving him clues into the girl’s whereabouts. Thereafter he started calling local hotels and motels until he found her in a motel room with a 22-year-old man. As the police body cam shows, the girl ran to the deputy and hugged him, while he ordered the suspect, Tyler Thomson, to sit on the couch, shirtless and in his underwear.
Deputy James’ quick thinking, professionalism, and decision to work with his community were crucial to locating and ensuring the little girl’s safety.
His story highlights the importance of police officers working with their communities not only to solve crimes but stop them as they happen. Fortunately, Deputy James’ community policing practices already have a framework that can be implemented by other police departments.
In all, there are three key components to community policing. First, the police must identify key individuals and organizations to partner with in their community. Second, the police department is organized in a way that supports community partnerships. Finally, the police proactively engage with the community to develop better responses to the problems they face.
Community police departments would encourage the type of policing that Deputy James’ engaged in to rescue that 13-year-old girl.
An added benefit to the effectiveness of community policing is that it improves attitudes toward the police. According to a study conducted by Yale University on community policing, “a single, positive, non-enforcement-related encounter enhanced the legitimacy of police officers and increased people’s willingness to cooperate with the police.”
Community policing also helps to create a sense of ownership and responsibility among community members. When residents are involved in the process of identifying and addressing public safety concerns, they are more likely to take an active role in preventing crime and maintaining safety in their neighborhoods.
When the police support their communities, their communities support the police, and together, the community and the police help make the communities a better place.