Image Shows Why Community Policing Isn't Enough

July 20th 2016

There's an argument that community policing — the increased presence of police in civilian life, with an emphasis on community outreach — can solve the systemic policing problems that the U.S. faces. This tweet from Twitter user zellie calls that policy into question.

Yes, community policing appears to be an effective strategy in mending or maintaining relations between police and the increasingly distrustful communities that have witnessed repeated abuses by armed law enforcement officers, particularly against minorities. But the image illustrates the problem with reform measures that present community policing as a criminal justice silver bullet.

As long as those protecting our streets remain strapped to the teeth, the relationship between police and the communities they serve will always be distanced by an arm's-length, so to speak. Community outreach can only go so far when the symbols of distrust — firearms and body armor — are safely secured on only one side. That's not to say that the officer in this photo was in the wrong for carrying a firearm, since that's part of his job, but there's something to be said about how communities perceive fully equipped officers engaging in "community policing."

In a 2010 essay for PoliceOne.com, Colorado Police Officer Lance Eldridge wrote that community policing "may be unintentionally fostering the very police state the philosophy was meant to discourage."

"Having armed law enforcement officers encouraged by community policing, or directed by policy and practice, to mediate civil disputes, family issues, and social contracts may make officers appear more accessible to the public, but it also creates a slippery slope that places officers, and therefore their authority and integrity, in between and among citizens who otherwise may not request or appreciate their presence," Eldridge wrote.

Portland Riot Police

One of the key words in that line is "armed." Of course it makes sense that police should do their best to listen to and understand the challenges that their communities face, but encouraging officers to immerse themselves into the daily lives of civilians — gun and ammunition at the ready — can be counterproductive, The Washington Post reports.

After all, civil rights advocates argue that the increasing militarization of America's police forces is one of the reasons that communities have grown distrustful of law enforcement.

"The images on the news of police wearing helmets and masks, toting assault rifles, and riding in mine-resistant armored vehicles are not isolated incidents — they represent a nationwide trend of police militarization," the ACLU writes. "Sending a heavily armed team of officers to perform 'normal' police work can dangerously escalate situations that need never have involved violence."

RELATED: 6 Clear Ways to Improve Policing

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