Community Problem-Oriented Policing

  • Hans Toch
  • J. Douglas Grant


The Brave New World as it is envisaged by leaders in the police field may be a world of problem-oriented policing, a world of community-oriented policing, or a combination of the two. The distinction between fashionable concepts is not neat; there are many students who at times regard one concept as subservient to the other. Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux (1990a), for example, write that “in essence, solving problems is an important aspect of Community Policing, and a department that encourages its officers to use Problem-Oriented techniques can make greater use of their potential as part of a Community Policing approach” (p. 10). Goldstein (1987) has similarly written that “I would argue that a fully developed concept of what we now allude to by “community policing” could provide the umbrella under which a more integrated strategy for improving the quality of policing could be constructed” (p. 8).1


Team Member Police Officer Crime Prevention Police Department Drug Problem 
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  1. 1.
    Skogan (1990) concurs with this view. In the first of several principles of community policing he advances he says that “Community Policing assumes a commitment to broadly-focused, problem-oriented policing” (p. 91). Such principles are statements of ideal, or desiderata. This becomes clear with Skogan’s fourth principle, which reads, “Community Policing implies a commitment to helping neighborhoods help themselves, by serving as a catalyst for local organizing and education efforts” (p. 92). Skogan assumes this is the case, but has limited faith in the prospect of organizing deteriorated neighborhoods. (See Note 4.)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The nostalgia has a basis in fact. Historians have shown that “the urban police acquired welfare responsibilities as the (nineteenth) century progressed, and then lost them to specialist agencies around the beginning of the twentieth century (Emsley, 1983, p. 109). Monkkonen (1981) reports that Almost from their inception in the middle of the nineteenth century until the beginning of the twentieth, American police departments regularly provided a social service that from our perspective seems bizarrely out of character—they provided bed and, sometimes, board for homeless poor people, tramps. Year after year these “lodgers,” as the police referred to them, swarmed to the police stations in most large cities, where they found accommodations ranging in quality from floors in hallways to clean bunkrooms. Often, especially in the winter or during depression years, there would be food, usually soup—nothing fancy, but something. During very bad depression years or harsh winters, the number of overnight lodgings provided by a police department exceeded all annual arrests. (pp. 86–87) When social service agencies came into existence, the police helped them to perform former police functions. One service the police had been performing involved returning lost children to their parents. This task became the responsibility of child protective associations. According to Monkkonen (1981), A typical police-NYSPCC interaction involved the police discovering child abuse or neglect, or in some cases a child offender, after which the police asked the society to intervene and take the case. Often the society placed children in foster or orphan homes and actively aided in the criminal prosecution of parents. Concurrent with these forms of police-private cooperation, the police began more and more to use the society’s assistance in dealing with lost children. In 1877, the society helped return only twentyfive lost children to their parents; twenty years later, the figure had leapt ten times to 2,810 lost children returned. Clearly, this private agency accounted for a substantial portion of the decline in the number of lost children returned by the police in New York. (p. 127)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Kelling (undated) pointed out that beat foot patrol officers in the nineteenth century were already seen as manifesting such problems. He writes that Integration of police into neighborhoods isolated officers from other police… Their sympathy with community norms and their ability to isolate themselves from the police organization led to other problems, including corruption and unequal enforcement. Both merchants and illegal liquor operators were in a position to pay police officers to “look the other way” when unpopular antiliquor laws were broken. Many communities did not want “outsiders” (ethnically different people) to come into their neighborhoods. Often sympathetic to such feelings, police (and gangs) provided the means by which such outsiders were kept out. Local politicians interested in maintaining themselves in office often recruited police assistance to extend their tenure. (p. 2)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Skogan (1990) describes two sets of police interventions—one in Newark and the other in Houston—which showed impact favoring more receptive segments of the community. He concludes that “one of the greatest problems is that it is difficult to organize low-income, heterogeneous, deteriorating, high-turnover, disorderly neighborhoods” (p. 169).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Typical of mistrust from above that invites resentment below is a recent New York City Police decision to subject officers to random drug tests. Under the new rule, 10% of the force (2,600 officers) would be tested every year. The New York Times noted that “the proposal is expected to draw a strong reaction from the patrolmen’s association” (McKinley, 1989). In the long run, actions such as this one, that are designed to control deviance, often boomerang. They tend to cement solidarity and promote norms (like silence) that protect deviants from scrutiny by management. This in turn limits information that management can get and inspires new surveillance efforts which escalate resistance.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The qualification applies to the officer-as-research-consumer model, not to the San Diego Police Department, which stands at the forefront of community policing and problem-oriented policing. The San Diego police have originated a plethora of ingenious solutions to problems encountered in their city and its vicinity.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans Toch
    • 1
  • J. Douglas Grant
    • 2
  1. 1.State University of New YorkAlbanyUSA
  2. 2.Social Action Research CenterNicasioUSA

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