Community Problem Solving Initiative in Community Policing

Community problem solving can be defined as a teaching and learning approach that assists students learn to contribute and participate actively in attending to real-life challenges affecting their local communities, with a view to building a more promising and sustainable future (Lasker & Weiss, 2003). The strategy of community problem solving is increasingly gaining currency as a methodology that assists students to apply problem solving processes learnt in class to real-life problems within their communities. The present paper applies the strategy in dealing with the problem of increased insecurity through a law enforcement initiative known as community policing.

Available literature demonstrates that successful community problem solving must entail active collaboration and cooperation between the stakeholders affected by the problem (community members) and those that are investigating and planning actions to deal with the problem (Wals, 1994). Interviews with the neighborhood president and the local police chief demonstrated that the problem of insecurity was an ongoing situation within the community that affected a significant portion of community members who live or work within this area.

It is imperative to indicate that problems requiring the intervention of a community problem solving approach are persistent and unlikely to disappear without active intervention of some scale (Freedman, 2011). In the case scenario, interview data suggested that the problem of insecurity within the neighborhood was solved using police and community resources which were enjoined to create the community policing initiative.

Community problem solving utilizes a series of elements or constituents to achieve success. According to Wals (1994), some of the most important elements include “recognizing a problem; collecting, organizing and analyzing information; defining the problem from a variety of perspectives; identifying, considering and selecting alternative actions to take; developing and carrying out a plan of action; and evaluating the outcome and the entire process” (p. 165-166).

Interview data demonstrated that the stakeholders who created and administered the community policing initiative within the community setting used many of the above mentioned elements. Neighborhood leaders recognized the problem of insecurity through increased cases of rape, carjacking and burglary. Police were invited to collect and collate intelligence data to develop observable trends regarding the problem. Afterwards, stakeholders (community members and police) attempted to look at the root causes of the problem, with the view to define the problem more objectively and from different perspectives.

The most convincing cause, according to interview data, was rising youth unemployment within the local community. Some of the alternative courses of action discussed among the stakeholders to address the problem included increased police patrols, community policing and creation of employment opportunities for the youth. Community policing was selected as the most viable option not only because of its capacity to initiate community-based crime prevention, but also due to increased accountability by the police towards the citizen and community at large (Yero et al., 2012).

Developing and carrying out a plan of action is a critical step in the community problem solving approach. Although all the other elements are important, this particular element to a large extent determines if the initiative will be a success. Parameters must first be set by defining the most favorable alternative to address the problem affecting the local community (Lasker & Weiss, 2003).

Although the concept of community policing lacks an explicit definition, available literature demonstrates that crime and social disorder is the focus of community policing (Innes et al., 2009), and that community policing can be achieved through service delivery which includes components of regular law enforcement, prevention, problem solving, as well as neighborhood/community engagement and partnership (Yero et al., 2012). Interview data demonstrated that these elements served as the focal point for designing and carrying out a plan of action in the form of active community policing within the community.

Stakeholders must evaluate the outcomes of community problem solving initiative. In evaluation, trends and benchmarks should be utilized to demonstrate if the problem has been addressed by the initiative or if there is need to change tact (Lasker & Weiss, 2003).

Interview data from community leaders and the police chief demonstrated that cases of rape, carjacking and burglaries within the community had considerably gone down over a period of 12 months, and that more community members were willing to share intelligence with the police in a bid to stamp out insecurity. Additionally, interview data from the local leaders demonstrated that the police-community collaboration and partnership had been elevated through the community policing initiative. Available literature demonstrates that evaluation of outcomes may also be done through self-assessments not only to determine how well the initiative has been carried out, but also what overall good has been accomplished (Wals, 1994).

To conclude, it is important to underline the fact that a successful community problem solving initiative must be grounded on the mentioned critical elements, which include: identifying the problem, analyzing information, designing alternative strategies, selecting and implementing the appropriate strategy, and evaluating the effectiveness of the implemented strategy. Within the realms of law enforcement initiatives, the community problem-solving approach has the capacity to not only reduce crime but also decrease recidivism and enhance the coordination between and among the police and concerned community members.

References

Freedman, S.W. (2011). Going to the phonebook: And the tales of community-oriented problem solving. National Civic Review, 100(1), 33-36.

Innes, M., Abbot, L., Lowe, T., & Roberts, C. (2009). Seeing like a citizen: Field experiments in community intelligence-led policing. Police Practices & Research, 10(2), 99-114.

Lasker, R.D., & Weiss, E.S. (2003). Broadening participation in community problem solving: A multidisciplinary model to support collaborative practice and research. Journal of Urban Health, 80(1), 14-60.

Wals, A. (1994). Action research and community problem-solving: Environmental education in an inner-city. Educational Action Research, 2(2), 163-182.

Yero, A., Othman, J., Samah, B.A., D’Silva, J.L., & Sulaiman, A.H. (2012). Revisiting concept and theories of community policing. International Journal of Academic Research, 4(4), 7-20.