Public safety, Trenton

Community Policing

Written by Rolando Ramos, Trenton Police Department, Lt., Retired.

Most everyone has heard the phrase “Community Policing” but few truly understand its meaning.  “Community Policing” is a major buzz phrase when discussing public safety in today’s world.  As a retired police lieutenant, my hope is that by presenting a proper definition, the expectations of the community will be more in line with what the police department can accomplish.

Misunderstanding of flash-point issues takes many forms. As I attended the numerous public mayoral forums leading up to the first Mayoral election on May 8th 2018, I was astonished how some of the seven individuals who were running for office could not accurately articulate or define “Community Policing”, let alone describe how they would implement it.

One candidate, for example, continually focused solely on forcing officers back into the city as a form of  “Community Policing”.  His thought process was that by forcing officers to live in the city, the citizens could knock on their doors at any time for them to solve problems.  While having more police living in the city may help in some instances, the probability that the city could force all of its officers back is unlikely.  In addition, state guidelines only use residency as a requirement in becoming a police officer during the testing and hiring processes.  State law would need to be changed for any future residency requirement.

Another candidate’s version of “Community Policing” would have mandated officers to “volunteer” as coaches and mentors.    The word volunteer in and of itself means someone who freely gives of himself or herself.  To force officers to volunteer is an oxymoron and that candidate did not have any regard to the officer’s own personal lives and responsibilities.  

One candidate continually attacked hiring practices stating that his “Community Policing” policy would force the police department to hire more of “our children” as a means of implementing “Community Policing”.  While this candidate played on the current divide between the community and the police as a means to garner votes, he never explained why there weren’t more homegrown officers on the force or how he would work to hire more officers reflective of the community’s diversity.  

Having always present foot patrols as the “Community Policing” panacea for what ails the city’s public safety needs was introduced by yet another candidate.  While foot patrols may have worked in earlier historical time periods (where crime and violence was not as pervasive), limited resources makes it almost impossible to provide foot patrols as a mainstay of Trenton’s policing.  The necessity to be readily available for critical incidents limits the ability to provide this type of old-style policing.  However, a proper public safety plan can provide better officer/community relationships and allow officers to do more in terms of being more interactive with the community. 

Sadly, these political interpretations are short-sighted and create more divisions, anger and mistrust between the community and the police. 

In its purest form, “Community Policing”:  

  1. Creates partnerships between law enforcement and the community in an effort to prevent crime before it happens.
  2. Builds a safe social environment by engaging residents in helping to determine which crimes they are most affected by; and,
  3. Encourages residents to assist the police in keeping their communities safe.

Simply put, “Community Policing” utilizes organizational transformations, community partnerships and innovative problem solving in an effort, which is usually forgotten when discussing community policing, to ENFORCE THE LAW.

“Community Policing” is not solely about lollipops and teddy bears as one retired officer once stated.  It is about engaging the community to partner with the police in helping to make geographical neighborhoods and business areas safer.   Only by working together in a truly concerted effort can we significantly curtail the success of individuals bent on causing chaos and mayhem. 

Please understand that building these relationships involves everyone for “Community Policing” to truly take shape and work.  Everyone includes elected officials, police, religious institutions, media, business owners, non-profits, hospitals, and the residents of this city working hand-in-hand to proactively identify and work to address current and potential public safety problems.  By creating these relationships, Trenton can become a safer place and a city we can all be proud of.