Implementation Challenges

Last Updated: April 7, 2009

Difficulties in delineating the "community"

Who defines the community and how?

There are a number of challenges in adapting community policing from theory to practice. The first issue is the question of 'what constitutes a community and its size.' Although an exhaustive specification of the conditions that make up a community may be unnecessary, experts note that it is important for the police to use pragmatic interpretation to implement community policing.1 The police tend to define communities within jurisdictional, district or precinct boundaries, or within public or private housing developments. As a result, the community, which is the core of community policing, often is defined more by police administrative parameters than through an assessment of stakeholders.2

The interaction of the community and police organizations

The second issue, which is related to the first, concerns the depiction of the community as a homogenous entity speaking with collective sentiments.  The scholar Steven Kelly Herbert asks, "But what does it mean to involve something called 'the community' in this way? What does this community look like? What is it, actually? Can distressed neighborhoods be accurately described as communities? If so, upon what basis? Can they organize in any cohesive, representative, or effective fashion? Who can claim the right to speak for a community? And even if a community can be legitimately named, effectively organized, and accurately represented, just how can it interact with state agencies such as the police? What is the ideal division of labor between communities and the police, between the informal and the formal?  Beyond these ideas, are the police as a political agency and a cultural creation, able to hear what the community has to say? What forms of citizen input are credible to the police? Do the polices professional norms and cultural practices keep citizens at arms length, or can something approaching a genuine partnership between cops and communities be created?"3  In post-conflict environments, communities are heterogeneous, if not fragmented, and may contain pre-existing ethnic, religious, or communal tensions. Combine these factors with already underlying mistrust in local law enforcement organizations and the 'partnership' aspect of community policing may be challenging.

Both Otwin Marenin and Rachel Neild have cautioned that donors assume the existence of sufficient local capacity, including social capital and will to partner with the police is present; however it is precisely that weakness of local accountability mechanisms that need to be first taken into consideration.4 Indeed, there is little discussion in the community policing literature as to what happens when the police and recipient communities have divergent visions about the kind of policing that is considered 'appropriate.' Policing organizations must be willing to accept a decentralized decision-making command structure and reorient their values toward a kind of public service required for community involvement.5

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Variable quality and insufficient quantity of implementers

International police reformers are drawn from a range of contributing countries and in the absence of an agreed international approach, officers tend to import their own particular style of policing. Often there is also a dramatic variance in experience, skills, and training among these international police officers. Quality control remains a problem as many missions have difficulty in finding sufficient numbers of adequately trained personnel.

In some instances, key actors like civil society organizations lack the experience in working with police or the necessary understanding of how government institutions work.  In Bosnia and Herzegovina, non-governmental organizations in the field of security and law enforcement was not common and lagged behind in terms of contributing to community policing activities.6

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Poor coordination among actors

There is still insufficient coordination between the various implementing agencies that undertake police reform. All too often, those involved in programming in one organization are unaware of what counterparts in other organizations are doing. Donors are often very focused on their own programs and methodologies, which can complicate or even aggravate the already insecure environment in which the engagement is taking place. This absence of coordinated planning results in poorly designed programming, programming that does not fit with other initiatives or risks replicating what has been tried already.

Numerous authors have pointed out the tensions facing national and international actors in the process of implementing community policing, especially between police and other state and civil society organizations, and the adaptation to local realities versus external models, the competing international interests, addressing tainted and corrupt personnel, and top-down versus bottom-up reform.7

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Insufficient strategic planning

Many police reform initiatives lack a sequenced approach that maps out objectives and the steps needed to achieve them. For instance, in Kosovo, five years after the arrival of international civilian police and one year before responsibility is to be transferred to a local police force, there is still no strategic plan outlining how that transition should occur.

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Poor storage of knowledge and little "lessons learning"

The manner in which reform processes are structured - with the limited tenures of personnel and reliance on consultants whose contracts may be as short as a few weeks -militates against exploring and embedding learning. Not enough information is publicly available or easily accessible about the experiences of different actors (both institutions and individuals) in implementing community-based policing and the lessons learned from these experiences.

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Too little evaluation

There remains limited knowledge about what works and what does not in community-based policing. Evaluation has yet to be adequately mainstreamed into program design and certain challenges of evaluation remain--for instance, on the most appropriate and realistic benchmarks and indicators for measuring progress. In addition, international organizations remain reluctant to allow detailed evaluations--valuable learning opportunities for both international and host country actors--often out of sensitivity to how negative outcomes will be perceived by fellow organizations. This desire to protect institutional reputations means that valuable learning opportunities for both international and host country actors can be lost.

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Inadequate funding

There is a profound disconnect between the goals and values that reformers are trying to promote and the levels of funding provided to effect this change. Donor interest tends to wane before sufficient time has passed to produce tangible results. Without a longer-term commitment, the aims of police reform based on a community-based policing approach cannot be achieved, and international support to unstable areas will remain nothing more than short- term fire fighting.

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Institutional resistance

The operational culture of a police force must be addressed; police are often characterized as resistant to change and distrustful of outsiders. Because police reform may require officers to do more work or may interfere with comfortable work practices, officers may have a vested interest in resisting change.

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1. Daniel W. Flynn, "Defining the 'Community'" in Community Policing, Monograph (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, July 1998).
2. Flynn, "Defining the 'Community'" in Community Policing.
3. Steven Kelly Herbert, Citizens, Cops, and Power. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 4-5.
4. Otwin Marenin, "Restoring Policing Systems in Conflict Torn Nations: Process, Problems, Prospects," Occasional Paper 7 (Geneva: Geneve Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), 2005), 59; Rachel Neild, Sustaining Reform: Democratic Policing in Central America, Washington, D.C.: WOLA, Citizen Security Monitor (2002).
5. For instance, Otwen Marenin has noted the veritable intractable nature of policing which resists change at all levels. See: Otwin Marenin, "The goal of democracy in international police assistance programs," Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management, 21, no. 1 (1998): 159-177.
6. South Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, Philosophy and principles of community-based policing, 370.
7. Michael Brogden and Preeti Nijhar, Community Policing: National and International Models and Approaches (Portland: Willan Publishing, 2005).

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