Community Policing: Actors & Activities

The planning and delivery of community policing typically involves three groups--donors, their political constituencies at home which will fund the assistance; recipients of the assistance (e.g. political leaders, security officials, communities); and transnational policy community which links donors to recipients and transforms plans into actions on the ground.1 Groups within civil society--such as semi-autonomous academic institutions, think tanks, human rights NGOs, and policy-focused issue-based NGOs have also actively strive to influence decisions and policies with regard to the security sector.2

Beneficiaries of community policing

The beneficiaries of community policing depend on the country and context in which the program is implemented.  In general, local communities are the main beneficiaries of community policing programs since the objective is to promote more cooperation and trust between specific communities and the local police.  Community beneficiaries can include anyone from individuals who live or work within the community, formal and informal community leaders, religious leaders, to chief of villages, etc.  At the same time, central and local police forces are also direct beneficiaries of community policing since the desired outcome is a more legitimate and accountable law enforcement organization that will be able to carry out their tasks more effectively.  Depending on the country, local administrative authorities, government ministries and education departments also participate in community policing planning initiatives. 

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International organizations and donors

Among the numerous actors in this field, UN CIVPOL has regularly engaged in the reform, restructuring, rebuilding, and capacity development of the national and local police.3 They promote the use of community policing forums as a means to create favorable environments so that former combatants and formerly discredited local police can be accepted back into the community.4 UN Development Programme (UNDP) has been piloting security sector reform (SSR) and transitional justice projects that incorporate community policing components in countries including, Kenya, Kosovo, and Sudan. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union (EU) have been supporting and piloting projects in South Eastern Europe on community policing. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supported initiatives to introduce community policing in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the mid-1990s. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have increasingly sought to bolster the rule of law for commerce and reduce the prevalence of violence as well as corruption by supporting policing reform in transitional societies.

Donor countries such as the US, UK, the Netherlands, Spain, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Australia and Germany have actively funded community policing initiatives in post-conflict and transitional countries.  However donor support of community policing initiatives have been either fairly even spread across the core department of law enforcement and rule of law institutions or specifically targeted at certain sectors due to different expertise and national priorities, as well as the various individuals and institutions that influence investment decisions.  In South Africa, for example, the UK focused on basic police training and support for community policing in 1995, and Belgium supported a five-year police restructuring program that covered community policing, Denmark financed a limited portion of the police training and distribution of community policing booklets.5

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Civil society organizations

Local civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations have closer ties and dialogues with local community groups and have been instrumental in shaping more appropriate community policing initiatives for a particular local context.  They raise awareness and promote participation in implementing community policing intiatives, as well as reinforce accountability mechanisms especially when the police are reluctant of external scrutiny.   

A continuous challenge for civil society organizations is to engage the police in collaborative reform initiatives, while at the same time remaining independent and impartial. Practioners from the Vera Institute Emma Phillips and Jennifer Trone assert that, "By maintaining sufficient distance from the police, oversight mechanisms are better able to preserve their clarity and objectivity and keep the oversight process itself from becoming corrupted by the interests or culture of the police. At the same time, an oversight agencys ability to investigate complaints and monitor police investigations depends on collaboration with the police, which can become impossible if relationships are fraught. (...) Working alongside the police does not mean forgiving misconduct or lessening the rigor of civilian oversight. But it does require oversight agencies to consider the perspectives of law enforcement, particularly the shortcomings and difficulties of police work, such as poor pay, training that is frequently inadequate, and the high stress and anxiety associated with life-threatening employment conditions."6

The New York-based Vera Institute has also had a long history in developing democratic policing and has been foremost in encouraging community-oriented policing (COP) in transitional societies.7  Likewise, Saferworld which focuses on "community-based policing" implements democratic style policing in with governments and local communities. 

Go to Democracy & Governance: Civil Society

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Key elements for implementing community policing

Although community policing can encompass a wide-range of activities (link to what is community section above), it is not really defined by a particular list of activities since they tend to change according to the context, but as an organizational adaptation to a changing environment.8  

Engaging with the community

According to the OSCE, in order for the police to achieve a partnership with the community, it should improve its services by remaining visible and accessible to the public, responding to community needs, listening to community concerns, engaging and mobilizing the community, and being accountable for their activities and the outcome of these activities. 9  Community policing attempts to meet the needs of all groups in society, particularly the poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable, while taking into account the particular needs of women, children and the elderly. If high levels of crime can be reduced, social and economic development will improve, thus benefiting the economy and the quality of life for all sections of the community. 10

Understanding the local context

In order for police to meet the needs of a local community it must understand the problems.  The objective of community policing is to foster cooperation by bringing local communities and police organizations together to address common problems.  In order to carry this out, independent surveys and assessments of the structure, function and perception of the police should be carried out; identification of existing structures within a community; and the identification of political, economic, and social conditions that may lead to conflict.11 Hesta Groenewald and Gordon Peake have noted that, "Sufficient attention must be paid to both sides of community-based policing, the police and the public. A process that emphasizes one over the other will be lopsided."12

The need for an organization strategy

South Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons notes that Community-based Policing (CBP) requires an organisational strategy that ensures that everyone in the police organisation translates the philosophy into practice. The fundamental principles are that 'all policing is community-based policing' and that 'all police personnel are community-based policing officers.'  Community-based policing specialists Hesta Groenewald and Gordon Peake also add that, "An implementation framework should include four phases: (1) pre-engagement analysis and assessment; (2) design and planning; (3) managing the implementation; and (4) evaluation and drawback."13 They stress that the goals should be clearly defined, realistic, and bare relation to the context. In addition, engagement should be wide and consultative so that police, government, and civil society feel that they are part of the process.

Ensuring accountability and civilian oversight

Accountability is important to the transformation of police services as well as to protecting the victims of human rights violations.  An efficient, fair, and transparent system for dealing with police complaints is necessary.  In addition, civilian oversight provides an added measure of accountability of the police services.

Supporting and facilitating reform but not dominating

The role of international actors is to support and facilitate the reform process but not lead and dominate it. As many local stakeholders as practicably possible need to be involved throughout the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation processes.14 In addition,There must be a common understanding between involved international agencies and the host government. If this is not done explicitly from the start it risks incoherence, overlap and confusion.15

Appropriate training and skills

Police officers often need to be educated and trained with more specific skills (conflict resolution and mediation skills) to better interact with citizens. In addition, community policing often implies the transfer of democratic norms such as accountability, legitimacy, and professionalism to policing institutions. Accountability encompasses notions of transparency, democratic and civilian oversight and control, and separation from the military. Professionalism entails particular values, skills, occupational orientations, and policing of the police service. And, legitimacy refers to responsiveness to society, representativeness of personnel, and non-partisanship.

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1. Otwin Marenin, "Restoring Policing Systems in Conflict Torn Nations: Process, Problems, Prospects," Occasional Paper 7 (Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), 2005.
2. Dusko Vejnovic and Velibor Lalic, "Community Policing in a Changing World: A Case Study of Bosnia and Herzegovina," Police Practice and Research, Vol. 6, No. 4 (September 2005): 369-370.
3. UN Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Resource Centre, Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standards (New York: UNDDR, 1 August, 2006), 4.50, 11.
4. UNDDR, Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standards, 4.50, 9.
5. Michael Brogden and Preeti Nijhar, Community Policing: National and International Models and Approaches (Portland: Willan Publishing, 2005), 12.
6. Emma Phillips and Jennifer Trone, Building Public Confidence in Police Through Civilian Oversight (New York: Vera Institute, 2002), 9-10.
7. Mike Brogden, "Horses for Courses and Thin Blue Lines: Community Policing in Transitional Society," Police Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 1 (March 2005): 69.
8. Wesley Skogan and Kathleen Frydl (eds.). Fairness and Effectiveness in Policing. (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, (2004), 85.
9. Senior Police Advisor to the OSCE Secretary General, Good Practices in Building Police-Public Partnerships, (Vienna: OSCE, May 2008), 23.
10. Hesta Groenewald and Gordon Peake, Policing Reform through Community-Based Policing: Philosophy and Guidelines for Implementation (New York: International Peace Academy and Saferworld, September 2004), 9-10.
11. South Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, Philosophy and principles of community-based policing (Belgrade: SEESAC, 2007),13.
12. Groenewald and Peake, Policing Reform through Community-Based Policing: Philosophy and Guidelines for Implementation, 9-10.
13. Ibid, 4.
14. Ibid, 9-10.
15. Ibid, 9-10.

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