Community Policing in the Time of Austerity

VICESSE, May 2017

During the first phase of INSPEC2T, interviews with members of LEAs, involved in Community Policing (CP) programs in eight European partner countries were conducted. The findings allow the comparison of socio-cultural, organizational, and legal aspects of the respective CP initiatives. The countries involved can be distinguished between the Anglo-Saxon Common Law tradition, where community oriented policing practices have been more engrained, and the Continental legal tradition, where one of the challenges has been to transfer notions of service-orientation into policing styles that historically grew out of a state-centered legalistic control paradigm.

Literature has identified a number of obstacles and challenges for implementing CP, such as a lack of a clear definition, indicating a wide variety of different CP goals and practices, tensions between the consent and control paradigm, as well as lack of institutional commitment (status of CP officers, resources, incentives), and doubts in respect to which communities can be successfully addressed and engaged, to name the most prevalent.

Community Policing programs exhibit varying stages of organizational implementation across specific INSPEC2T partner countries and the EU in general. While different social and legal cultures affect the way CP is implemented, the “maturity” of CP is largely owed to organizational and economic factors.

Budget reductions and austerity measures keep affecting not only law enforcement agencies and Community Policing departments, but the communities they are supposed to serve. The success of the INSPEC2T system will depend on these situational factors and bears the potential to mitigate these effects.

A number of European countries, including several partner countries involved in the INSPEC2T project, have been affected by different economic and political crises in recent years. Reduced budgets for law enforcement agencies in general, and CP programs in particular have been a common thread in the surveys among LEA practitioners. However, in many cases these reductions have been preceded by cuts to social welfare initiatives, organizations and institutions, which form an integral counterpart and point of contact in any successful community engagement endeavor.

To take the example of Greece, where in April 2015 the CP program was revived for the third time, banks were closed in July 2015 and in October 2015 a peak of refugee influx was reached of what will have become 800,000 refugees until the end of this year. Not only CP, but policing in general, became crisis policing rather. “Where there was one person in the street before, there are now ten.”, as one CPO put it (Interview, Greece, September 2015).

Other, although similar, effects were reported in countries with much longer traditions in CP, such as in Spain, UK or Northern Ireland: A cutback in CP officers results in larger areas to be covered by fewer members of the force, resulting in a decreased frequency of visits and contacts and a prolonged response time. In addition, CPOs are requested to take over other policing tasks resulting in a conflicted CP identity, which is deeply rooted in being able to solve problems effectively. On the other hand, cooperating institutions (social work, housing representatives) subject to similar cuts, are breaking away, meaning tasks can not only no longer be shared with Civil society organizations, but have to be taken on by the police, with an increase in distrust of citizens and a devaluation of genuine CP tasks within LEAs as a result. The downward spiral again results in an increase of psychiatric cases ending up with the police. If CP should “reflect the make-up of society”, their conditions give warranted concern for the communities they are supposed to serve.

Social and cultural challenges notwithstanding, these economic realities have to be taken into account when developing new tools for CP. ICT-mediated solutions are no silver bullet to solve these issues, and in the short term may even require more resources. However, they bear the potential to aid citizens and the community against this background, which must be the aim of INSPEC2T.