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Community Policing in Action: Lessons From an Observational Study

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 1998
4 pages
In 1996, researchers observed police in 12 neighborhoods in Indianapolis about 3 years after the city began to move toward community policing; these police beats experienced various degrees of socioeconomic distress but were not selected to be representative of the city as a whole.
Data were gathered through systematic observations of police patrol officers, observations of supervisors, private interviews with police patrol officers and their supervisors, and telephone interviews with residents of the 12 neighborhoods. Researchers characterized the neighborhoods using an index of socioeconomic distress that was the sum of the following percentages: labor force that was unemployed, population that was very poor, and families headed by single women. Based on this index, the neighborhoods were clustered in groups of low, medium, and high distress. The study revealed strong positive correlations between the level of socioeconomic distress and several measures of involvement with the police, including the number of calls for service received at the police dispatch center, the number of police officers responding to scenes of reported problems, and police and citizen perceptions of the severity of problems in the neighborhood. Moreover, as socioeconomic distress increased, residents felt less safe walking in their neighborhoods at night, an indication of the perceived level of safety. Compared to other citizens with whom police had contact, citizens requesting the control of other citizens were disproportionately low income and female dealing with a male police officer. The adoption of community policing positively affected the role of police supervisors, changing their primary emphasis from control to support. The Indianapolis research demonstrated perceived safety in neighborhoods was higher when police officers and residents cooperated in problem-solving. Findings, however, raised several topics for further consideration by researchers and policy-makers that focus on police-citizen cooperation, training, and the effect of police supervision styles on performance patterns of subordinates.

Date Published: June 1, 1998