Cops and Communities

I

n the years before the Crime Bill’s passage, many Americans were questioning the efficacy of policing strategies, and not infrequently the motives of their local police. Crime rates throughout the 1970s and 1980s were rising, a phenomenon magnified by increased media attention. The beating of Rodney King in 1991, captured on film, put police brutality on an endless loop. The Los Angeles riots the following year illustrated massive anger, alienation, and frayed public trust.

Against this backdrop, lawmakers included federal funding for 100,000 new officers in the Crime Bill and created the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). COPS was authorized to distribute $8.8 billion in federal grants to fund initiatives and strategies designed to embrace the principles of community policing—an approach to achieving more effective police responses to crime and other public safety concerns through the pursuit and development of meaningful relationships and trust with the people they serve.

Since the Crime Bill’s passage, policing doubtlessly became more complicated when the post-9/11 era introduced domestic security and fighting terrorism as heightened priorities. Steadily dropping crime rates paradoxically intensified pressures to reduce rates further, giving way to overuse of aggressive strategies like stop, question, and frisk. And rapidly changing demographics and growing immigrant populations have created cultural challenges and language barriers in communities that have previously seen little diversity.

After 20 years, the impact of the bill’s influx of money and manpower remains uncertain. Recent events—from those in Ferguson, Missouri to New York City—demonstrate that mistrust between many communities, particularly minority ones, and law enforcement remains stubborn and deep, and that the promise of community policing remains to be fulfilled.

Richard Stanek: Technology and policing

"Law enforcement wants to understand what the bounderies are by which the citizens we police want us to police."

“The number of citizens who are satisfied with policing in New Orleans has doubled."
Mitch Landrieu
Mayor of New Orleans
Bill Bratton: Community policing

"The most significant impact of the omnibus crime bill is that it institutionalized the community policing philosophy...The biggest benefit of all was that it created a generation of police leaders...government officials, and...community leaders who all understood and embraced the importance of that partnership concept."

Susan Shah: Policing diversified communities

"There is still work to be done, particularly when you look at the diversification of so many communities in this country."