In today's climate of perceived police brutality and distrust between communities and police officers, something has to give. Over the years, evidence has shown a need for a police force that is in tune with the community to which it serves. This idea has brought about the community policing strategy which began in the UK and many other countries whom were transitioning from authoritarian to a liberal democracy during the 1970s.
At the time of the inception of this idea of community policing, it was considered widely as the “new orthodox” and would later be adopted here in the United States.
The year 1992 turned out to be one of the worst years of totality of crimes nationwide and President Bill Clinton and his administration knew something had to be done. The proposed and enacted solution was Community Policing Grants.
Community Policing Grants allowed the federal government to fund local communities for a three-year term in an attempt to fix problems within individual neighborhoods.
Implementation in Kansas City
In Kansas City, along with other regions around the country, the formation of a Community Action Network (CAN) occurred in 1994 as a result from the grants authorized through President Clinton’s administration. The Westside CAN in Kansas City employs a director, a neighborhood specialist, a code enforcement officer, and two Kansas City Police Officers who work in plain clothes.
The group maintains a mission of creating a “safe, healthy, viable, civically-engaged neighborhood in which to live, play, and work.” They operate under the pretense that they work for the community and in doing so have altered the trust pendulum the community has for the police.
During the early 1990s, the Kansas City community as a whole largely refused to inform the police of any illegal activity due to the perception of corruption and distrust between the local population and the policing force. The authoritarian method being used during this time, primarily immigration sweeps, had no traction in cutting the violence within the area, but rather quite the opposite.
I conducted an interview with Retired Officer Matt Tomasic, one of the first officers to run and implement Community Policing within Kansas City, and he said this “zero tolerance” way of policing and the use of “immigration sweeps accomplished nothing for cleaning up the streets or deterring those committing crimes." Tomasic added, “No matter how many people we arrested, nothing changed. We come to find out we would hurt one person and help another at the same time. As we took one criminal off the street, it only promoted the next person in the criminal hierarchy.”
Change in Methods
After many years of trial and error, Tomasic and his partner, Officer Chatto, adapted to their community and began community policing by adhering to the link of social order.
This theory, introduced by George Kelling and James Q. Wilson in 1982, rationalized that “If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in run-down ones…One unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing."
The Westside CAN took this theory that “early signs of neighborhood deterioration escalate quickly into increased crime and blight” and began a mission to change the community to discourage crime and illegal activity. Tomasic and Chatto, along with the other members of the CAN, improved the image and the culture of the way people think of police within their neighborhood. This has resulted in reduced crime through neighborhood maintenance, prevention, enforcement, and community bonding activities.
Is it Working?
Tomasic stated: “To effectively fix a community ridden with crime, you have to treat the people with respect, and it starts with the kids.”
Since incorporating this mentality crime rates have dropped more than 50 percent, and the quality of life has improved. This has, in turn, increased economic development and growth. The use of community policing has changed the life of the residents residing within the Kansas City region and has brought the community and the police force closer together.
Is this something that should be studied and looked at closer to help fix the stigma and tension between communities and the officers who patrol it?
"Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together." - James Cash Penney