The New Paradigm of Community Oriented Policing

Photo Courtesy:  Polk County Sheriff’s Office

Community-oriented policing (COP)[1] has been a staple in the lexicon of modern policing for years, although its primary thesis has been in practice much longer than it’s had an official name. In the 1890s, Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt took the New York City Police Department to a new level of police professionalism by reforming a mostly corrupt and inept organization.[2] This reformation was driven by the ever-changing dynamics of the city’s uncontrolled growth and the prevailing attitude of the influential upper class, which was concerned with the uncontrolled vices openly taking place at the time—primarily prostitution and unchecked alcohol sales. Roosevelt was in a position to effect change in a largely corrupt department that had no organizational direction.

More than 100 years later, the basic philosophy laid down by Roosevelt endures. However, demands placed on police today have required its evolution. A modern example of this type of innovation is Tampa Police Department’s Focus on Four—Crime Reduction Plan. The plan drove down Tampa’s crime rate 46% in six years.

Slippery Slope of Corruption
Since the 1960s, policing has seen a cyclical metamorphosis. After the Knapp Commission in New York, most agencies removed the walking beat cop from the neighborhood, placed them in marked cars and then shuffled them from zone to zone. Ostensibly, this was to prevent the officer from becoming too friendly with the citizens and ensure the officer didn’t accept a free meal or other gratuity from locals—the theoretical beginning of the slippery slope of corruption. This intentional separation of officers from the people of the neighborhood where they police has now put them at a disadvantage. The officer can no longer distinguish the criminals from the law-abiding citizens, engendering an us-vs.-them mentality.

Roosevelt insisted his officers be valiant and brave, never turn their backs in the face of danger, serve the public and be recognized for their good deeds. Officers were encouraged to know everyone on their beat and address all issues concerning it, whether it was a truant child or a brothel operating behind closed doors. They were instructed to exhibit “gentlemanly deportment … whether in the station house or in the street … to every man, woman or child, rich and poor alike.” A century and half later, it seemed Roosevelt’s ideals were locked away and forgotten.

Crime was spinning out of control in the late 1980s, with the introduction of crack cocaine and the easy accessibility to other drugs. Police commonly sequestered themselves in their patrol vehicles between calls. Although visible in the community, they were disengaged from it in large measure. This “respond, document and back in-service” mentality did little to solve the ultimate problem—finding a way to stop the crime.

Tailored Response
When I first hit the streets in 1991, if an officer made an arrest for an open alcohol container, the sergeant would criticize them for not making a “real” arrest. New York’s former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s Zero Tolerance policy showed that quality-of-life issues, such as public consumption of alcohol and prostitution, were at the root of more serious crime. His strategy was executed by then Commissioner William Bratton with the introduction of Compstat (comparing statistics), a program that he combined with problem-oriented policing (POP) to drastically reduce crime in NYC. Herman Goldstein, one of the foremost authorities on policing in America, postulates that once problems are identified, they require a tailored response, hence POP. The two philosophies of policing complemented one another. Officers were placed back in the neighborhood, where they were familiar with who belonged and who didn’t, who was committing crime and who was the law-abiding citizen.

Armed with this information, COP officers advise the POP units, like Anti-Crime (a plain clothes unit that works street level vice crimes and pattern crimes), who could then target those problem areas. The SARA model (Scanning, Analyzing, Responding and Assessing) is often associated with POP and is inter-woven with COP doctrine. From this synergy, Compstat was created by Bratton and his staff. Compstat was the modern-day pin map on steroids, whereby data was extracted from current crime patterns and quality of life issues were identified. Those were then pushed down to the precinct commanders, who were tasked to come up with solutions, and then held to the task of reducing crime.

Broken Windows theory—if a vacant building was left unattended with one window broken, others would be broken in a display of apathy toward the decline of the neighborhood—was now in full application. Having those officers dedicated to that neighborhood put a stop to the disorder that would hypothetically follow that first broken window. Now, the beat officer knows who owns the building, they’re contacted, the window is fixed, and the neighborhood’s integrity remains intact. Over-simplified? Yes, but illustrative.

1990s & Early 2000s
COP has been implemented in varying degrees in departments across the country, ranging from small specialty units officially designated as COP to the concept being the basic tenet of a department’s philosophy or mission statement. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, federal grants helped pay for many of the programs that departments implemented under the auspices of COP, whether through purchasing equipment and training or paying the salaries of designated COP officers. After 9/11 many of the COP monies dried up or were redirected due to reprioritizing missions relevant to homeland security. Those departments that had dedicated COP officers reassigned them back into patrol, either shelving the program entirely or adopting the philosophy departmentwide. However, at the grassroots level, COP was here to stay, and these former full-time COP officers brought their experiences back to the street.

Now the latest buzz is intelligence-led policing (ILP), which J.H. Ratliff defines in his book, Intelligence Led Policing, as “a business model and managerial philosophy where data analysis and crime intelligence are pivotal to an objective, decision-making framework that facilitates crime and problem reduction, disruption and prevention through both strategic management and effective enforcement strategies that target prolific and serious offenders.”

This new business model for policing is catching on throughout the country, which at its basic tenet is much like Compstat. Many departments have created ILP units that include both civilian analysts and sworn officers. The sole function of these units is to collect information on known criminals and crime statistics and to determine crime patterns, which are then formulated into actionable intelligence (taken from military vernacular). This intelligence is then pushed out to the street units. Ideally, officers armed with this intelligence interrupt crime by concentrating their efforts.

As with every other intelligence driven program, it’s imperative that officers understand how important their role in collecting information is to the entire process. The old cliché “garbage in, garbage out” has never been more applicable. Officers must be proactive to collect any bit of information and push it to the department’s intelligence unit, which will push an intelligence product out to the consumer—the street officer. Today’s officers have an infinite amount of information readily available, but they don’t always have time to research and interpret it. That’s why it’s critical for the analyst to put out a product that the officer can take action on. (For more information on the role of crime analysts, see p. 38.)

As agencies begin to take an ILP approach to combat crime, SARA could now be replaced with U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd’s OODA loop—observe, orient, decide and act.[3] Boyd was a fighter pilot who applied the OODA loop while in the air engaging enemy aircraft. He postulates that not only do we use the OODA loop, but so does our opponent, whether that person be military, business or criminal, and once you disrupt any component of the loop you have an advantage over your opponent.

The New Paradigm of COP
Which theory, when put into practice, works best for combating crime? The answer: all of them. Today’s street cop spends most of the shift responding from call to call and trying to work a zone, while also trying to get out in the neighborhood to talk to the people when not taking calls. When investigating crime, the effective officer uses the tool that best applies to the situation he faces. Accountability works both ways: The street officer answers to the sergeant, who deals with the lieutenant who, in turn, answers to the captain, who sits right behind the major as the assistant chief and chief of police want to know why crime in their district is occurring and what the plan is to combat it.

Today’s officer must have the intelligence to interpret all available information, the desire to effect change in the neighborhood they patrol and the unrelenting desire to work all angles to restore order. The days of riding through a neighborhood and waiting for the radio to dispatch a call are long gone. Information must be pushed to the appropriate units, transformed into actionable intelligence and then pushed back out to the officers as a product that can be used. The new paradigm in which we operate in is COP, POP, ILP and Compstat—all in one. It’s GPW: Good Police Work.

Label it as you wish, but know that to be successful in today’s ever-changing environment, policing must adapt to new ideas and rediscover some of the old ones. Our motto must be: Semper Gumby, which means “always flexible.” Our mantra: Patrol it like you live there.


  1. 1. The U.S Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing defines COP “as a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder and fear of crime.”
  2. 2. Berman JS: Police Administration and Progressive Reform, Theodore Roosevelt as Police Commissioner of New York. Greenwood Press. Westport, Conn. 1987.
  3. 3. According to John Boyd, decision making occurs in a cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. An entity (either an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly can get inside the opponent’s decision cycle and gain a military or business advantage.


Further Reading

Andrews A: Citizens in Action: The Story of T.R. as Police Commissioner. Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library (typescript). Cambridge, Mass. 1958.

Ratliff JH: Intelligence Led Policing. Willian Publishing. Portland, Ore. 2008.

Tampa Police Department: Focus on Four— Crime Reduction Plan.

Tampa, Fla. 2009.

Ed Croissant is a Corporal with the Tampa Police Department, Tampa, Florida. He is a police trainer in various general topics, including firearms, use of force and weapons of mass destruction.  He is an Adjunct Professor at Hillsborough Community College.  Ed is a Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves, holds a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology from St. Leo College and a Master of Arts with a concentration in Homeland Security from American Military University.

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