Community Policing or Homeland Security: Sophie’s Choice for Police?

On Sept. 12, 2001, the Dearborn, Mich., Police Department put officers on 12-hour shifts for the first time in years. The purpose was so police could provide extra patrol around mosques, the Arab-American business district and schools with the largest...


Not ‘Sophie’s Choice’

Law enforcement experts generally agree that community policing and homeland security are not mutually exclusive policing philosophies. It doesn’t have to be a “Sophie’s Choice,” an impossible dilemma of either-or. The two missions actually share a number of commonalities. Friedmann says the informed local police chief needs to address both the threats of terrorism and provide responses to traditional crime. “The desired role of local law enforcement in homeland security policy is more fully realized when an agency employs community policing principles as an integral part of its homeland security efforts. Focusing only on counter-terrorism is no longer enough.”

Friedmann says countries like Israel and England have found that focusing on terrorism will not suffice, since the public is more interested in traditional police services that address street crime and crimes against property. “You can’t just simply say you’re busy with terrorism,” he says. “More people are affected by traditional crime than by terrorism.”

The most apparent overlap between the two approaches relates to the manner in which they manage the prevention and response to crime and terrorism, particularly if terrorism is recognized as a criminal activity. Through this classification, the function of police departments coincides with the objectives of homeland security — the prevention, detection and eradication of criminal activity through effective law enforcement.

“When local police employ a community policing strategy, they not only satisfy the aims of domestic security, but also alleviate many of the known shortcomings that often plague these policies,” Friedmann says.

Stanley Supinski, director of Partnership Programs at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security, and an instructor in the Homeland Security Management Institute, Long Island University, says proven methodologies, especially those that serve to develop and improve ties to communities and constituents, can serve to support new law enforcement roles and missions — in this case homeland security.

“Research is clearly showing that implementing community oriented policing strategies and tactics can assist law enforcement agencies with preventing both crime and terrorism,” Supinski writes in a recent Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management paper titled “Policing and Community Relations in the Homeland Security Era.”

Supinski advocates a concept he calls “community oriented homeland security” that uses the concepts of community policing to not only support law enforcement, but also to engage the public, with a concept it understands, in all aspects of the homeland security enterprise.

“It goes beyond the prevention aspect to preparedness, response and recovery in the aftermath of disasters,” he says. Supinski says the key is to develop and maintain strong, positive community relations that clearly support law enforcement’s role in homeland security.

Achieving a balance between the two competing philosophies while preserving civil liberties at the same time can be a delicate matter, but other studies suggest that by adopting community policing principles it is possible to reduce civil rights violations associated with ethnic profiling performed behind the mask of homeland security. The idea is to develop a strong enough communication network between the police and public that false rumors so inaccurate reports of police operations can be prevented.

“Traditional intelligence methods have limited power to penetrate Middle Eastern communities,” Supinski says. Instead, cooperation, along with solid communications networks and increased trust, allows police to develop sources for information inside the community, which could provide vital intelligence relating to potential terror activity.

“Otherwise, it will be impossible for intelligence officers to penetrate these communities,” says Supinski.

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