Real community policing

Terri Buckner has long been interested in the livability of our community. Here’s her take on the role of policing in Chapel Hill:

In March of 2011, the Chapel Hill Town Council, in response to a community-generated petition, created the Community Policing Advisory Committee as one of its standing advisory boards. The citizen petitions which initiated the creation of this new committee consistently requested the creation of a civilian review board, so I’m unclear as to where the “community policing” descriptor came from in the official name. Community policing is a term with specific meaning.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, community policing is “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.” The key elements of community policing are 1) creating partnerships with other groups and organizations within the community, and 2) making every effort to prevent crime before it occurs. SARA (scan, analyze, respond, assess) is the conceptual framework referenced by the Department of Justice for systematically analyzing problems when they arise.

It’s not clear to me whether the Chapel Hill Police Department has embraced this nationally recognized approach to community policing or a hybrid approach. Over the past 20 years, they have established a number of policing kiosks located throughout the community, but nowhere in the official literature do I find a specific statement embracing the community policing philosophy.

Does it matter? I think it does. Much of the community response to the CHPD response to the Yates Building incident boils down to a difference of opinion in how we, as a community, perceive the policing function. Do we want a traditional police approach or do we want a community policing model? In the 1990s I spent 5 years as the editor for a community policing research agency in Florida. Based on what I learned there, these are two diametrically opposed approaches. Traditional police departments concentrate power and decision-making centrally while community policing agencies empower individual officers to make decisions. Traditional police departments respond to problems; community policing departments make every effort to prevent problems.

In analyzing Chief Blue’s memorandum, I do see elements of a community policing approach through the collaboration with the Downtown Partnership staff in communicating with the protesters, and his description of the decision-making process sounds very much like the SARA model. On the other hand, it also sounds like all decisions were made centrally rather than by the field officers and, per Dan Coleman’s report, individual officers had the opportunity to intercede and didn’t.

Whether or not the Town Council decides to fund the external review of the Yates incident, I hope this situation, from the incident itself to the conflicting response from the community, will initiate a fuller discussion of the role of policing in Chapel Hill.

— Terri Buckner

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  1. Fred Black

     /  January 16, 2012

    Lots of great info on Community Policing in the CHPL Strategic Plan. I don’t know if it is online but the CHPD can tell you.

    The key in the name issue is “review” vs. “advisory.” The jurisdictions in NC with review boards have legislative authority to review personnel files. Without that authority, calling it a “review board” didn’t make sense to the majority of citizens who were on the group that helped to structure the CPAC

  2. Terri Buckner

     /  January 16, 2012

    Thanks Fred. I haven’t been able to find any CHPD planning documents online, and according to Chapelboro they are still in the process of developing a 2012 strategic plan ( But I’ve emailed the CHPD public information officer and asked for an electronic copy of the current strategic plan.

  3. runner

     /  January 16, 2012

    What, you can’t even get a Chapel Hill resident to write about Chapel Hill? Just goes to show how fringe Chapel Hill’s politics has become.