Building Police/Community Relations through Virtual Communities

Building Police/Community Relations through Virtual Communities

Susan A. Baim
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch070
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Over the past two decades, police departments around the globe have been involved in a slow, but steady transition from call-based policing to community-oriented policing. The former approach, while effective at closing cases once a crime has occurred, does little to develop crime prevention partnerships between officers on the beat and the citizens of local communities. Community-oriented policing serves to increase awareness of issues and potential problems before they occur, thus assisting police departments to provide a more proactive approach to stopping crime within their communities. One of the greatest difficulties in developing effective community-oriented policing programs is establishing solid, two-way communications links between police officers and the populations that they serve. Information flow to the police and suggestions back to the citizenry often fall victim to the same constraints—lack of time to interact effectively and lack of a ready-made mechanism to deliver the information in a timely manner. To reduce or eliminate these constraints, interactive police department Web sites and virtual communities (that involve both police officers and citizens) can provide actionable and measurable performance increases in the efficiencies and the effectiveness of community-oriented policing efforts. Although the IT hardware, software, and design expertise needed to create interactive Web sites and virtual communities are readily available, online efforts at community-oriented policing will remain more of a theoretical interest than a broad-scale application until police departments truly understand the needs and the wants of the citizens within their local communities. This article explores a service-learning approach for use in a university classroom that combines IT applications with current research practices in the use of citizen satisfaction surveys conducted for local police departments. Examples are drawn from three primary-based research studies involving police departments that are turning away from call-based policing practices and proactively moving toward community- oriented policing practices.
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Descriptions of community-oriented policing efforts may be found in the literature as early as the 1960s, although the majority of papers published date from the mid-1990s to the present day. Successful community-oriented policing programs began to emerge as departments returned to fundamental cop-on-the-beat policing that put officers back in close contact with citizens in their neighborhoods and in their places of business (Sissom, 1996). The knowledge gained from the early community-oriented policing efforts was used to improve departmental training efforts and also used to focus police officers more closely on crime prevention techniques. Community-oriented policing practices have continued to evolve in more recent studies where most authors focus on how the police can better identify specific issues that are divisive within their respective communities (Culbertson, 2000; Vincent, 1999; Woods, 1999; Rohe, Adams & Arcury, 2001).

Key Terms in this Chapter

This work was previously published in Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology: edited by M. Khosrow-Pour, pp. 318-324, copyright 2005 by Information Science Reference, formerly known as Idea Group Reference (an imprint of IGI Global)

Virtual Community: An online forum or discussion group through which members may interact either in real time or asynchronously. Most virtual communities use discussion groups and message boards that are accessible online to all members. Members correspond by posting messages back and forth within the forum. Membership in a virtual community indicates that the user shares one or more common interests with others in the same forum.

Call-Based Policing: Traditional policing approach whereby officers respond to emergency calls for assistance and address crimes and other situations after the fact.

IT Applications: Research and development work performed to create a situation-specific bridge between new or existing IT hardware and software technologies and the information needs/wants of a customer. The combination of proper hardware, software, and tailored application delivers a well-rounded IT solution for the customer’s problem.

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