Social Work Community Policing
George Patterson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0239


Community policing is a model of policing that is different from traditional models of policing that focus on the crime functions of law enforcement. Community policing involves the community and police working together on common community issues or problems. Consequently, a closely related model of policing is problem-oriented policing. Some literature may also use the term “community-oriented policing.” The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office of the US Department of Justice defines community policing as “a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that 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” (Community Oriented Policing Services Office 2014, cited under Modern Perspectives, p. 1). Some scholars have suggested that as a result of the varied terms and definitions used to describe community policing, the result has been difficulty with implementing and evaluating community-policing initiatives. Indeed, numerous additional obstacles to implementing community-policing initiatives exist, such as the law enforcement organizational bureaucracy, police officers’ attitudes toward community policing, community residents’ attitudes toward the community policing, and funding to support such initiatives. The implementation of community policing in US law enforcement agencies is so important that each year millions of dollars are awarded to law enforcement agencies to assist with the implementation of community-policing initiatives. The areas of community partnerships and problem solving are most likely to involve social work. Given that the formation of community partnerships and the use of problem-solving techniques by law enforcement agencies are more likely to involve the social work profession than organizational strategies, and because minimal literature is available to guide the profession in the areas of community policing in which social workers are involved, this article primarily focuses on partnerships and problem solving. Social workers can participate in problem solving with law enforcement by using their knowledge of social problems, human behavior, and community resources. Moreover, social workers, particularly those engaged in community-organizing activities, are likely to encounter law enforcement agencies involved in community-policing initiatives. As a method of social work practice, community organizing provides social workers with unique skills that can be used specific to community policing. However, community-policing efforts do not utilize the social work profession and partnerships with social-service agencies enough, at least on the basis of published reports. Certainly, minimal published information is available that can be used to guide such efforts. Consequently, it is important for social workers to understand how community policing is defined, its history, barriers to implementation, and exemplary models of community policing. In order for social workers to collaborate with law enforcement agencies on community-policing initiatives or police social work (see George Patterson’s Oxford Bibliographies article “Police Social Work”), they require knowledge of community-policing concepts and its functions, and the roles of law enforcement and community residents in these initiatives. The citations in this article will aid social workers in understanding the nature of community-policing initiatives and the available evidence supporting community-policing initiatives. More partnerships between social work and law enforcement are needed to address community problems. This article provides examples of initiatives that can be used to guide social work efforts. Taken together, this information can serve as a reference for social workers interested in developing and implementing community-policing initiatives with law enforcement agencies. The author thanks Alexander King for assistance with the search strategy and retrieving citations.

Introductory Works

Although different definitions have been used to define community policing, perhaps what distinguishes community policing from other models of policing (such as zero-tolerance policing) is the involvement of community residents. Community residents and community agencies are viewed as a central component of community policing. Some scholars suggest that improved police-community relations are a “byproduct” of community policing and not the actual intended goal (e.g., Trojanowicz and Carter 1988, cited under Books). Nonetheless, community residents are affected by community-policing initiatives due to their close involvement. Community-policing initiatives are not unique to the United States or to specific law enforcement agencies; they exist in some form in numerous countries, although the approaches vary. These introductory works, which are essential for understanding community policing, are international in scope and include scholarship written by experts in community policing. Greene and Mastrofski 1988 examines community policing with an international focus and explores whether community policing has been effective in achieving its intended aims. Hall 1990 examines questions that explore the goals of community policing, why it has become popular, definitions, different forms, and unresolved issues in community policing. Oliver 2000 presents a collection of readings written by community-policing experts that address all aspects of community policing, including its historical development. Similarly, Reisig and Kane 2014 is a handbook that contains scholarly work written by experts in community policing, and it covers a range of topics such as comparing and contrasting community policing with other policing models. Skogan 2004 uses data to describe trends in community policing, Skolnick and Bayley 1988 examines community-policing initiatives that have been implemented in numerous countries, and Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux 1990 provides an excellent historical overview of community policing and addresses several late-20th-century community groups that are likely to be the focus of community-policing initiatives. Although outdated, Trojanowicz and Dixon 1974 provides a groundbreaking discussion concerning the need for community policing, in an essential work focused on police-community relations with a variety of community groups.

  • Eck, John E., and William Spelman. 1987. Who ya gonna call? The police as problem-busters. Crime & Delinquency 33.1: 31–52.

    DOI: 10.1177/0011128787033001003

    This article is an excellent historical overview and summary describing the implementation of problem-oriented policing in two law enforcement organizations. Problem-oriented policing is presented as an alternative both to community policing and crime control policing.

  • Goldstein, Herman. 1987. Toward community-oriented policing: Potential, basic requirements, and threshold questions. Crime & Delinquency 33.1: 6–30.

    DOI: 10.1177/0011128787033001002

    This important article describes the early beginnings of problem-oriented policing. Goldstein is a pioneer in problem-oriented policing and suggests that officers should view their work as resolving problems rather than incidents.

  • Greene, Jack R., and Stephen D. Mastrofski, eds. 1988. Community policing: Rhetoric or reality. New York: Praeger.

    This important book provides a comprehensive overview of community policing in Canada, England, Wales, and the US cities of Baltimore, Houston, and New York City. Emphasis is placed on whether community policing is an effective policing model. Valuable information is provided for determining how community-policing effectiveness can be assessed.

  • Hall, Donna L. 1990. Community policing: An overview of the literature. Public Policy Report 1.1. Albany: New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

    This is an important resource for social workers needing a brief overview of community policing. This public-policy report provides an excellent, concise overview defining community policing, its forms, and its goals, as well as discussing why it is popular, evidence describing effectiveness, and initiatives to address drug problems.

  • Oliver, Willard M., ed. 2000. Community policing: Classical readings. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    This essential book contains classical readings that cover seminal topics in community policing, such as “broken windows” and problem-solving policing. Works by key scholars in community policing, such as Herman Goldstein, John Eck, and Stephen Mastrofski, are represented among these readings.

  • Reisig, Michael D., and Robert J. Kane, eds. 2014. The Oxford handbook of police and policing. Oxford Handbooks in Criminology and Criminal Justice. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A useful overview for understanding race and ethnicity, policing approaches, and police research. This practical reference contains chapters written by experts that identify community policing, problem-oriented policing, order maintenance, zero tolerance, and policing vulnerable populations, allowing readers to compare and contrast the models and to better understand community policing.

  • Skogan, Wesley G., ed. 2004. Community policing: Can it work. Wadsworth Professionalism in Policing. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth / Thomson Learning.

    This book, useful for examining the types of data that provide evidence for community-policing effectiveness, utilizes survey data to describe trends in community policing. Also provides an excellent overview of community policing, with topics such as the relationship between community policing and problem-oriented policing.

  • Skolnick, Jerome H., and David H. Bayley. 1988. Community policing: Issues and practices around the world. Issues and Practices in Criminal Justice. Washington, DC: ABT.

    Community-policing initiatives are examined in Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Japan, and Singapore, providing excellent discussion. Enables readers to compare and contrast these varied initiatives as they exist throughout the world.

  • Trojanowicz, Robert C., and Bonnie Bucqueroux. 1990. Community policing: A contemporary perspective. Cincinnati: Anderson.

    This book provides an excellent historical overview of community policing and research on community policing and its effectiveness. Examines community policing in the context of late-20th-century policing as a whole, including topics such as community policing with people of color, gangs, juveniles, homeless individuals, and undocumented immigrants, as well as discussing drug use.

  • Trojanowicz, Robert C., and Samuel L. Dixon. 1974. Criminal justice and the community. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

    This text, although dated and out of print, provides a timeless overview of the need for police relations with diverse community groups. Provides an essential early work for understanding the foundation of community policing, including early references and definitions of community policing and an overview of the functions of community policing.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.