Making a Difference With Community Policing

Many in law enforcement have said that they have been doing community policing before it became popular.  And, in all likelihood, they have been doing problem solving with the community to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods where they work.  Call it beat health, problem oriented policing or community policing, the bottom line is making life better for others.  This effective customer service is done traditionally through problem identification, prioritization and development and implementation of an action plan.

Upon becoming a police chief, many merchants complained about young people loitering in the downtown area on Friday nights.  It wasn’t a crime issue but quality of life with “too many” youth standing around.  I met with the Park and Recreation District’s to discuss this issue.  The most popular idea was to provide a regular event in the summer for youth to attend.  The council and department designed a series of garage band concerts, found a sponsor for sound and stipends for the musicians.  The bands that played each Friday night would be local “garage” bands that were generally well known by the teen crowd. As soon as the outdoor concerts started, the loitering problem went away.

One of the other positive aspects of engaging with our communities is the opportunity to really know their department.  The Dragnet philosophy of “Just the facts ma’am” significantly limits the ability to develop relationships that could transform a community.  My initial reaction as a younger officer to open up was to provide very little about myself.  But that didn’t feel comfortable as I took the job to serve people and I could serve them better if they knew ME.   Talking sports and current events really brought me closer to those on my beat and district. Not every project worked to 100% success but we had a team and preconceived biases about law enforcement officers were removed by being me.

We need to show our community who we are and that we will to work together to make that difference that we all need today.


Pete Dunbar is a FirstNet Learning Law Enforcement Content Advisor.  He is a former Captain of the Oakland, CA Police Department and Chief of Police for the City of Pleasant Hill, CA, as well as the former Director of Colorado POST.  Mr. Dunbar instructs on law enforcement nationwide.

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