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Another Voice: Community policing can break down barriers

By Marian Bass

Well over a generation ago, the Buffalo Police Community Services unit was added to the police hierarchy of services to help maximize public safety.

As its first director, I was assigned a staff composed of both sworn and civilian personnel. Our objective was to try to develop those worthwhile programs that would bring about wider understanding, systematic communication and more harmonious relations between the police and the public.

Community policing involves police striving to deal with issues while improving their own image in the process. It is directly antithetical to the traditional image of reacting to crime, for its principles are predicated upon the prevention of crime. Community policing is community peacemaking. It is an ideological change in how police must deal with citizens.

It means that public safety and protection are not the exclusive concern of law enforcement agencies, but the concern of the entire community. Thus its implementation is not a simple matter. It cannot be achieved through the issuance of a general order mandating change. It must be organized around specific goals and a set of priorities that are credible to both the police and the public. We are, in essence, asking the police to improve the community’s racial climate.

Foot patrol is an important aspect of community policing and is regaining popularity in many departments. But beyond its popularity, there is no visible proof that it reduces crime. When foot patrols are instituted, however, the degree of fear in the community seems to diminish.

But if foot patrol does not actually aid in reducing crime, should it be utilized simply because it makes citizens feel safer? Despite its feel-good quality, there should be serious misgivings. Violence in some inner-city neighborhoods reflects not only serious black-on-black crime, but in some instances a great hostility toward police. To expose a young officer, black or white, to patrol on foot in certain sections of the city, where they are most needed, may be foolhardy, and deserves rethinking as a police strategy. Antipathy toward police knows no color line in neighborhoods where homicides are common and commonly unsolved.

Foot patrol is only one aspect of community policing. Responsible citizens live in immense fear and press for more police protection. The problem is compounded when mixed messages are sent to police. The cry is for more aggressive patrol, yet police are often accused of using too much force.

Community policing is not a cure-all for violence, but it is an opportunity for departments to prove that police are a part of, not apart from, the community.

Marian Bass, of Amherst, is retired from the Buffalo Police Department, where she was the first female captain.

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