Current models of civilian oversight explicitly separate the roles of the community and the police in the decision-making process. In fact, most civilian oversight exists to address the consequences of decisions already made by the police. The Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing reinforces this separation by recommending “some form of civilian oversight in order to strengthen trust with the community,” and yet it acknowledges there is no evidence to support this recommendation. The President’s Task Force rightly calls for more research into the efficacy of civilian oversight, but there is another model that may be better suited to address the police legitimacy concerns fueling the demand for civilian oversight. In this model there is no need for civilian oversight of the police, as the public and the police share the responsibility for determining the course of policing in their community. This “co-policing” model is called community-led policing. Members of the public do not merely serve in an advisory capacity to the police; rather, they have an equal, if not leading role in determining how their community is to be policed. Consequently, community-led policing supports procedural justice through giving voice to the public, which in turn confers legitimacy to the police in a way that civilian oversight can’t.
While community policing is seen as a philosophy that promotes partnerships in solving crime and disorder problems, community-led policing is an organizational framework that transforms the philosophy of community policing into action. Community-led policing begins at the strategic level, with the community creating the vision they desire for their police agency. The community and the police then collaborate to develop a long-term strategic plan to achieve the vision. Once the strategic plan is set in motion, a second level of collaboration is necessary, one that provides regular communication between the community and the police regarding the progress of the strategic plan. One such approach is a current initiative called Compstat 2.0 being developed jointly by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Police Foundation. Compstat 2.0 is defined as “a performance management system that is used to address community harms… accountability to community, satisfaction and legitimacy through community policing and problem solving.” The critical phrase in this definition is “community harms,” purposefully used to encompass far more than crime alone as in a traditional Compstat model. Community harms are identified during the strategic planning process, and Compstat 2.0 could serve as a platform to communicate the progress in addressing these harms, providing both transparency and accountability. Finally, community-led policing involves systems that monitor its impact on community perception, routinely reporting the results back to the public and creating a feedback loop to inform necessary changes in strategy or tactics, or in the management of the agency.
Over the course of the next 9 months, the Vera Institute and the Police Foundation will solicit and use feedback from law enforcement, community advocates, and police scholars to formalize the concept. Likewise, much work remains in fully developing a practical model of community-led policing, but there are agencies that have engaged in practices that illustrate the critical elements of community-led policing. Former Greenville, NC, Police Chief Hassan Aden developed an initiative that brought the community and the police together for the purpose of developing a new strategic plan. Another example to consider is the Broken Arrow, OK, Police Department’s Shared Leadership Model. Though it is an internal organizational model, its outcomes point to the increase in stakeholder ownership that may be achieved through community-led policing and demonstrate ways that this level of ownership can (and should) be quantified. The Lincoln, NE, Police Department has a lengthy track record of citizen involvement in its operations, resulting from an organizational value system designed to share responsibility with the community to maintain safe, livable neighborhoods. Finally, Seattle’s Community Police Commission provides one of the more comprehensive example to guide the development of community-led policing. While it remains an advisory body only, it could serve as a blueprint for the basic structure and processes of community-led policing, including working its groups that currently address the specific issues of accountability, training, and community engagement. These examples, along with the ideas behind Compstat 2.0, provide the framework for a practical community-led policing model that may strengthen trust with the community far more effectively than civilian oversight.