By Joshua Ederheimer, Acting Director, U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
s we approach the 20-year anniversary of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), we've begun to reflect on both the numerous contributions made and the many, many changes the agency has seen. Signed into existence by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the COPS Office began under one primary charge—let’s fight crime by adding more officers to the field. But almost immediately, it became clear that the addition of personnel alone would not solve the issues plaguing so many U.S. cities. It would take the institutionalization of the philosophy that collaboration, problem-solving, and organizational change would lead to better policing and safer communities. It would take involvement from everyone–communities, law enforcement, businesses, and schools. It would mean that engagement becomes just as important as enforcement.
In the span of 20 years, priorities among law enforcement changed frequently and rapidly. In that same time period, federal assistance for law enforcement saw all-time highs and some very dramatic lows. Through it all, the definition of community policing remained consistent—better ideas to address public safety issues, strategic initiatives within departments to better efficiency, and concentrated involvement at all levels. And of those components, the collaboration among public safety groups, and the creation of an enormous network of partners has made the most significant impact on policing and providing safer neighborhoods.
It is easy to identify most of the partners that have made community policing their key tool in advancing public safety. For the COPS Office, that list includes over 90 percent of the nation’s law enforcement agencies that have instituted community policing ideas within their region. The COPS Office has partnered with these agencies to help hire additional officers, acquire new crime-fighting technologies, develop and deliver training opportunities and resources, promote safer schools, and secure policing services for tribal areas. More than $13 billion has been delivered to the field to promote community policing, an investment that police chiefs from all over the United States will say has supported their most immediate needs and resulted in their most notable successes.
The contributions made by the COPS Office over the last two decades have been well-received among congressional colleagues, municipal leaders, federal peers, and local law enforcement. That funding has also played a key role in providing the COPS Office the footing needed to surpass the label of being strictly a funding component. Today, the COPS Office utilizes an army of partners to provide focus on our most troubling problems and action in our most troubled communities.
We’ve partnered with practitioners throughout the field on a number of key initiatives aimed at bettering the practice of policing. And of those endeavors, none has been more important than the collaborative work aimed at decreasing the number of officer fatalities. Our work in this area has been complemented by the consistent and sincere participation of agencies and officials of all types. At the Attorney General’s direction, the COPS Office, along with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, was asked to coordinate a working group to look at the issue of officer fatalities, the causes, and the best practices available to help decrease the number of incidents.
With a number of interested partners—including IACP—we have maintained one of the most notable efforts ever launched by our office. With meetings held several times each year since 2011, the group has made significant strides in convening the right people to discuss the right topics. We’ve taken a hard look at ambush attacks, traffic accidents, and the stress of the job on an officer’s health. Over the course of the Officer Safety and Wellness Group’s scheduled meetings, we’ve seen a decline in officer fatalities, dropping from 165 in 2011 to 27 in 2012. While there are a number of factors that contribute to that decrease, it has been pointed out that increased vigilance and better information sharing—a product of the Officer Safety and Wellness Group meetings—as helped lower those numbers.
In similar fashion, we’ve partnered with IACP to take a deeper look at officer suicides. This past July, the COPS Office, along with IACP and a group of 50 law enforcement practitioners and researchers from around the nation, met for one of the first formal group discussions on officer suicides. The discussion centered on advancements made in sharing accurate data on officer suicides, plus suggested improvements in providing officers the assistance they need to better deal with the many challenges that come with the job. It’s an early effort, but one that could lead to better avenues of assistance for officers in need.
Our list of partners and unique collaborations continues to expand and influence. Over the last two years, we’ve joined with law enforcement leaders and researchers to clearly detail the impact of the economic downturn on police agencies. We’ve worked to highlight the notion that the practice of policing has changed dramatically, due mostly to significant losses in local budgets and job cuts. And we’ve worked equally as hard to design a framework of information and best practices necessary to assist law enforcement in making the most of the limited resources available. We’ll continue partnering with police agencies to coordinate discussions on rebuilding public safety services in the wake of extreme fiscal downfalls, focusing on ways law enforcement can make better use of technology, volunteers, and policy changes.
We’ve also expanded the scope of our partnerships, involving businesses and federal partners to join in on a number of key projects. We’ve worked closely with Target Corporation to develop a blueprint for law enforcement interested in working with private businesses on public safety issues. And we’ve joined ranks with numerous other federal agencies, including Homeland Security and the Department of Education, to coordinate efforts ranging from countering violent extremism, to the hiring of school resource officers to enhance safety in our nation’s schools.
And all that I’ve mentioned barely scratches the surface regarding the successes of working with our partners. We’ve worked with regional community policing institutes to create training opportunities designed to help police officers better deal with individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. We’ve also worked closely with a collection of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to promote strategies for identifying and assisting drug-endangered children. And currently, we’re working directly with a number of law enforcement agencies facing use-of-force issues and community backlash over officer involved shootings. With our new collaborative reform model, we’re coordinating policy reviews for agencies looking to be progressive and proactive in changing their practices to better respond to use-of-force problems.
To account for every partner that has worked with the COPS Office—whether as a grantee looking to hire a new officer, a researcher developing an educational resource, or a contributor designing a training curriculum—would be an exhausting, if not impossible, task. And we consider that our greatest success. It has been a privilege to work with so many individuals and so many agencies interested in promoting community policing and keeping our cities and communities safe. After two decades of work, the role of partnerships remains the key ingredient for successful community policing practices and the absolute core of our business model. It is our pledge to you that we will maintain that philosophy for the next 20 years. ♦
Please cite as:
Joshua Ederheimer, "Partnerships and Community Policing," From the Director, The Police Chief 80 (October 2013): 20–21.