The name "community" policing may be somewhat misleading, but the basic idea is sound. A better description might be "problem-oriented policing." And, as Mayor Schmoke remarked last week in announcing that he would like to see more of it Baltimore, it represents a promising trend in law enforcement.
Police officers have long known that their jobs currently consist mostly of responding to one emergency call after another, often in the same neighborhood and involving the same people. In most cities, the majority of 911 calls come from a relatively small number of areas and involve only about 20 percent of the population.
Yet the officers in these precincts constantly rush from site to site in a fruitless effort just to keep a lid on. Theirs is a frustrating, finger-in-the-dyke approach that leaves them no time to get to know the other 80 percent of the people they serve or to devise strategies to prevent crime rather than merely react to it.
Problem-oriented policing attempts to overcome these limitations by enabling police to work with local residents in addressing basic neighborhood concerns. Being proactive rather than reactive, it represents a better return on police officers' investment of time and energy on the job. Community policing is no quick fix. It still must be supplemented by more traditional approaches to policing. But it does produce solid results over the long term. And that is what Baltimore should be looking at.