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Evolving Strategy of Policing: Case Studies of Strategic Change

NCJ Number
George L. Kelling; Mary A. Wycoff
Date Published
May 2001
149 pages
Based on case studies of police departments in the process of implementing change, this monograph documents the unraveling of O.W. Wilson's (labeled in this monograph as "the most important police leader of the 20th century") concept of policing and police management, as well as the evolution of a new strategy of policing (community policing) that dominated policing by the end of the 1990's, albeit still lagging in implementation.
During the era dominated by O.W. Wilson and his colleagues, roughly the 1920's through the 1970's, police strategy and management emphasized bureaucratic autonomy, efficiency, and internal accountability through command and control systems that focused on countering serious crime as defined by the Uniform Crime Reports. The methods for dealing with serious crime included criminal investigation, random preventive patrol by automobile, and rapid response to calls for service. During the 1970's, however, research into police practices called into question the core competencies of police: preventive patrol and rapid response to calls for service. Although criminal investigation was not challenged as a basic method of policing, research indicated that investigations were being conducted in an ineffective manner throughout the country. Further, discretion was found to be rife in policing and largely unsupervised. In the 1980's, a decade of discovery, Michigan State University's National Center on Community Policing developed and actively promulgated a set of ideas around "community policing" and then later combined efforts with the Program in Criminal Justice at Harvard University and the National Institute of Justice in conducting Executive Sessions on Community Policing. Meanwhile, major experiments in community policing were implemented in Houston, TX, and Madison, WI. This monograph is based on the case studies of 15 police departments in the process of implementing change from the model of policing promulgated by O.W. Wilson to that of community policing, under which the relationship of the police to the community is restructured to emphasize a partnership in setting priorities and strategies for improving community safety and order. Among the concepts and issues discussed in this monograph are organizational strategy for change; the police crises of the 1960's and the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice; police-community relations, team policing, and the first round of change in Dallas; the emergence and shaping of police unions; organizational development in Madison and Houston (1980-1990); and developments in policing in the late 1980's and early 1990's. This monograph concludes that by the end of the 20th century, police agencies were not only pulling all of urban government toward community/neighborhood and problem-oriented models of practice, but they were also pulling other criminal justice agencies, notably prosecution, probation, and parole, toward community and problem-oriented models as well. Although police agencies have a long way to go in implementing the principles of community policing, particularly in minority communities, this monograph advises that community policing will persist as the driving vision for most of America's police leaders.