PD&R, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - Office of Policy Development and Research
Local Strategies Blend Community Policing and Planning in Greensboro, North Carolina and Buffalo, New York

Public safety, traditionally the focus of police departments, is getting more attention from planners. There is general recognition that revitalization strategies need to address crime and fear of crime because families and businesses consider crime—as well as property values, schools, and neighborhood amenities—when deciding to stay in a neighborhood or move to a new one. As a result, planners are working with community police units to address public safety issues and to carry out neighborhood revitalization.

"Community policing is not a magic bullet. It's one piece of the puzzle," Greensboro Assistant Police Chief David Wray says. "People are surprised what police officers know, but they have a full perspective from being out in the community 24 hours a day, 7 days a week." Wray emphasized the close partnership that officers in his district have with the housing authority, department of social services, public schools, mental health services, and Family and Children's Services (a nonprofit group that supports homeless shelters and domestic violence clients). Greensboro is not unique in this regard. Across the country, newspaper articles, research papers, and the Internet are detailing cooperation between public agencies and police officers to improve neighborhoods.

In Greensboro, a notice recruiting community police officers states that applicants must have the ability to work with residents, community leaders, and other public agencies to address community problems. This illustrates how community policing and planning are converging. As more localities adopt community policing, planning agencies adjust to operate in this new environment.

Policing and planning converge. Community policing differs from traditional law enforcement in several ways. Community policing stresses crime prevention and shared responsibility for public safety between residents and police. There is no single model, but most departments create separate community policing units that target one or more high-crime neighborhoods. Using foot or bike patrols, community police officers maintain high visibility and a regular presence in their assigned communities. They get to know residents and communicate with them regularly by attending community meetings, going door to door, or interacting informally with adults and youth. In contrast to line officers, community officers receive more discretion over their daily activities, so they can build trust and respond to community concerns, according to an article by William Rohe in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association (see citation).

Community policing and community planning share common goals and activities:

  1. They often target the same communities, including areas facing physical and economic deterioration, crime problems, and inadequate amenities and services.

  2. Both community planners and community police officers work directly with local residents, businesses, and other stakeholders to help organize block clubs and other neighborhood groups to define problems and develop solutions.

  3. Both focus on prevention and problem solving.

  4. Both are committed to comprehensive solutions to community problems and work to tap public and private resources to address needs.

Working in Greensboro. The Rosewood neighborhood in Greensboro is experiencing crime and problems of disorder, such as breakins, illegal dumping, and squatting in vacant buildings. Developed in the 1920s, this residential community of single-family homes has a mix of elderly homeowners, who are longtime residents, and younger families, who rent from absentee landlords. Responding to a series of complaints from residents, two community police officers began working with residents and organized a neighborhood watch group that evolved into a multipurpose neighborhood organization. The community police officers contacted the Greensboro Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to see what resources were available. Prior to this contact, HCD planners were unaware of this neighborhood's problems. HCD responded by meeting with residents and designating Rosewood as a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) target area. Planners began developing a community plan, which community police officers expedited by assisting with the land-use inventory and citizen survey. The plan focused on the need for improving housing and recreation, discouraging nonresidential encroachment, and encouraging homeownership; based on it, HCD committed more than $1 million in CDBG funds for housing initiatives. Community police officers continue to work with Rosewood residents on neighborhood cleanups, playground improvements, and other projects. "Clearly, this collaboration between community residents, community police officers, and community development planners was beneficial for all involved parties," Rohe says.

Working in Buffalo, too. In 1994 Buffalo's new mayor, Anthony M. Masiello, embraced community policing by instituting several reforms, including a Crime Prevention Program and a new Police Community Services Unit. This unit provides youth education, sponsors adult and youth prevention training, and develops crime prevention techniques. Community police officers, located in each city police district, work directly with the public to solve problems ranging from unsupervised children, drug houses, and landlord-tenant issues to noise and neighborhood disputes. The police department also sponsors annual Citizen Police Academies and Youth Police Academies to promote understanding of the law and to interest youth in law enforcement careers.

Buffalo formed its first Citizen Advisory Group (CAG) to the Police Commissioner in 1994. A volunteer organization with members from community, religious, and business groups, CAG's mission is the promotion of good relations between the police and the public. It has received national and local recognition for its commitment to the police department. "CAG has been cited as one of the shining stars of the department's community policing efforts," says Michelle Graves, community liaison for the department.

Under the direction of Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina, Buffalo police officers collaborate with citizens to improve their communities. Buffalo has established Community Oriented Police Satellites (COPS) throughout the city. Staffed by the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program, the COPS offices provide space for the district officers to work collaboratively with the public on community issues. These satellite stations also promote neighborhood cleanup and beautification projects in which the community and police officers work together.

When Masiello initiated community policing in 1994, his objective was the improvement of Buffalo's neighborhoods. Cooperation among police, planning, and other agencies is important in improving quality of life, says Jay Duderick, director of the Division of Citizen Services. Buffalo is razing surplus deteriorated buildings that had created safety problems in many neighborhoods. Not only is this initiative improving public safety, it also is giving citizens and neighborhood councils the opportunity to work with planners and other government agencies to determine new uses for these vacant parcels. Some communities are choosing infill housing; others are adding tot lots or recreational uses; still others want to attract commercial businesses.

While traditional law enforcement remains a critical function of police agencies, community policing has gained acceptance as an important public safety strategy. There is a parallel trend in planning—improving public safety has become part of community development efforts that traditionally had focused on infrastructure. As Buffalo and Greensboro demonstrate, community planners and police officers often target the same neighborhoods and bring complementary philosophies and resources to revitalize at-risk communities.

For more information, see: "Community Policing and Planning," Journal of the American Planning Association, Winter 2001, Vol. 67, No.1, pp. 78-90, William M. Rohe, et al.

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