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Conflicting Values in Community Policing

NCJ Number
Law & Society Review Volume: 35 Issue: 4 Dated: 2001 Pages: 765-798
Date Published
34 pages

This study drew on 11 case studies of community policing to show that some police-community partnerships confront significant value conflicts; it also describes and analyzes strategies that practitioners have devised to respond to these conflicts.


The 11 cases were drawn from two sets of studies prepared by the Program in Criminal Justice at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. To develop each case study, researchers collected information through interviews, observations, and document review. As the author reviewed all the case study material, he focused on identifying every example in which the police and community groups came into conflict, with attention to the common themes these conflicts shared. The author addresses the two most common types of conflicts identified in the analysis, i.e., conflicts over what the shared goal of "public safety" should mean and conflict over how much authority police should use. Regarding the shared goal of public safety, the "hard crime" focus of the police often conflicted with the "soft crime" concerns of the community that pertained to residents' desire to eliminate nuisance behavior that was a daily aggravation and that violated a local ordinance or drug laws regarding drug dealing observable by residents. Regarding the application of police authority in crime-control efforts, communities often view the police practice of "sweeps," "stops," and frequent interventions with citizens as harassment rather than protection. The cases reviewed revealed several strategies that practitioners have used to address such conflicts. Some police managers used metaphors that partially synthesized distinct values, as in the case of the "broken windows" thesis that views order maintenance as an important element of crime control. Other agencies created "divided organizations," such as when several agencies created special units that institutionalized a concern for "soft crime" alongside a continuing concern for hard crime. Still other agencies searched for balance between conflicting ideals, such as one case in which a police agency restricted some types of proactive policing in the interest of addressing citizens' perceptions of harassment. These strategies all constitute police efforts to accommodate multiple and conflicting values that emerged in the course of arriving at an acceptable style of community policing that addressed obstacles to police-community partnerships. 51 references

Date Published: January 1, 2001