The Failure of Community Policing: Legacy of the Progressive Era

Mitch Librett, CUNY - Graduate Center/John Jay College

The community-policing paradigm represented the latest and most sophisticated opportunity for the police in the United States to transcend the rigidly bureaucratic, rational/legal structure that has been an enduring vestige of the "Reform Era" of the 1930s. Though it is most often argued that these reforms were prompted by the revelations of the Wickersham Committee, it can also be posited that the effective reform and re-organization of urban policing that followed the release of the Committee's conclusions are theoretically grounded in the moralistic ideal that arose during the Progressive Era. Community policing as it was originally conceived has failed because there is a fundamental and quite natural tension between the rational/legal underpinnings of policing as it has developed since the Reform/Professional Era and the necessary goal of instituting a truly professionalized police service, in the sociological sense. The modern police establishment is founded upon the pillars of technology, militarization, and specialization of function. Community policing defined as the integration of the police with the community can be accomplished only if the structure and culture of the police establishment were to undergo dramatic transformation, perhaps within the context of the theory of community justice.

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Updated 05/20/2006