Is Harm-Focused Policing the Future?


Police chiefs across the country are considering how new approaches to law enforcement could better serve the needs of their communities, according to a paper published in the Police Foundation's journal, Ideas in American Policing.

Instead of continuing their traditional focus on combating violent crime, police departments are looking at methods to address other related community concerns such as behavioral health, drugs, environmental issues and gang recruitment, writes Jerry Ratcliffe, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University. He describes this approach as “harm-focused policing.”

“Where police can often see only crime and disorder, community experiences are more nuanced and diverse,” Ratcliffe writes. “For example, known crime hotspots may experience robberies and aggravated assaults, but they might also be havens for vehicle theft, drug sales, drunkenness and traffic accidents.”

This method—which Ratcliffe said has been poorly defined within a policy context—would give law enforcement the ability to focus on the root causes of problems and determine how community resources should be allocated.

“Without a harm focus, it is possible that a narrow preoccupation with crime and disorder will dominate the immediate future, especially given fiscal constraints, and police command will lose touch with the needs of the community in these rapidly changing times,” Ratcliffe concludes.

Read the paper here.

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