As tensions simmer from deadly police encounters, U.S. law-enforcement agencies are taking another look at the philosophy known as community policing two decades after it was embraced as an answer to a crack-fueled crime wave, the Wall Street Journal reports. The newspaper uses as an example New Haven, Ct., where the number of homicides, robberies, motor-vehicle thefts and other types of serious crime has fallen 30 percent since the city put a big chunk of its officers on foot-patrol duty in 2012. More than one-third of officers in a typical evening shift walk a beat, as do all new police-academy graduates for at least a year.
Community policing relies on frequent contact with neighborhood residents so that they become more trustful of officers and more willing to help them prevent and solve crimes. The idea is that if police officers aren't isolated inside cruisers, they learn faster who troublemakers are and develop a personal bond with neighborhoods. New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman believes the initial encounter between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, the Ferguson officer who shot Brown, might have been different if they had been familiar with each other. In general, it isn't statistically clear if walking the beat is more effective than other crime-fighting strategies. There are no firm numbers on how many officers do community policing, and its meaning varies from city to city. Most police departments combine it with other anticrime approaches.