When the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services office was created in 1994, a nationwide network of community policing institutes was set up to study the philosophy and help departments do it well. A handful of departments were already doing it well, including the San Diego Police Department, says the San Diego Union-Tribune. In the late 1980s, the department had begun encouraging officers to partner with community members to identify local problems that might cause crime. The strategy was called problem-oriented policing, and it's a pillar of community policing. It was a time-consuming, resource-heavy process. Officers and residents got together, researched problems and explored solutions. They tackled crime hotspots, and the process cultivated trust and transparency.
San Diego was internationally recognized for how it embraced the philosophy. After Police Chief Bill Lansdowne took the helm in 2003, a municipal pension crisis thrust San Diego into financial turmoil. “The city was in a very tenuous financial position, and it caused us to make changes,” Lansdowne said. “… It was detrimental to the way we were policing, but there weren't a lot of alternatives, as we looked at the possibility of bankruptcy.” The department went from 2,102 sworn officers in 2004 to 1,821 in 2012. Community policing suffered. When Shelley Zimmerman became police chief in 2014, restoring community policing initiatives was made a top priority, because San Diego police officers weren't the problem solvers they once were, and it was time for an intervention. Like many departments, San Diego police started coming up with ways officers could incorporate community interactions into their already busy days.