Community policing is a popular donor strategy within wider police reforms in many developing countries – with programmes in places as diverse as Bangladesh, Jamaica and Sierra Leone. It takes a variety of forms, but often includes alternative dispute resolution, police–community forums, joint police–community patrols, community outreach, the establishment of community policing as a police-wide philosophy and/or specific police units tasked with responsibility for community policing. In addition to these multiple forms, community policing is ascribed a diverse set of objectives by the different actors involved (governments, police, communities and donors), including reduced crime, improved police–community relations, increased police accountability and strengthened state–society relations.
As a result of the conceptual confusion surrounding community policing, the ‘Securing communities’ project at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) attempted to map the diversity of practices that fall within its remit, to examine how community policing is shaped in different contexts and to probe the plausibility of many of the objectives ascribed to community policing. This synthesis paper draws together the findings of a background paper and four case studies (in Ethiopia, Jamaica, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste), as well as wider reviews of the literature and country examples. Key findings include:
- Despite the popularity of community policing within wider police reforms, there is little consensus on its definitions, objectives and models;
- Communities, police, governments and donors ascribe a range of competing objectives to community policing, many of which are overambitious;
- Community policing is shaped by a number of features of the context, which we must understand in order to develop realistic expectations of what kinds of change are possible;
- There is a need to be more realistic about what community policing can achieve, focusing on specific safety and security problems are dependent on what the context allows.