Chuck Drago is a former Police Chief and Senior Advisor to the Governor of Florida. With 35 years of experience in a wide range of police and security areas, he serves as an advisor to police organizations, provides consulting regarding developing relationships with local and state government, and furnishes litigation support to attorneys in police matters.
My Word: Save Community Policing
By Chuck Drago
Printed in the Orlando Sentinel, May 25, 2011
Our struggling economy has forced us to look closely at our police departments and consider ways to cut the budget. What do we cut sworn police officers, technology, support personnel or police training? One thing we know for sure: As revenues are reduced, we need to cut spending in local government.
Some knowledgeable people have predicted that if our police are asked to cut more sworn-police positions, we will be forced to return to the policing of the '50s and '60s. Policing in those days was predicated on rapid response with little interest in community interaction or crime prevention. Most will admit today that this reactionary form of policing simply did not work.
However, some police professionals believe community policing is too costly, and if we cut sworn police officers, we will need to step back from community policing. The theory is that community policing requires more sworn police officers and more time; therefore, fewer officers equates to the elimination of community policing.
Community policing is working, and we cannot afford not to have it. Crime is at the lowest levels in decades and communities are more integrated with their police than ever before.
Therefore, we have to ask ourselves if we need as many officers in 2011 as we did in 1981. Most government and police officials recognized in the 1980s that it would require more officers to initiate community policing, but that it would require fewer officers once the philosophy was successful. In fact, the federal government agreed and provided billions of dollars for community-policing officers to encourage the development of community-based programs. I believe the initial need for extra officers has passed.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown acknowledged the need for community policing but cautioned his colleagues by saying, "The way forward is to be more efficient and re-engage the community in new, creative ways." Some agencies have recognized social media as the preferred way to communicate today. The Internet, mobile phone apps and texting will be the way to reach the hearts and minds of the next generation.
As local governments consider their budgets, they should remember that community policing and fewer officers are not mutually exclusive. Futuristic police leaders and elected officials do have alternatives in the budget process that will allow them to cut the spending and maintain community policing. We are facing challenges for sure, but great opportunities exist to take policing to the next level in creating "Community Policing, the second generation."
Chuck Drago of Oviedo is a police practices consultant and former Oviedo police chief.