Guest Post: The Community and the Police Share Responsibility for Policing


In late 2015, Jim Bueermann and I were discussing a concept that he called community-led policing. Jim, retired chief of the Redlands, CA Police Department and current president of the Police Foundation, is always two steps ahead of everyone else when it comes to the direction of policing. He recognized that events clearly dictated a new role for the community in policing, one in which the community determined how it was to be policed. He understood that whether we liked it or not, the communities that we worked for had the right to tell us what they wanted us to do. He asked me to write something that explained community-led policing, and in May of 2016, the result was published as an online essay for the Police Foundation’s On Policing essay series. The following was the opening paragraph:

Current models of civilian oversight explicitly separate the roles of the community and the police in the decision-making process. In fact, most civilian oversight exists to address the consequences of decisions already made by the police. The Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing reinforces this separation by recommending “some form of civilian oversight in order to strengthen trust with the community,” and yet it acknowledges there is no evidence to support this recommendation. The President’s Task Force rightly calls for more research into the efficacy of civilian oversight, but there is another model that may be better suited to address the police legitimacy concerns fueling the demand for civilian oversight. In this model there is no need for civilian oversight of the police, as the public and the police share the responsibility for determining the course of policing in their community. This “co-policing” model is called community-led policing. Members of the public do not merely serve in an advisory capacity to the police; rather, they have an equal, if not leading role in determining how their community is to be policed. Consequently, community-led policing supports procedural justice through giving voice to the public, which in turn confers legitimacy to the police in a way that civilian oversight can’t.

In Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission, Barry Friedman makes a far more compelling case for essentially the same thing, which he labels democratic policing, and with an argument that I am embarrassed to say never occurred to me: generally, the most important rules governing policing, those involving the fourth amendment, should be established ahead of time by the governed rather than by the courts after the fact. I believe that we both agree, however, the community and the police should work together in developing those rules, which must both be constitutional and in keeping with the standards of that particular community.

I would like to think that Mr. Friedman would also agree that both the community and the police contributed to the problems he describes in Unwarranted, and it will require the joint efforts of the community and the police to solve them. This is an important distinction to make, for if either side focuses on looking backward at whom to blame, neither side will be able to look forward to avoid repeating the mistakes of past. Democratic policing, community-led policing, or whatever you want to call it, presents us with an opportunity to begin the process of looking and moving forward together.



Captain Tim Hegarty has been with the Riley County (KS) Police Department since 1995 and currently is the Support Division Commander for the agency. He has served as an adjunct instructor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work at Kansas State University and as a subject matter expert and instructor for the Virginia Center for Policing Innovation.  He is also a Level II Certified Instructor in Problem-Based Learning. Captain Hegarty’s work has been recognized with the IACP/Sprint Bronze Award for Excellence in Police Research, and he is a member of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy’s Evidence-Based Policing Hall of Fame at George Mason University and an Executive Fellow with the Police Foundation. He holds an MBA and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.