Police officers can and will become involved in non-crime problems in some communities. The extent of such involvement will depend on the community and the officers. In this example, the Supervisor of Public Works, Mr. Sweeney, has received instructions ordering just such community policing. Officer Mickey is clearly open to such a policy, and follows it. And in this case the outcome was successful, in part because it was a reasonable request about an easily solvable problem. This approach to policing has both advantages and disadvantages.
The advantage is twofold. First, it does create contacts with the community that can pay off. In this example, Mrs. Nosey, who had been aloof, became much friendlier and offered her services as a neighborhood contact. That is good on the face of it. The second advantage is that some police officers are themselves natural politicians, and this kind of policy allows them to exercise their talents in this area. Los Angeles’ late mayor Tom Bradley began his career as a cop on the beat. In fact, Officer Mickey is acting essentially as Mr. Sweeney’s field representative, as if he were on the staff of the Public Works. Mickey is actively developing this aspect of his job.
These advantages have flip-side disadvantages. Those neighborhood contacts may try to take advantage of their friendship with Officer Mickey. As a kind of politician, he will quickly learn how some of his “constituents” really feel about the government — that it is there to be used for their personal benefit as much as possible. The old political punch line But what have you done for me lately? will probably lodge in his mind soon enough. And so there is a danger that such contacts will begin to take up a disproportionate amount of time. Some communities do not have that time, nor any time for non-criminal calls. The other disadvantage to community policing is that not all officers are naturally good at that kind of work. They will do it grudgingly if at all. In community policing schemes, one should always expect good cops and bad cops.