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The goal of this paper is to review a current event from a sociological perspective. The focus of this paper is the recent decision to implement community policing initiatives in Oakland. The following sociological concepts are used: crime, deviance, norms, sanctions, social control, and symbolic interactionism. The paper uncovers the hidden facets of community policing and explains how it can benefit the Oakland community.
Keywords: community policing, crime, deviance, social control, norms.
Despite the growing body of scientific literature, crime and deviance keep plaguing the contemporary society. Homicides, youth violence, sexual abuse, and family conflicts have profoundly negative impacts on the physical, psychological, and emotional state of all society members. Crime is a complex product of multiple internal and external forces, and this complexity justifies sociologists' heightened interest towards the problem. Numerous sociological theories and perspectives were used to explain the roots of crime and propose mechanisms of prevention and control. At present, community policing is emerging as a potentially effective means to deal with crime. Still, sociologists need a better understanding of community policing and its implications for various social interactions and processes.
Community policing remains a popular topic in the media. On March 10, 2013, New York Times reporter Norimitsu Onishi published a detailed report of the community policing initiatives to be implemented in Oakland. According to Onishi (2013), in the next several months, the Oakland area will be divided into five police districts, instead of the current two. "The smaller districts, according to a new plan, will each be led by a powerful captain who will be held accountable for crime reduction in regular meetings with the police chief" (Onishi, 2013). One of the primary goals of the new division is to make community policing easier and more effective. Police officers believe that it will be easier for the policing groups to reach out to the members and leaders of their community, especially in the predominantly Hispanic and black neighborhoods (Onishi, 2013). The police have to recognize that they are no longer capable of dealing with crime on their own. Last year, Oakland could become the first city in the U.S. to be controlled by federal authorities (Onishi, 2013). The city managed to avoid the trouble, but high levels of crime and deviance continue to persist. The situation needs improvements, because criminals know the police's main weaknesses. Homeowners do not have to hire private security firms to guard their neighborhoods (Onishi, 2013). The local police department hopes that community policing will help improve their relations with community members.
The problem of community policing is directly related to the concepts of crime and deviance. According to Henslin (2010), crime is a violation of the norms prescribed by law. Deviance is the term, which often accompanies the concept of crime, and is defined as the act of violating certain norms, expectations, or rules (Henslin, 2010). Needless to say, such violations always result in negative societal reactions. Crime can also be regarded as an act of deviance, because it always violates certain legal and social norms. Hechter and Opp (2007) define social norms as behaviors that society members ought to follow, regardless of the outcomes. For instance, members of the western society are expected to be nonviolent in all situations, even when their lives are threatened. However, in Oakland, crime and deviance may soon become the most prevalent social norms. High levels of crime and deviance in the Oakland community also suggest that individuals, who commit a crime or engage in acts of deviance, face little negative sanctions for their acts. Negative sanctions are the acts and expressions of disapproval, which can range from simple gossiping to more formal approaches, including imprisonment and capital punishment (Henslin, 2010). At present, the local police have few resources to enforce the prescribed social and legal norms effectively.
The main question is how, from the sociological viewpoint, community policing will help improve the situation. Here, the concepts of social control and symbolic interactionism come into play. Social control incorporates the formal and informal instruments of enforcing norms (Henslin, 2010). The social control theory posits that crime and deviance are the products of loose internal and external controls (Henslin, 2010). Individuals need to maintain stronger bonds with their community, in order to develop effective control mechanisms and withstand the temptation to commit a crime. Community policing provides enough opportunities to build and maintain effective social ties with all community members. Fischer and Poland (1998) write that community policing broadens the scope of social control, making it less violent, less formalized, and more inclusive. With community policing, the nature of social control changes and becomes less coercive and more community-oriented. Community policing rests on the principles of disciplining and compliance, instead of negative sanctions and punishment (Fischer & Poland, 1998). As a result, social control becomes more interactive and persuasive.
Symbolic interactionism is a sociological perspective, which implies that the most essential social phenomena, including crime and deviance, grow from the way community members define themselves and their social position (Henslin, 2010). Through face-to-face interactions, individuals make sense of themselves and the relations with the community, in which they live (Henslin, 2010). Community policing is a collective action that can help members of the Oakland community make sense of themselves and the role, which they play in their community's wellbeing. Community policing reflects the principles of collective action and reciprocity (Kahan, 2002). Most individuals decide whether to contribute to their community's wellbeing, based on whether they see and feel others are doing the same thing (Kahan, 2002). Community policing sets a positive interactionist example other community members should follow. It adds power to the social control exerted by the police professionals. Sociologists are almost unanimous in that traditional law enforcement models lead to isolation and exclusion; they do not foster reciprocity and cooperation (Kahan, 2002; Fischer & Poland, 1998). Police professionals in Oakland realize the importance of dialogue and interaction, when it comes to crime deterrence (Onishi, 2013). Most probably, they will be able to improve the situation, if their community policing initiatives work.
Community policing is a promising approach to crime deterrence. It incorporates numerous elements and principles. From the sociological perspective, community policing changes the nature of social control, making it more interactive and community-oriented. Community policing replaces coercion and violence, which is characteristic of traditional policing, and develops a better sense of reciprocity and collective action in community members.
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