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Institutionalizing Community Policing

Institutionalizing Community Policing

Portland State University

Synopsis: Leadership, problem-solving, quality of service, and top-down change are key factors to total integration of community policing into normal police operations


Community Need

Familiarity with and the popularity of community policing appears to be quite extensive throughout the police profession. However, the literature indicates that efforts to incorporate the community policing model into traditional policing operations are faltering. Community policing commentators and analysts agree that the endurance of community policing will depend upon the extent to which it becomes both philosophically and operationally integrated with routine police operations.


Previous attempts to introduce innovative change in police organizations have failed to endure primarily because it has not been well understood by police executives that supportive structural changes are essential to institutionalizing behavioral change. The literature indicates that community policing is still in the experimental stage of development. It is at this critical stage that careful attention needs to be given to the types of structural changes that will assist in institutionalizing community policing. This study provides a theoretical assessment of the implementation of the community policing model and stresses the importance of ‘structuring in’ community policing in order to maximize the probability of successful institutionalization.


Primary Research Question(S)

What structural changes must be made for community policing to endure and succeed within a police department?

Research Design

The author assesses community policing from the perspective of organizational change and refers to a number of agencies that have successfully adopted community policing, including the Portland Police Bureau.


The study is theoretical and not based on a comprehensive analysis of data or research findings.


Research Findings

Using Portland as the example, the author stresses that a commitment to change, as reflected in a mission statement, is a necessary condition for institutionalization of change. In addition, the paramilitary management structure must de-emphasize discipline and focus on leadership; problem solving requires creative thinking and risk-taking. Supervisors must be re-trained to act as advisors and guides. Traditional reward and promotion criteria must change to the quality of service and interactions and not the quantity of citations or tickets. Also, training in problem-solving and cultural appreciation is needed. One of the most important changes made by the Portland Police Bureau in preparation for institutionalizing the core strategy of community policing – problem solving – was a top-down design change. This was a change from annual line item budgeting to biennial program-based budgeting. This new budgeting process holds the Bureau accountable for achieving its stated goals and objectives for community policing.

Main Implications

Police executives must be aware that, unlike the traditional policing model, community policing is dynamic. Implementing community policing strategies is a process, not an event such that the problem-solving strategies will need to change as service demands change. A total integration of community policing as part of normal police operations reduce the risk that, like other past attempts at reform, community policing will fade gradually as a function of non-management and non-acceptance until the organization has returned to business as usual.


Williams, E. J. (2003). Structuring in community policing: Institutionalizing innovative change. Police Practice and Research, 4(2), 119-129.