A review of policing in Nashville has shown a main tactic — traffic stops — do not reduce crime. Researchers suggest officers now try out a different approach — neighborhood policing. But even criminal justice experts say it’s unclear what that means and whether it works.
The problem with traffic stops is they can make residents feel hostile toward the police, says Barry Friedman, executive director of New York City based Policing Project. The group was commissioned last summer by the city of Nashville to study this practice.
He says officers ought to get out of their cars and work with residents one-on-one instead. It’s a strategy that’s existed for a while, but Friedman says most police departments don’t take it far enough.
"Basically what police departments did is they said here’s two or three folks that are going to forge relationships with the community, and the rest of us are going to keep doing the 'real policing,'" he says. "Predictably, the folks that did the 'real policing' didn’t think much of the community policing, and they kept doing their enforcing in neighborhoods where other people were trying to build relationships. Well that’s not gonna work."
In his report, Friedman specifically calls the approach neighborhood policing, because community policing wasn't a holistic approach. He explains that all officers, rather than just a few, should try to forge trust and more cooperation with communities.
He points to New York City, which has seen a reduction in crime at the same time it’s adopted this method.
David Weisburd, a criminal justice expert and author on a National Academies of Sciences report on policing behavior, agrees this tactic does build relationships. But he says there isn’t enough evidence yet to show it reduces crime on its own.
"The key element here is focus," says Weisburd. "If neighborhood policing is a sort of lack of focus across very large areas, the literature is that that’s not going to have much of an impact on crime."
Weisburd says departments should have a mixture of policing strategies, especially because any reduction in crime could be due to national trends.
And he says, different approaches address various problems — like police relationships with the public, crime hot spots or gang activity.