“Les Difficultés de Réformer le Système Policier aux États-Unis,” in
Sebastian Roche (ed.), Réformer la Police et la Securité: Les Nouvelles
Tendances en Europe et aux États-Unis. Paris: Odile Jacob, 39-57, 2004.
This chapter examines the sources of resistance to innovation in American policing.
The fact that there has been widespread discussion of innovations such as
community policing and problem-oriented policing may make it appear that they were
adopted easily. However, changing the police is hard work and the political risks
involved are considerable, for attempts to seriously reform the police often fail.
There are good reasons for police chiefs to be nervous about undertaking the hard
and expensive organizational reforms that community policing in particular requires.
Efforts to change the police can fail for many reasons. The wise police administrator
will have a defensive plan to counter them, but the list of problems is a long one.
Some fundamental features of American policing have affected the adoption of
community policing. The United States has thousands of independent police
departments, by one count as many as 17,000. Many of them are small, but a few
hundred are relatively large. They are all controlled by local politicians and voters,
and paid for by local taxes. One implication of these features is that there is
enormous variety in American policing. In this case, there are 17,000 different
experiments in police innovation going on, some of which succeed and some of
which fail. There is no national victory or loss in the adoption of any policing policy,
including community policing. What the resulting program will look like will closely
reflect local conditions. Another implication is that the struggle to change police
organizations has to be carried out 17,000 different times. Why have so many
chosen to innovate? Police innovation is closely tied to local politics. While police
departments are relatively autonomous when it comes to daily operations, visible
and expensive decisions like that of adopting community policing will not be made
without the involvement of political leaders. One reason why so many police
departments have adopted some form of community policing is that it popular with
the public, and thus with elected officials. They have not done so without a struggle,
however, for the sources of resistance are many and powerful.
This chapter reviews these sources of resistance, and some of the strategies that
police executives have used to overcome them. It is based entirely on my research in
the United States, but I suspect that police in other nations face many of the same