Jesse Ventura got it right when he said that you can’t legislate morality–nor can you legislate values, culture, or attitudes. But it looks like that is exactly what the City of San Francisco is planning on doing as it considers legislating community policing.  

A story in yesterday’s San Francisco Examiner  says legislation has been introduced that would make community policing part of the City code.  The legislation is the initiative of Supervisor David Campos  who says the police department has to improve its community policing. 

According to the article,  the legislation spells out tactics and strategies to be used by the City’s force to bring it closer to the communities it serves. Among other things, it calls for community training for officers, “two-way communication” through newsletters or other “social network tools” between police stations and the community.

Those tactics make perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense, is that it should take legislation to get the San Francisco PD to integrate them in their operations. 

Community policing is more about police culture, values and attitudes than it is about tactics.  By codifying how the police should interact with San Franciscans Supervisor Campos has highlighted a leadership and culture problem within the force; he has done nothing to fix it.

Tags: , , , ,


  1. I’m responsible for community policing in the borough of Barnsley, a town that sits in the county of South Yorkshire in England. I’ve worked in community policing for the last 8 years and have also developed training packages for supervisors and local authority staff who work within the communities they serve.
    The first thing to say is that delivering community policing on the ground is the hardest and most complex thing I have had to do throughout my service, and is far more difficult than simply responding to an incident called in by members of the public.
    As your article highlights, unfairly perhaps, police culture, leadership and values lay at the heart of the problem. Police officers, in the main, are law enforcers by nature – and rightly so, that’s what the organisation asks them to do and it’s what they are good at – and I know it’s a bit chicken and eggish, but that role drives the organisational culture and the values of the organisation and the individuals within it.
    So when a completely different way of doing business is required, in this case neighbourhood or community policing, the values and the culture (and leadership) are going to be out of kilter – this sometimes manifests itself by officers declaring a dislike for community policing because its not seen as ‘real’ policing.
    The other cultural issue is timescales – traditional response law enforcement works in quick time with decisions being made and carried out quickly, sometimes in minutes, hours or at most weeks – but that won’t happen with community policing – trust has to be gained before any progress can be made and that’s often a long haul – especially when working with other agencies to deal with neighbourhood problems.
    So I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Supervisor Compos who is obviously trying to change how SFPD delivers it’s service to the community, and the question is how best to start the change in culture within his organisation – in my view he could do worse than use legislation, because if people HAVE to do it they generally will, and slowly community policing will become business as usual.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. In my experience, cultural change within organizations comes more readily if there is strong and committed leadership backing it and setting the tone. I don’t think a paradigm change in a police organization can really occur unless the chief and senior leadership embody it.

Leave a Reply