Wilson and Kelling: Team Policing Experiment (1973)

In 1977, Police Foundation researchers worked in tandem with the Urban Institute to publish one of the largest and most comprehensive experimental examinations of local policing ever conducted. The report, titled The Cincinnati Team Policing Experiment, outlined new and innovative policing techniques that experts called “team policing.” Team policing developed in response to two mounting complaints: (1) growing concerns over police effectiveness in reducing crime rates and (2) worsening tensions between police officers and community members concerned about police fairness and equity. The concept of team policing attempted to decentralize the law enforcement regime in order to make everyday officers more accessible and accountable to local community members. Experts defined team policing as a law enforcement model that “embraced traditional police goals—preventing and controlling crime, keeping the peace, and helping people. It endorsed individual officers’ initiative and discretion…Moreover, while acknowledging community needs, it left final decision in the hands of the police.”[1]

Policing researchers argued that team policing techniques encourage officers to function as neighborhood “generalists” or public servants capable of addressing a variety of community concerns with the utmost care and sensitivity.[2] Furthermore, proponents of team policing stressed how adjustments to police services, patrolling assignments, and police-community relations aligned with vision of the 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice and the 1973 National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. Given the salience of crime control tactics and police-community relation efforts, Police Foundation surveyors reported that “by 1974, at least 60 police departments in the United States, in communities ranging in size from Burnsville, Minnesota (population 20,000), to New York City, had tried team policing in at least part of their jurisdiction.”[3]

The Cincinnati Police Division (CPD) under the leadership of Chief Carl Goodin took up the mantle of team policing experimentation with the establishment of the Community Sector Team Policing (COMSEC) in March 1971. COMSEC organized the CPD into six distinct sectors. Each of the officers assigned to a particular sector underwent extensive training and consultation sessions with the Program Management Bureau, the central unit responsible for monitoring the research and development process of the team policing division. From predominately black residential areas to the central business district, the Cincinnati Police spent servicing their assigned neighborhoods and providing a “unified delivery of all police services” to local citizens in need. After the thirty-month long experiment came to an end, researchers concluded that team policing tactics marginally lowered burglary rates, increased citizen reporting, and reduced residents’ fear of walking their neighborhoods at night.[4]  

In the height of the team policing phenomenon in 1973, James Q. Wilson published a foreword in the Police Foundation report titled Team Policing: Seven Case Studies. This report featured team policing research findings in law enforcement departments across the United States, including New York City, Los Angles, Richmond, and Detroit. Wilson described the shift in urban policing strategy as a consequence of reigning administrative dilemmas shaping police departments nationwide. Wilson explained that police administrators felt compelled to focus on assuaging “community fear and distrust of the police” and simultaneously manage citizen demands for “a massive police presence that will reduce crime.”[5] Essentially, police practitioners desired to merge the service-oriented and enforcement-oriented facets of police work in order to effectively address local crime concerns and improve community relations. As the Vice Chairman of the Police Foundation, Wilson underscored the historical evolution of police patrol styles in response to changing societal needs:

            “At one time our cities were policed by watchmen who not only walked a beat, but who managed it and the people on it with a minimum of supervision and relatively few arrests…In reaction to this, advocates of centralized control, close supervision, and maximum enforcement arose, whose textbooks and personal example created a new era of policing that was called ‘professionalism.’ Now some of the doctrines of that school are being questioned by those who believe that professionalism separated the police from the community and over-emphasized writing tickets and making arrests.”[6] 

As the police profession adapted and professionalized, emerging social dilemmas forced law enforcement officials to consider improved solutions for providing police services and enforcement power to a diverse range of communities. Given the national political climate surrounding crime, race relations, and the urban crisis, the seventies marked the beginning of robust research efforts in the policing field designed to investigate a complex set of law enforcement needs and goals. Consequently, experimentation provided insight into the ways in which style, strategy, and supervision shaped the efficacy and legitimacy of police work in crime-ridden areas. As these research publications surfaced, the national discourse on “fear of crime” and police innovation brought social scientists in conversation with policy experts searching for the next groundbreaking solution to the police reform debate.   

[1] Schwartz, A. I., Et. Al. "Cincinnati Team Policing Experiment." The Cincinnati Team Policing Experiment: A summary Report. Accessed March 20, 2017. https://www.scribd.com/doc/200138379/Schwartz-A-I-Et-Al-The-Cincinnati-Team-Policing-Experiment-A-summary-Report

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Schwartz, A. I., Et. Al. "Cincinnati Team Policing Experiment." The Cincinnati Team Policing Experiment: A summary Report. Accessed March 20, 2017. https://www.scribd.com/doc/200138379/Schwartz-A-I-Et-Al-The-Cincinnati-Team-Policing-Experiment-A-summary-Report

[5] "Team Policing: Seven Case Studies." Police Foundation. August 1973. Accessed March 20, 2017. https://www.policefoundation.org/publication/team-policing-seven-case-studies/.

[6] Ibid.