Community program officers are specialized police meant to fill a particular role in the community. They are members of the local police force, but they focus on social and community issues. Community program officers strive to develop a relationship with community members, to solve problems through collaboration with residents and to address issues before they get out of hand.
One of the main roles of community program officers is to interact and collaborate with the community they police. Community officers work with local organizations, leaders and ordinary citizens to create and maintain comfortable and safe living conditions. Officers might work side by side with community groups to address specific problems or work toward certain goals. For example, officers might help to address problems with children skipping school, teenage drug use, public drunkenness, and problems with basic resources or social tensions in the community.
Community officers play a preventive role by making their presence felt in the community. Officers at-large are meant to give a sense of security to citizens, to deter crimes, and to offer support and information when necessary. Community officers might be called into volatile situations, such as protests, music festivals, parades, or hostile and tense atmospheres. They often patrol schools and tend to do more one-on-one work with citizens. For example, they might offer emotional support and make referrals to crime victims. The presence of community officers is meant to provide comfort to citizens and to create a friendly and secure atmosphere.
Community police forces are assigned to specific neighborhoods, where they develop intimate relationships with these areas, their infrastructure and the residents. Officers invest their time in getting to know their assigned area and working toward various improvements. Within the neighborhoods they patrol, community officers assist in a variety of developmental and social projects. For example, community police might partner with residents to stop bullying at school, to eliminate graffiti or to provide assistance to the poor. Other projects might include developing public space for use by local citizens.
Community program officers may specialize in one type of environment and become an expert in various fields of protection. Police officers who work in schools, for example, carry out many of the community-building efforts of their peers in urban areas, but may develop expertise in bullying or truancy. Similarly, community officers with a background in narcotics or gang activity may best serve the populations that have to deal with those issues. The U.S. Department of Justice provides online training courses for police who want to expand and add additional specializations in community policing to their resumes.