The Canadian Review of Policing Research (2005)

ISSN: 1710 6915



François Dumaine is a consultant with PRA Inc. and Rick Linden is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Criminology Research Centre at the University of Manitoba. Further information on the topic of this article can be obtained from rlinden@ms.umanitoba.ca


Community police centres (CPCs) are perhaps the most common way of implementing community policing. The range of services offered in these centres varies, but typically the centres are staffed by one or two officers and a cadre of volunteers who focus on implementing crime prevention programs in the surrounding neighbourhood. The centres are a tangible demonstration of police interest in local communities and allow citizens to have easy access to police officers and to play a role in policing their community as volunteers. From the police perspective, the CPCs offer a way of becoming more involved with communities, learning about community problems, and developing local sources of information that can facilitate enforcement and prevention.

Despite their popularity, the evidence concerning the effectiveness of the centres is not very positive. In their review of crime prevention strategies Sherman et al concluded that:

The evidence from tests of substations in Houston, Newark and Birmingham (AL) consistently shows no impact on crime. While there are some positive citizen evaluations associated with storefronts, the problems of staffing the offices once they are open may counterbalance any non-crime benefits.2

Results of the only Canadian evaluation are no more positive. The Victoria Police Department set up a number of mini-stations in the 1980s. These stations had a very limited impact.3 There was no indication of a reduction in crime or in fear of crime. The public was aware of the community stations, but their services were not used by community members. Community participation in the prevention programs offered from the stations was limited. The program did not appear to result in increased reporting of intelligence to the police and the program was isolated from the rest of the department. Some members believed that the program had drawn resources from the rest of the department and many had a negative view of the program.4

Why have community police centres not lived up to their expectations? A major reason for the disappointing results seems to have been the assumption that their presence in the community would be sufficient to accomplish the desired goals. Typically, little attention was given to the activities that were conducted from the mini-stations. Another reason may be that the willingness and ability of the community to participate has been over-stated - the public do not seem to be awaiting the opportunity to be mobilized by the police in the fight against crime and disorder.

The Ottawa Community Police Centre Evaluation

In 2003 the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) had 22 Community Police Centres (CPC). These varied in size, catchment areas, resources and operations. They are not designed to act as full-service police stations. Most of the Centres were established prior to amalgamation by the police services now making up the OPS, so their locations were not the result of an overall planning process.

The mission of CPCs it to build closer links between the OPS and the community. Based on this mission, the OPS has established a mandate for the CPCs that is centred on three key components: being a primary focal point for problem-oriented policing activities involving members of the community; being the primary locations of the community crime prevention programs offered by the OPS; and being centres for information dissemination and for referrals. A logic model of the CPC functions is shown in Figure 1.

CPC officers are normally supported by volunteers. Their roles are:

  • CPC Officer: CPC officers are responsible for managing volunteers and for promoting and implementing crime prevention programs. Six core crime prevention programs were to be offered from all 22 CPCs: Business Crime Prevention, Child Print, Home Security Inspection, Neighbourhood Watch, Operation Identification, and Block Parent.5
  • Volunteers : The main task of volunteers is the implementation of crime prevention programs. Their duties include organizing meetings and material, home visits (to do home inspections), and the provision of services in locations such as schools or malls. In addition, volunteers do some administrative work at CPCs.

The OPS spends almost $2 million annually to support the CPCs. This includes over $1.5 million on salaries and most of the remainder on rent for the centres.

An evaluation of the CPCs was conducted in 2003. The evaluation involved site visits to each Centre, 57 key informant interviews, 8 focus groups which separately involved police officers, volunteers, and community members, a telephone survey with 1006 community members, and a client feedback survey of citizens who had visited a Centre.

1. The Work of CPC Officers
The CPC officers reported that because of the demands of delivering the six core crime prevention programs, supervising volunteers (which some officers reported took about half of their time), and doing community liaison, there was little time left over for problem-oriented police work or for assisting with crime solving activities. Because these latter activities are the ones that would involve them with their colleagues on patrol duties, the pattern of work tends to isolate them from other officers. This isolation is compounded by other factors. The CPC officers operate directly from the CPCs and even if they are part of district teams, CPC officers tend to be separated from platoon or other district team members, who typically operate out of police stations. Many platoon officers consulted were unsure of the location of CPCs and had never visited one. As one respondent from OPS management noted, there is an attitude of “this is your job, this is my job, and the two shall never meet” between CPC officers and other members of the OPS. Finally, some CPC officers report to different sergeants and staff sergeants from those to whom neighbourhood officers or investigators report. This also contributes to isolating CPC officers from other district team members.

The vast majority of platoon and district officers consulted knew very little about the work of CPC officers. However, they did not perceive the functions of CPC officers to be attractive. Many simply fail to see these functions as being true policing. Some of the comments we received during focus groups with platoon and district officers included: “What’s the role of the CPCs? That’s a good question because I didn’t know what it is.” “I don’t know where my CPC is and I don’t know who my CPC officer is, and that’s a problem.” Many had negative perceptions of the role of the CPC officer: “The CPC officer ceases to feel like a police officer, they’re not really doing police work, they’re doing political work, and if that’s the case, then you’re wasting an officer.”

There was a wide consensus during the consultations with OPS management representatives that more work needs to be done in order to effectively integrate the CPCs into the OPS service delivery model. Our consultations with OPS management representatives indicate that there is generally an expectation that CPC officers should take a more active role in solving crime.

2. Citizen Knowledge and Client Satisfaction
Our community survey showed that half of the general population of Ottawa was aware of the existence of the CPCs and that when people receive a service from their CPCs, they tended to be satisfied. Citizens typically become aware of the CPCs by walking or driving by them (41 per cent) or by reading about them in the community newspaper (14 per cent). Of those who are aware of the CPCs, almost one-third had had contact with them, often to report a problem or crime, to make an inquiry, or to access OPS services. Most citizens are of the opinion that the CPCs are well located, but some expressed concern about their hours of operation. Very few citizens reported that they were currently participating in crime prevention programs and, with the exception of Neighbourhood Watch and Block Parents, a high number of respondents were not aware of the crime prevention programs.

3. Management and Accountability Issues
The focus groups and interviews with OPS members indicated that the goals and objectives of the CPCs were not well-understood by most OPS members. While there was a CPC management committee and individual supervision by field commanders, our consultations did not identify any accountability mechanisms that would determine whether particular goals and objectives were being achieved. Combined with the isolation of CPC officers from the rest of the platoon and district officers, this seriously limited the effectiveness of the CPC program. Key informants identified a number of avenues which could alleviate this problem: a greater interaction between CPC officers and district and platoon officers; field officers should be encouraged to do more of their work out of the CPCs; the CPC services should be marketed within the OPS and to the community; CPC officers should turn the task of managing volunteers over to civilians and should focus more on problem-oriented policing; and an accountability system should be put in place with measurable objectives.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The Ottawa community police centres are popular with the public and play a valuable role in demonstrating that the OPS is committed to working with the community to reduce crime and disorder. However, they are poorly integrated into the core functions of the department and it is unlikely that they are having much impact on crime and disorder. This is consistent with other research. For example, in their review of storefront policing, Griffiths et al concluded that while the public positively evaluated these stations, they had little impact on crime. Their findings were identical to those reported here and likely apply to most other police services:

Among the difficulties experienced by community police stations are staffing and limited hours of operation, a lack of awareness among motorized patrol officers of community police stations and their activities, and a lack of coordination between officers assigned to community police stations and patrol.6

There is a strong body of research suggesting it is time to move on from what might be called “first generation” community policing. One important shift would be to renew the emphasis on problem-solving. This has always been a part of most definitions of community policing, but in practice it has often been ignored. Herman Goldstein, one of the earliest proponents of contemporary problem-oriented policing has concluded that he "had erred in accepting community policing as the umbrella under which we could place problem-oriented policing". He went on to indicate the difference between the two concepts: “[Community policing] is designed to place emphasis on one great need in policing, which is to engage the community. Problem-oriented policing places great emphasis on the need to re-conceptualize what the police are doing more generally, to focus attention on the wide range of specific problems that police confront and to try to encourage a more analytical approach to those problems.”7 This approach would not mean the end of community involvement, but rather would put that community involvement at the service of more general police and community needs.

Also, it may be useful to broaden the functions of CPCs. Several American cities have developed full-service client centres, where police services are co-located with key municipal services.8 These full-service client centres will serve as community problem-solving centres, focusing on safety issues and priorities specific to the communities served. This suggestion is consistent with the broader ‘whole government’ movement which is most advanced in the United Kingdom. This movement involves both horizontal and vertical integration of government services in which the focus on ‘departments’ and ‘projects’ is replaced by an emphasis on ‘problems’ and ‘outcomes’. This approach is obviously quite consistent with the philosophy of problem-oriented policing, but it makes the need to coordinate activities across different branches of government much more explicit.

Postscript: Response of OPS to the Evaluation

Very few evaluation reports also include information about the response to the evaluation findings, but the timely response of the Ottawa Police Service9 has made it possible to do so in this paper.10

The OPS has developed a detailed plan for the future based on this evaluation as well as on other internal planning exercises. The short-term response to the evaluation is to recommend the closing of eight CPCs that are either under-utilized, have infrastructure problems, or face lease renewal. For the longer term, the OPS has initiated a planning process that will build on the work that has been done in order to improve service integration and community access to police services. Over the longer term they will close some centres and transform others based upon community needs and preferences. The OPS has recognized that much of the work in problem-solving and developing community partnerships can be done outside the context of the CPCs. They also plan to explore the use of technology such as the Internet to provide alternate ways of connecting the public to the police. Finally, the OPS will work to align their operations to the vision of the City of Ottawa for the future. This work should lead to an integrated approach to crime prevention with the police working closely with other municipal services to deal with community problems that lead to crime and disorder.

End Notes

1. We would like to thank the Ottawa Police Services Board and Chief Vince Bevan for providing the opportunity to conduct this study. Superintendent Peter Crosby and Natalia Kuziak of the Ottawa Police Service provided guidance and support throughout the project.

2. Lawrence W . Sherman, Denise Gottfredson, Doris MacKenzie, John Eck, Peter Reuter, and Shawn Brockaway, Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn't, What's Promising. A Report to the U.S. Congress. Washington: National Institute of Justice, 1997.

3. Sandra Gail Walker, Christopher R. Walker, and James McDavid, The Victoria Community Police Stations: A Three-Year Evaluation. Ottawa: Canadian Police College, 1991.

4. While an evaluation of an Edmonton program that used community police stations was more positive (Hornick et al, 1991), the program was more focused on the activities of neighbourhood foot patrol officers than on the mini-stations.

5. The Block Parent program has been on hold and is not operational.

6. Curt Taylor Griffiths, Constable Richard B. Parent, and Sergeant Brian Whitelaw, Community Policing in Canada, p. 67, Toronto: Nelson, 2001.

7. Jean-Paul Brodeur, "Tailor-made Policing: A Conceptual Investigation", pp. 30-51 in Jean-Paul Brodeur (ed.), How to Recognize Good Policing: Problems and Issues, Thousand Oaks: 1998, Sage Publications.

8. Robert C. Trojanowicz, "The Future of Community Policing", pp. 258-262 in Dennis Rosenbaum (ed.), The Challenge of Community Policing, Thousand Oaks: 1994, Sage Publications.

9. Chief of Police, Ottawa Police Service, “Service Integration and Community Access”, Report to Ottawa Police Services Board, Ottawa, 2004..

10. In keeping with the philosophy of community policing, the OPS has been very public in dealing with changes to its CPC strategy. Further information is available at: http://www.ottawapolice.ca/en/serving_ottawa/community_centres/cpc_changes.cfm