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Police and Probation and Parole
— A Relationship
By Office of Community Oriented Policing Services - U.S. Department of Justice
Published: 06/14/2010

Threegear “We see a fair, just, and safe society where community partnerships are restoring hope by embracing a balance of prevention, intervention, and advocacy.”

This is the vision statement from the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA). It goes on to list key values of this vision, which include “We seek to create a system of community justice where:
  • Primary prevention initiatives are cultivated through our leadership and guidance.
  • Our communities are empowered to own and participate in solutions.
  • Results are measured and direct our service delivery.
  • Partnerships with stakeholders lead to shared ownership of our vision.”

APPA’s vision aligns well with the community policing philosophy of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (the COPS Office). “Community policing promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.” APPA and COPS both emphasize the importance of partnerships and crime prevention with an ultimate goal of public safety.

Given these similarities, why are true partnerships between law enforcement and probation and parole agencies throughout our nation limited in number and in scope? What prevents effective partnerships between two justice entities that have the same mission?

One answer that I have heard often is that police spend much of their time getting offenders off the street while probation and parole officers are trying to keep these same offenders in the community. On the surface, this would seem to present two diametrically opposed approaches to public safety. However, there is a given reality that neither group can ignore: Of the more than 5 million adult offenders for which probation and parole agencies are responsible, most of them have served some period of time in either a jail or prison. Law enforcement may have the power to decide who they arrest (thus, those who end up in jail or prison), while probation and parole agencies have little to no control over who ends up on their caseloads. Ultimately, both law enforcement and probation and parole officers are responsible for keeping these offenders from committing new crimes and, consequently, creating new crime victims.

Probation and parole officers are faced with the tasks of ensuring each offender is in compliance with conditions of supervision that have been determined by a judge or releasing authority—short-term public safety—while also trying to bring about individualized pro-social behavior change—long-term public safety. These seemingly congruent challenges cannot be effectively accomplished by probation and parole officers in isolation of the community at large. There seem to be adequately compelling reasons based on the definition of community policing to bring together law enforcement and probation and parole so that community policing will “…support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.”

The ongoing offender presence in and the returning of offenders to our communities begs for the need to develop effective partnerships that support the individual missions of both law enforcement and probation and parole.

For effective partnerships to be created and to flourish, there are numerous considerations that must be addressed and implemented. Perhaps one of the most important ones is that each agency must gain an appreciation and understanding for the roles, challenges, and strengths of each other. For example, each agency must guard against potential “mission bleed” where one agency or members of its workforce has a tendency to take on the role of the other—more often than not it is the probation or parole officers trying to emulate law enforcement officers. Another example of a challenge in an effective partnership is as basic as jurisdictional boundaries. A city police force may be only one of several agencies within the jurisdiction (county or state) of a probation or parole agency. Effectively coordinating separate partnerships with several different agencies comprised of a variety of personalities may prove to be an insurmountable hurdle for a probation or parole department.

Certainly, there are many other issues besides the two mentioned above that need to be addressed. However, nearly every one of the problems faced and the successes realized through police and probation and parole partnerships can be traced to the ability to develop and maintain organizational and individual relationships. Though relationships can be fostered and even encouraged by tools such as policies, procedures, memoranda of understanding, etc., ultimately they will only prosper when organizations and the people who work in them commit to appreciating and understanding their partners. Just like the presence of a license sanctions a marriage, it has little to do with ensuring a good marriage. Good police and probation and parole partnerships, just like good marriages take time. There needs to be a commitment to the dignity and respect of the individuals involved and willingness to have an intimate discourse on the problems faced. Little has been studied or written about this aspect of justice partnerships. But when probed, each one of them eventually talks about the individual relationships that were forged at some level of the organizations.

Carl Wicklund
Executive Director
American Probation and Parole Association


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