Community Policing in Europe:
Structure and Best Practices
-- Sweden, France, Germany --


Arthur A. Jones, J.D., Dr.jur.
Robin Wiseman, J.D., Dr.h.c.

International Human Rights Law and Policy
c/o Los Angeles Community Policing
email to:

EDITOR'S NOTE: --- Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman are international human rights lawyers with legal educations in the United States and Europe. They are consultants and authors on international policing, social policy and human rights, and regular contributors to the forum here at LA Community Policing.

The article below was done at the request of officials at the Open Society Institute in Bulgaria, and was translated into English from Bulgarian, in which it was originally written.

For more of their work, please see the
Think Tank.

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Community Policing in Europe:

Structure and Best Practices
-- Sweden, France, Germany --

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by Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman
email to:

September 8, 2006


The Swedish experience could be of interest to Bulgarian policing development for several reasons. First, the national population size is comparable to that of Bulgaria, at 8.2 million persons resident in Sweden. Like Bulgaria, Sweden is also relatively homogeneous, although immigrant groups now total over 10% of the population. They are mostly from North Africa and the Middle East .

Further, Sweden has had many years of useful experience with a long-term commitment to furthering an open, compassionate and supportive society. The country's perspective on Community Policing helps form its policies on police structure and administration.

Also, Swedish experience and legislation had a heavy influence on the 2001 European Union legislation on crime prevention and communities.

Sweden began its groundbreaking work in 1972 with the establishment of a national centre for research, development and coordination of policing with the aim of reducing crime at its social and community roots. It formed the National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande Rådet) to pave a two-way street of involvement with cities and towns. The Council takes the experience and problems of communities and performs evaluations based on its vast databank of crime prevention techniques. These are tried and tested methods from Sweden and from other European countries. The Council then distributes the “best and brightest” ideas and programs among the local police departments nationwide. It also supplies politicians, decision-makers, the media and the general public with information and data on crime prevention locally.

In 1992, the National Council for Crime Prevention began forming local committees under the same name (Brottsförebyggande Råd, or BRÅ). Over the years, local crime prevention councils were set up in 232 of the country's towns and cities. The Councils act in a cooperative capacity and work closely with local police, as well as with social services, youth and family services, schools, and others. They sponsor programs that are geared to local conditions, both socially and economically.

Police representatives sit as voting members on the councils, which gives police the opportunity to engage in an expanded and broadened form of community policing while acting as advisors and consultants to the various social crime prevention projects.

Thus, in Sweden , crime prevention came first as a theory, then as a practical administrative structure. It facilitated the introduction of community policing and provided a forum for the community as well as for the police. This had the effect of ensuring that the local police departments would become less aloof and secretive, more user-friendly, and more directly accountable for their actions. It also has made the police much more effective, successful and respected by their constituents.

Ms. Ann Näfver, who is Coordinator of Sweden's 232 local Crime Prevention Councils, suggests that in forming a local council, the following persons and bodies should ideally be represented, i.e., invited to join from the very outset:

•  City or town council members and other politicians;
•  Local police chief;
•  Churches, mosques, synagogues, other religious institutions;
•  Medical services;
•  Social service administrators;
•  Prosecutors, Juvenile court judges;
•  Drug and Alcohol rehab facilities and counselors;
•  School administrators and teachers;
•  Chambers of Commerce, business and tourism representatives;
•  Any other community members willing to contribute their time and efforts.

Outreach seems to be the “mantra” of Swedish councils. They have scored great successes in crime prevention and reduction through the use of interagency outreach teams that visit specific neighborhoods two or more times per month. They can consist of, for example, one police officer with some background training in social services; one paramedic or nurse; one “Big Brother” social counselor or drug/alcohol rehab specialist.

It should be noted that other countries, including Italy , Switzerland , Germany , France and Denmark , have also found these interagency outreach teams to be one of the most effective forms of community policing activities.

For their part, Swedish police have found that these frequent, brief visits are far more effective than quarterly or semi-annual community meetings. One reason is that the weekly appearance of “old friends” in the interagency teams make the police welcome in even the most excluded of neighborhoods.

Sweden distinguishes between two interlocking types of crime prevention:

•  Situational prevention : This is mainly a police matter, aimed at reducing actual crime rates in each neighborhood by removing persons and opportunities from the area. It combines traditional policing with newer, integrated methods. Police have the responsibility for planning and execution situational prevention programs. They have four stages:

  --mapping of crime and existing crime prevention activities and resources;
  --the planning of separate initiatives on a multi-agency basis using the mapping results;
  -- implementation;
  -- evaluation based on having clear achievement goals that they can measure. Examples would include reduction of crimes in a specified grid or area in which the program is being carried out; or specific types of crime overall such as mugging, auto theft, home robberies, drunken disorderly offenses, narcotics sales, etc.
•  Social Prevention: This is a crime prevention council general plan for eliminating the root causes of chronic crimes, and involves not only police, but also city planning, education, economic disparities, minority and immigrant communities and their special needs, and other developmental measures. Police input is, of course, extremely valuable and indispensable. In the end, however, Sweden recognizes that the communities and the government as a whole, and not just the police, are responsible for social prevention of crimes.

In Sweden, as in many other European countries, experience has taught police forces that one-half the crimes are committed by just five percent of the perpetrators (hard-core criminals, repeat offenders), and the remaining one-half of the crimes are committed by the remaining 95 percent of offenders (casual or opportunity offenders). Most rehab programs are aimed at the latter 95 percent, most of whom are potentially good citizens.


In seeking a short description of French developments in Community Policing over the past 30 years, one must recognize the enormous progress that has been made in social crime prevention. At the same time, one must factor in the difficulties France has experienced in changing from the 19 th Century concept of aloof paramilitary police officers to the friendly, helpful and familiar problem-solvers now personified by the police de proximité.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, France underwent a number of wrenching social changes, and saw an increase in violence and property crimes, together with local, politically-inspired acts of terrorism. The French national government, sensing that a hard-nosed and repressive police force was making matters worse, published the Peyrefitte Report that called for a social answer to the crime problem. As a result, the government appointed a committee to study the following factors:

•  The psychological aspects of violence;
•  The effects of improved urban planning on human behaviour;
•  Linkages between economic opportunity and violence; and
•  Other social problems contributing to crime rates.

The Peyrefitte Committee was somewhat similar to the Swedish National Crime Prevention Council (see Part I, Sweden ). In its report, the Committee criticized the traditional structure of French “top-down” bureaucracy, which had become secretive and unresponsive to public needs and demands. Instead, the recommendation was to hand more power to communities to determine their own security programs, and to involve key neighborhood persons and organizations in coming up with workable solutions.

The administration, according to the Council, clearly needed to recruit local elected officials such as mayors and city councils, school teachers and principals, social service directors, youth and sports counselors, police, magistrates and members of local communities. Together, they should find new paths in crime prevention on many levels.

This development prompted the national police administration, in partnership with the judiciary (prosecutors, investigating magistrates, parole and probation officers), to form its own council for crime prevention at the most efficient suppression level possible. It contained no potential for community involvement or advice, but was a “top-down” bureaucratic response to the rising French feeling of insecurity.

Then, in 1997, a new mechanism, the Local Security Contract, was devised to bridge the gap between municipal social prevention programs and the top-level partnerships of police executives and civil servants in the judiciary. In this renewed attempt to come to grips with rising crime and violence, crime prevention was de-emphasized and the basic concept of Security was promoted as one of the main pillars of French government. Police prefects and prosecutors signed contracts with mayors of cities and towns. As the cities already had their community teamwork in place and working, the Local Security Contracts could count on joining together the two main forces that had been working separately –and often at cross-purposes—up until that time.

Contracts became locally based. They were now administered and monitored by a new group of professional civil servants, the LSC Coordinators. In time, this cooperation was incorporated into new national legislation, which specified that the mayors were to remain in charge of the new security effort.

Finally, in August 2002, the French Parliament enacted the Loi d'orientation et de programmation pour la sécurité intèrieure. This law created the Local Security and Crime Prevention Councils, which placed France structurally in a position similar to that of Sweden. The new Act also completed the integration of social crime prevention with security (crime suppression) techniques, leaving the important decision-making powers with the local communities.

It should be noted that, while all those councils and partnerships were developing, France also spread the practice of officiers de réseau, or local beat officers, who received some special training in community policing skills. Originally started as a pilot program in a handful of northern French cities, this practice spread throughout the country and developed a number of innovative outreach techniques that proved effective in reducing crime while improving community feelings of safety and participation in an interactive program.

When the Law of August 2002 went into effect, the combined local neighborhood policing concept was incorporated into the overall planning as Police de Proximité, or Community Policing. The intention is to mandate police cooperation with local municipalities, and to make police accountable to the public for its actions. Second, it mobilizes local residents to participate in ensuring their own security by using interagency outreach teams, problem-solving, counseling, and neighborhood volunteer work among other community policing approaches.

The remaining problems in France are roughly the following:

•  France is more centralized than most other European parliamentary democracies. Therefore, it is more difficult to establish effective policing practices and control them at local level than would be the case in a federal environment;

•  There remains a deep gulf between the police and the citizens in France , despite all efforts to date. Police tend to adopt new policies without even notifying the public, much less inviting them in to discuss the pros and cons of the policy. Police attendance at community meetings generally takes the form of announcing steps being taken, explaining how the police will enforce certain laws or ordinances, and taking note of complaints. Public involvement is minimal and is limited to receiving information. The members of the community usually have no control or oversight in that process.

•  Even in the social prevention category, French public policy has failed to address one of the core dilemmas facing that society: Minority communities and immigrant, primarily Muslim, foreigners. Although the French government commissioned a series of well researched, well written studies on how to integrate Muslim ethnic and linguistic communities into French society, the recommendations made by the researchers were never turned into effective legislation or policing methods. As a result, whole neighborhoods turned into “no go” zones for police, controlled by immigrant youth gangs. There is a total lack of police-community dialogue in those quarters. Needless to add, the atmosphere of neglect, hopelessness and exclusion has resulted in the growth of local terrorist support cells.

To summarize, French community policing is still evolving. It features many social crime prevention innovations, and has turned community effort into a permanent institution. On the downside, French police have been the reluctant heel-draggers in the entire process. They have considered themselves historically to be a paramilitary elite corps of specialized professionals. Ordinary citizens are, in their view, not qualified to “tell them what to do.”

Organizing a community and galvanizing it into anti-crime action is simply not seen by police as being their job: “Getting local residents to participate is not something we're good at” is an often-heard refrain among police officers. As a result, public meetings are seldom publicized and are not well attended by residents. For those who do attend, they are treated to another institutional presentation, complete with some droning statistics and recitations of new administrative regulations in fluent bureaucratese. The public is then asked to inform on their neighbors, is given a list of their rights and responsibilities, and the meeting is adjourned.

There is a definite parochial element in the French approach, in which local residents are treated, not as the owners of their neighborhoods with the cooperative power to boost crime prevention up to an effective level of force multipliers, but rather as helpless and abandoned defectives who need the police to act as guardians and tutors. There is no way to make the police solicit the advice and guidance of the community. There is no mechanism to question the police/justice system works or to call them to account for mistakes and abuses. There is no catalyst for change within the closed ranks of the police.

A consequence of this missing element of community participation is that, over time, the social dimension loses its substance and its contents. Instead, police and civil service administrators tend to impose more repressive policies “from the top down”. Thus the exclusion and frustration of Muslim youth, among other groups, continues and increases.


Just as in Sweden and France, Community Policing in Germany was developed over a period of several decades, and is largely an outgrowth of a community concept of crime prevention.

During the 1980s, German crime rates rose rapidly. The government response to that challenge was to create a crime prevention philosophy that would serve as a stable, permanent basis for development of new techniques and applications by police at local levels. In turn, German concepts of community policing emerged from:

•  the new crime prevention philosophy, both social and situational; and
•  detailed study of successful programs in other countries, including the United States.

It must be noted at the outset that Germany is federalized - read decentralized - and far less subject to direct national rule than are Sweden or France. Germany consists of sixteen separate Länder , or States, each of which has its own legislature and powerful state Governor. Much of the work associated with crime prevention occurs at state level. In the early 1990s, a number of German states formed their own Crime Prevention Councils. By 2002, nearly all the rest had adopted a similar approach, and all had enacted model projects for local crime prevention techniques. Between 1992 and 2002, crime rates throughout Germany dropped considerably, a real accomplishment considering the challenging integration of the five new eastern states, formerly under communist, soviet-associated government.

By 2004, Germany counted about 820 homicides in a population of over 82 million residents, or a ratio of 1 homicide for every 100,000 population. For Bulgaria , this would equate to about 80 homicides per year. Germans credit their unique state and local policing approach for the low rate of violent crime.

Also, German states have tried out various policing theories or working philosophies over the past two decades, including an early form of Community Policing resembling the U.S. first attempts in the late 1980s, called “citizen-friendly policing”, which slowly evolved into today's “Community Crime Prevention”, or Komunale Kriminalprävention.

Germany rejects the notion of “zero tolerance” or “broken window” policing philosophies, as do nearly all the member states of the European Union. Those and similar short-term suppression techniques may raise arrest rates temporarily, but cannot be permitted to masquerade as true Community Policing, which joins together all the valuable local organizations and authorities in a broad, lasting effort to improve the quality of life for all residents and, in the process, rescue young people and the disadvantaged from a life of crime and violence.

Thus, Community Policing in Germany is not a single organizational feature of German police forces, but rather an applied philosophy that can be used in specific neighborhoods, in specific instances and for achieving clearly defined results. Structure is determined by each state separately. In some Länder, it is fixed by the state government. In others, it is delegated to the towns and cities to decide at local level.

In most states, police either take the initiative in organizing Community Policing boards or councils in their town or city, or cooperate with the mayor or city council by participating on a local Crime Prevention Council.

An important body, founded in 2001, is the German Crime Prevention Forum ( This is a joint venture between the Federal Government and the 16 States. The Forum is located in Bonn , the former West German capitol, and works to extend the concept of crime prevention by keying in the broader social aspects of the task, together with using the local ownership of interagency resources in new and innovative ways.

The laudable philosophy of the Crime Prevention Forum is that crime prevention is the duty of society as a whole. It therefore brings together all the competent government ministries and departments, along with relevant social resources such as schools, churches, trade unions, business managers, youth counselors, health care providers, social and housing services, and many others.

In addition, the federal-level “Commission on Police-Based Crime Prevention” acts as a research and development bureau for specific areas of work. It disseminates its studies and “how to” manuals to the various states and local police departments to help them start similar programs at grass roots level. These include prevention of narcotics sales and abuse, robbery and blackmail, personal violence, endangering youth, youth crime and domestic violence. The Commission also develops new techniques for improving police-citizen relations.

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Arthur A. Jones, J.D., Dr.jur. Robin Wiseman, J.D., Dr.h.c.

Los Angeles, California / Genoa, Italy - September 8, 2006


--- Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman are international human rights lawyers with legal educations in the United States and Europe. They are consultants and authors on international policing, social policy and human rights, and regular contributors to the forum here at LA Community Policing.

For more of their work, please see the
Think Tank.

For additional information or a complete list of references, contact:

Dr. Arthur Jones