The word community is a broad term used for fellowship or organized society. In general, the term community has been used with respect to either a geographical community (e.g., a neighborhood, town, or city) or the sharing of common beliefs or social practices (e.g., the Muslim community; the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community). Within a community, security and surveillance technologies serve to protect individuals, their property, and the community itself. Through such technology, individuals may be able to achieve their desire to live in a crime-free community.

According to data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, violent crime and property crime in the United States declined by more than 4% from 2012 to 2013. Many scholars attribute this decline to various factors, including more community crime prevention measures and improved policing, especially the extended use of surveillance technology by communities and law enforcement agencies to improve neighborhood safety. The extensive application of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras worldwide has also been reported to improve arrest and conviction rates, due to the increased availability of the physical evidence required in the prosecution of offenders. However, the constitutionality of using surveillance technologies in communities, often without individuals’ consent, remains a contentious issue. In this entry, the types of communities and societies and what makes each of them different are discussed, and the role of a community as an agent of social control and its cooperation with local law enforcement are described.

Types of Communities

Ferdinand Tönnies, a German sociologist, described two types of human association: (1) Gemeinschaft (meaning “community”) and (2) Gesellschaft (meaning “society” or “association”). As Tönnies argued, Gemeinschaft, due to the presence of a “unity of will,” is perceived to be a tighter and more cohesive social entity, such as the family and groups with shared characteristics (e.g., place, beliefs). Gesellschaft is defined as a group in which individual members are motivated to participate purely on the basis of self-interest. It is proposed that in the real world most groups are a mixture of these two.

For most individuals, community is an important aspect of life. To belong to a particular community, members must have a sense of belonging, a feeling that they matter to one another and to the group and a shared faith that their needs will be met through their commitment to be together. Therefore, for a community to exist and thrive, both freedom and security must be present: The community can flourish because individuals feel free enough to share and secure enough to get along. This sense of connectedness—the formation of social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness—is known as social capital. Once social capital exists, the community will be productive, making possible the achievement of goals that would not be attainable in its absence.

Agent of Social Control

The community is an important agent of social control and socialization. Communities with weak bonds and cohesion tend to have higher crime rates. In the same vein, communities with strong bonds and efficacy tend to have lower crime rates. Communities that play an active role in crime prevention and community safety are able to reduce offenses in their communities. The community is also a veritable agent for the rehabilitation of offenders, through community services, electronic monitoring, parole, and probation sentences. There seems to be an emerging recognition of community corrections programs in both treatment- and control-oriented models of offender change and transformation.

It is widely believed in society that the police and the community share responsibility in maintaining order, fighting crime, and solving other social problems. Thus, the community often partners with law enforcement agencies in the maintenance of law and order, in identifying crime and social problems, and in crafting resolutions for those problems. Law enforcement agencies cannot be everywhere at the same time, so the active involvement of communities in the maintenance of law and order is considered essential.

Modern societies, as both Tönnies and Durkheim observed, are diverse and require more formal approaches to the maintenance of law and order. Many have suggested that the employment of surveillance and CCTV cameras is necessary to ensure the security of the community. However, others wonder if the security of community members can be obtained without sacrificing their liberty. Such issues need to be addressed as the value of surveillance in the maintenance of law and order in the community is pondered.

Rochelle E. M. Cobbs, O. Oko Elechi, and Sherill Morris-Francis

See also Closed-Circuit Television ; Crime ; Crime Control ; Policing and Society ; Social Control

Further Readings

Brint, Steven. “Gemeinschaft Revisited: A Critique and Reconstruction of the Community Concept.” Sociological Theory, v.19/1 (2001).

Cohen, Anthony P. The Symbolic Construction of Community. New York, NY: Routledge, 1985.

Durkheim, Émile. The Division of Labor in Society. New York, NY: Free Press, 1964.

Gusfield, Joseph R.The Community: A Critical Response. New York, NY: Harper Colophon, 1975.

McMillan, David W. and David M. Chavis. “Sense of Community: A Definition and Theory.” Journal of Community Psychology, v.14/1 (1986).

Tönnies, Ferdinand.Community and Society: Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction, 1988.