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Pros and cons of problem oriented policing

Using a basic iterative approach of problem identification, analysis, response, assessment, and adjustment of the response, this adaptable and dynamic analytic approach provides an appropriate framework to uncover the complex mechanisms at play in crime problems and to develop tailor-made interventions to address the underlying conditions that cause crime problems Goldstein 1990; Eck and Spelman 1987. Researchers have found problem-oriented policing to be effective in controlling a wide range of specific crime and disorder problems, such as convenience store robberies Hunter and Jeffrey 1992prostitution Matthews 1990street-level drug markets Hope 1994and gang violence Braga et al.

Indeed, there is very promising evidence of the effectiveness of the approach Skogan and Frydl 2004; Weisburd and Eck 2004; Braga 2002. The Problem-Oriented Approach to Crime Prevention Until recently, most police departments engaged in incident-driven crime prevention strategies. Such departments resolve individual incidents instead of solving recurring crime problems Eck and Spelman 1987. Officers respond to repeated calls and never look for the underlying conditions that may be causing similar groups of incidents.

Officers become frustrated because they answer similar calls and seemingly make no real progress. Citizens become dissatisfied because the problems that generate their repeated calls still exist Eck and Spelman 1987. In 1979, Herman Goldstein proposed an alternative; he felt that police should go further than answering call after call and should instead search for solutions to recurring problems that generate the repeated calls.

His proposition was simple and straightforward. Behind every recurring problem are underlying conditions that create it.

  1. As he suggests, It is not yet clear what significance, if any, there may be to the way in which problems are naturally defined. The challenge to police officers is to go beyond the analysis that naturally occurs to them; namely, to find the places and times where particular offenses are likely to occur, and to identify the offenders who are likely to be responsible for the crimes.
  2. Advocates such as Michael Scott, Rana Sampson, Ronald Clarke, John Eck, and Herman Goldstein have made a concerted effort to disseminate research methodologies, theoretical insights, and research findings to the police and the communities they serve.
  3. The substance and implementation of many problem-oriented policing projects are limited due to shortcomings in the links between analysis and response.

Incident-driven policing never addresses these conditions; therefore, incidents are likely to recur. Answering calls for service is an important task and still must be done, but police officers should respond systematically to recurring calls for the same problem.

In order for the police to be more efficient and effective, they must gather information about incidents and design an appropriate response based on the nature of the underlying conditions that cause the problem s Goldstein 1990. As summarized by Eck and Spelman 1987: Underlying conditions create problems. These conditions might include the characteristics of the people involved offenders, potential victims, and othersthe social setting in which these people interact, the physical environment, and the way the public deals with these conditions.

A problem created by these conditions may generate one or more incidents. These incidents, while stemming from a common source, may appear to be different. For example, social and physical conditions in a deteriorated apartment complex may generate burglaries, acts of vandalism, intimidation of pedestrians by rowdy teenagers, and other incidents. These incidents, some of which come to police attention, are symptoms of the problem. The incidents will continue as long as the problem that creates them persists.

Identifying these problems in more precise terms, researching each problem, documenting the nature of the current police response, assessing its adequacy and the adequacy of existing authority and resources, engaging in a broad exploration of alternatives to present responses, weighing the merits of these alternatives, and choosing among them. The SARA model consists of these stages: Rather, depending on the complexity of the problems to be addressed, the pros and cons of problem oriented policing can be characterized as a series of disjointed and often simultaneous activities.

A wide variety of issues can cause deviations from the SARA model, including identified problems that need to be reanalyzed because initial responses were ineffective and implemented responses that sometimes reveal new problems Braga 2002. Scanning Scanning involves the identification of problems that are worth looking at because they are important and amenable to solution.

Herman Goldstein 1990 suggests that the definition of problems be at the street level of analysis and not be restricted by preconceived typologies. As he suggests, It is not yet clear what significance, if any, there may be to the way in which problems are naturally defined. Nor is it clear if, for the purposes of analysis, one way of defining problems is preferable to another. It may be that none of this matters: A police officer may rely on his or her informal knowledge of a community to identify a problem that he or she thinks is important to the well-being of the community.

Another possibility is to identify problems from the examination of citizen calls for service coming into a police department. The notion is that citizens will let the police know what problems are concerning them by making calls as individuals.

By analyzing these calls, and grouping them in ways that point to common causes or common solutions, the police may be able to develop a response that ameliorates the problem that is generating the calls. With the recent proliferation of computerized mapping technology in police departments, there has been a strong movement in police departments to use these techniques in the identification of crime problems Pros and cons of problem oriented policing and McEwen 1997.

Another approach to identifying problems is through consultation with community groups of different kinds, including other government agencies. This differs from analyzing individual calls for service because the demands come from groups, rather than individuals.

If the police are interested in forging partnerships with groups as well pros and cons of problem oriented policing individuals, then it is important to open up channels through which groups can express their concerns such as community advisory councils or regular meetings held by the police to which all members of a community are invited Skogan and Hartnett 1997. The best approach to identifying problems would be to combine these efforts. Analysis The analysis phase challenges police officers to analyze the causes of problems behind a string of crime incidents or substantive community concern.

Once the underlying conditions that give rise to crime problems are known, police officers develop and implement appropriate responses. The challenge to police officers is to go beyond the analysis that naturally occurs to them; namely, to find the places and times where particular offenses are likely to occur, and to identify the offenders who are likely to be responsible for the crimes. Although these approaches have had some operational success, this type of analysis usually produces directed patrol operations or a focus on repeat offenders.

The idea of analysis for problem solving was intended to go beyond this. A study of the problem of theft from merchants by shoppers illustrates the need. It is easy, accepting how we have commonly responded to shoplifting to become enmeshed in exploring new ways in which to increase the number of arrests—including more efficient processing by the police.

If one digs deeper, however, it becomes apparent that shoplifting is heavily influenced by how the merchandise is displayed and the means used to safeguard it. The police often accept these merchandising decisions as givens and are resigned to processing as many shoplifters as a store chooses to apprehend and deliver into their hands. More in-depth probing raises questions about the effectiveness of arrests as the primary means to reduce shoplifting and the propriety of delegating to private interests the judgment of who is to be arrested.

The police may then focus on ways to curtail theft and on use to be made of arrest, including criteria to be employed in deciding who to arrest. The development of appropriate responses is closely linked with the analysis that is performed.

The analysis reveals the potential targets for an intervention, and it is at least partly the idea about what form the intervention might take that suggests important lines of analysis. As such, the reason police often look at places and times where crimes are committed is that they are already imagining that an effective way to prevent the crimes would be to get officers on the scene through directed patrols.

The reason they often look for the likely offender is that they think that the most effective and just response to a crime problem would be to arrest and incapacitate the offender. Effective responses often depend on getting other people to take actions that reduce the opportunities for criminal offending, or to mobilize informal social control to drive offenders away from certain locations. The responses that problem-oriented police officers develop may be close to current police practices or, in some instances, quite different.

Goldstein 1990, 102-47 offers the following suggestive list of general alternatives police may consider in developing responses to neighborhood crime problems: Assessment is important for at least two different reasons. The first is to ensure that police remain accountable for their performance and for their use of resources.

Citizens and their representatives want to know how the money and freedom they surrendered to the police are being used, and whether important results in the form of less crime, enhanced security, or increased citizen satisfaction with the police have been achieved.

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A second reason assessment is important is to allow the police to learn about what methods are effective in dealing with particular problems. Unless the police check to see whether their efforts produced a result, it will be hard for them to improve their practices.

Serious, large, and recurrent problems such as controlling gang violence or handling domestic disputes deserve highly rigorous examinations.

Other problems that are less serious, or common, such as a lonely elderly person making repeated calls to the police for companionship, are obviously not worth such close examination. To meet the demands of measuring accountability and performance, problem-oriented police should, at a minimum, describe the scanning, response, and assessment phases by measuring inputs, activities, outputs, and whatever can be said about the outcomes of their initiatives.

PROBLEM-ORIENTED POLICING

In general, problem-oriented police should strive to conduct more rigorous assessments of their responses with due consideration to time and resource constraints. Depending on the availability of funds, police departments should consider partnering up with independent researchers to conduct systematic evaluations of their efforts. In the absence of such a partnership, Clarke 1998 suggests that police should take care to relate any observed results to specific actions taken, develop assessment plans while outlining the project, present control data when available and reasonably comparable to the subject s of the intervention, and, as will be discussed further, measure crime displacement.

While the degree of rigor applied to the assessment of responses may vary, what must not be sacrificed is the goal of measuring results. Pros and cons of problem oriented policing will keep the police focused on results rather than means, and that is one of the most important contributions of the idea of problem-oriented policing.

The concept seems to have survived pros and cons of problem oriented policing Gary Cordner 1998, 305 has identified as first-generation issues: Although the problem-oriented approach has demonstrated much potential value in preventing crime and improving police practices, research has also documented that it is very difficult for police officers to implement problem-oriented policing strategies Eck and Spelman 1987; Clarke 1998; Braga 2002.

Cordner 1998 identifies a number of challenging second-generation issues in the substance and implementation of many problem-oriented policing projects. These issues include the tendency for officers to conduct only a superficial analysis of problems and rushing to implement a response, the tendency for officers to rely on traditional or faddish responses rather than conducting a wider search for creative responses, and the tendency to completely ignore the assessment of the effectiveness of implemented responses Cordner 1998.

Indeed, the research literature is filled with cases where problem-oriented policing programs tend to lean toward traditional methods and where problem analysis is weak Eck and Spelman 1987; Buerger 1994; Capowich and Roehl 1994; Read and Tilley 2000.

Deficiencies in current problem-oriented policing practices exist in all phases of the process. During the scanning phase, police officers risk undertaking a project that is too small for example, the lonely old man who repeatedly calls the police for companionship or too broad for example, gang delinquency and this destroys the discrete problem focus of the project and leads to a lack of direction at the beginning of analysis Clarke 1998.

Some officers skip the analysis phase or conduct an overly simple analysis that does not adequately dissect the problem or does not use relevant information from other agencies such as hospitals, schools, and private businesses Clarke 1998.

In their analysis of problem-oriented initiatives in forty-three police departments in England and Wales, Read and Tilley 2000 found that problem analysis was generally weak with many initiatives accepting the definition of a problem at face value, using only short-term data to unravel the nature of the problem, and failing to adequately examine the genesis of the crime problems.

As noted earlier, the responses of many problem-oriented policing projects rely too much on traditional police tactics such as arrests, surveillance, and crackdowns and neglect the wider range of available alternative responses. Read and Tilley 2000 found that officers selected certain responses prior to, or in spite of, analysis; failed to think through the need for a sustained crime reduction; failed to think through the mechanisms by which the response could have a measurable impact; failed to fully involve partners; and narrowly focused responses, usually on offenders; as well as a number of other weaknesses in the response development process.

Scott and Clarke 2000 observe that assessment of responses is rare and, when undertaken, is usually cursory and limited to anecdotal or impressionistic data. Conclusion Problem-oriented policing represents an important innovation in American policing. Unfortunately, the practice ofproblem-oriented policing sometimes falls short of the principles suggested by Herman Goldstein 1990.

The substance and implementation of many problem-oriented policing projects are limited due to shortcomings in the links between analysis and response.

The current state of knowledge among front-line police officers about the most effective and economical ways in which to address problems is limited, and often primitive Scott 2000; Braga 2002. Advocates such as Michael Scott, Rana Sampson, Ronald Clarke, John Eck, and Herman Goldstein have made a concerted effort to disseminate research methodologies, theoretical insights, and research findings to the police and the communities they serve.

These scholars have been involved in the publication of many practical guides and volumes to further the practice of problem-oriented policing. These guides present useful information on an impressive array of problems ranging from robberies at automated bank teller machines to rave parties to clandestine drug laboratories. It is important to recognize that problem-oriented policing is still in its formative stages and its practice is still developing.

Progress in policing is incremental and slow, and that does not make problem-oriented policing unrealistic.

  • Another approach to identifying problems is through consultation with community groups of different kinds, including other government agencies;
  • In order for the police to be more efficient and effective, they must gather information about incidents and design an appropriate response based on the nature of the underlying conditions that cause the problem s Goldstein 1990;
  • Indeed, there is very promising evidence of the effectiveness of the approach Skogan and Frydl 2004; Weisburd and Eck 2004; Braga 2002;
  • The idea of analysis for problem solving was intended to go beyond this;
  • As such, the reason police often look at places and times where crimes are committed is that they are already imagining that an effective way to prevent the crimes would be to get officers on the scene through directed patrols.

Indeed, the pioneers of this young and evolving approach have accomplished much since Herman Goldstein first presented the concept in 1979.