Research on Policing and the Prevention of Crime
The assumption is that putting more officers on the street will lead to reduced crime.This strategy is referred to as preventive patrol. However, this assumption has been tested to see if it works. The first such research project was conducted in 1974 and was called the Kansas City Preventive Patrol Project. Conducted to test the degree to which preventive patrol affected such things as offense rates and the level of public fear, the experiment was relatively simple (Walker, 1992).
The southern part of Kansas City, Missouri, was divided into 15 areas. Five of these areas were patrolled in the usual fashion, five others featured doubled patrols, and the last five saw patrols eliminated altogether (no officers were assigned to these five areas and officers only went into those areas when they were called).
The results? Surprisingly, in the three sections of the city there were no significant differences in the rate of offending in terms of burglaries, robberies, auto thefts, larcenies, and vandalisms. Furthermore, citizens didn’t seem to realize there had been any changes in the patrol patterns, and there seemed to be no difference in citizens’ fear of crime during the study (Schmalleger, 2012). This study called into question the wisdom of random preventive patrol. However, the Kansas City experiment did usher in an era of more evidence-based policing in which police practices have been put to the test to see which are effective and which are not.
How Reports or Complaints of Crime Get to Police Officers
But before we discuss police functions, it is important to explore how citizens’ complaints and reports of crime get to police officers initially. And before we can even do that, we will need to go back to the beginning of the use of computers in policing. We don’t have to go back that far because in 1964, St. Louis was the only U.S. city with a computer system in its police department. As you might imagine, that was a rudimentary system. However, over the next four years, ten states and 50 cities installed computer-based criminal justice information systems (Dempsey and Forst, 2010). Today, of course, every police department uses computers in various phases of their operations. That certainly includes the use of computerized systems to handle emergency calls.
The 911 Emergency System
Prior to the advent of more technologically advanced systems, emergency response systems related to crime and other critical situations were slow and cumbersome. The reason why the process for reporting a crime or any other emergency was so slow was because there was no universal emergency telephone number. If you wanted to report a crime, you had to find the telephone number of your local police department, or you had to dial O for the operator and ask the operator to connect you to the police. Once you reached the police department, you gave your name and address and the nature of the problem to the police officer or clerk who answered the phone. That police department operator wrote down your information and handed it off to the police dispatcher. The dispatcher would then look at a map or log to determine which police units were closest to that area, and then radio them with the address and any other pertinent information gathered from the caller so they could respond to the call.
However, that all changed in 1968. According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), the demands for a national emergency number started as far back as 1957 (Abate, 2017). One source of the impetus for a national emergency number came from the National Association of Fire Chiefs, who believed that a universal number would make it easier for people to report fires (Abate, 2017). However, it took 10 more years for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice to issue a report recommending a single number that would allow citizens to contact police departments (Abate, 2017).
Finally, in 1968, American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T), the nations largest provider of telephone service, introduced 911 as a universal emergency number (iCert and 911 Education Foundation, 2015). However, it wasn’t until Congress passed the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999 that 911 was officially established as the nation’s emergency calling number (iCert and 911 Education Foundation, 2015); by then, though, 911 was firmly implanted in the public’s consciousness as the go-to number for emergencies. What the creation of 911 did was to create a direct connection between a central telephone office and a single corresponding public safety answering point (PSAP) (iCert and 911 Education Foundation, 2015). From the beginning of 911, the universal emergency number was a local service. This local control meant that emergency communication as well as emergency response would be customized in ways to best suit the needs of the community served by 911 (iCert and 911 Education Foundation, 2015). But always, there was an ongoing need for faster and more accurate emergency response. As far back as the 1970s, 911 operators recognized the need for a system that would provide them with automatic access to the name, address, and phone number of the person making the emergency call. Sometimes, 911 operators discovered, those callers were not able to provide essential information to the 911 operator. This need led to the establishment of Enhanced 911.