After Identifying Crime Trends, then What?

Data analysis and field research will lead to some hypotheses or conclusions about a crime problem or a crime trend. The hypotheses or conclusions will be contained in a report, along with recommendations to the command of the police department.

It is not enough for the strategic crime analyst to identify a crime trend. He or she must go beyond this and make recommendations for amelioration of the problem or trend. Usually, unlike the reports or recommendations of the tactical crime analyst, the report of the strategic crime analyst will not result in the capture or arrest of crime suspects or perpetrators. Instead, the report that emanates from the strategic crime analyst will lead to recommendations for action. That action might involve the police administration, community leaders, business associations, the city council or mayor, and even other legislative bodies.

Recommendations for Crime Trend Solutions

In order to make recommendations for the amelioration of crime trends, the analyst must examine the trend and come up with a strategic plan. Fortunately, a process for analyzing and determining a strategy has been proposed and evaluated. First, Professor Herman Goldstein described the problem-oriented approach to policing in a 1979 article, which he expanded upon in his book, Problem-Oriented Policing (Goldstein, 1990). Others— especially John Eck and Ronald Clarke—would be inspired to implement and advance problem-oriented policing in police agencies around the world. It would be John Eck who took problem-oriented policing to a new level.

John Eck, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati, began contributing to problem-oriented policing in the 1980s, when he studied the first full-scale attempt to implement the concept in the United States at Newport News, Virginia. Since then, he has helped to develop a number of now-standard techniques in problem-solving, including the SARA model and the crime analysis triangle. Eck, along with Ronald Clarke, has, through SARA, provided an agenda for the crime analyst. Clarke and Eck (2005) have basically outlined a role in which the crime analyst invests heavily in seeking new responses to the problems that are diagnosed and participates directly in efforts to test and implement them.The primary program is called problem-oriented policing, and the process used is the SARA model.

In the SARA model, the strategic crime analyst will collect the data, define the scope of the problem-solving effort, find an effective response, and set up the project so that it can be evaluated and the police can learn from the results.This necessarily means that the crime analyst is not waiting patiently by his or her computer for a unit in the police department to ask for his or her help. Instead, the analyst is an integral member of a team that will investigate and propose solutions to crime trends.

In the following pages, we will describe the four stages of SARA, a problem-oriented program to provide viable solutions to trends. But first, we will lay out further background on problem-oriented policing.

It has become clear since the 1970s that effective police work requires both focused attention and diverse approaches. The least effective policing uses neither element (Clarke and Eck, 2005).The explanation for this is also clear. If diverse approaches are used without focus, it is difficult to apply the appropriate approach to the places and people who most require it. If police are focused on hot spots, but only enforce the law, they limit their effectiveness. A fully effective police agency must diversify its approaches to crime and disorder (Clarke and Eck, 2005). That is, policing must address crime and disorder using a greater range of tools than simply enforcing the law.

The second element necessary to highly effective policing is focus.There is generally solid evidence that geographically concentrated enforcement at crime or disorder hot spots can be effective, at least in the short run (Clarke and Eck, 2005). That is, focused patrolling of very small high-crime places (e.g., street corners and block faces) has a modest effect on crime and a large effect on disorder. Also, if a few individuals are responsible for most crime or disorder, then removing them should reduce crime.Though sound in principle, the research testing this idea is very poor, so we do not know whether repeat offender programs work in actual practice, or if they are a seemingly promising notion that cannot effectively be carried out. Certainly, we know that mass incarceration has not worked to reduce crime and produced many adverse side effects (Petersilia, 2011).

While mass incarceration has proven to be ineffective, so has much of traditional policing. What this really means is that much police work is carried out to meet public expectations, and this is of limited value in controlling crime (Clarke and Eck, 2005).Today, the police need to find new and better ways to control crime, while continuing aspects of their traditional work that are still effective. The innovations that have come along since the 1990s have been aimed at doing just that. For instance, police leadership across the country has been experimenting with CompStat, zero tolerance, community policing, and, more recently, problem-oriented policing to get smarter about controlling and preventing crime.

While crime analysts have a role in all these innovations, problem-oriented policing thrusts them into the limelight and gives them an important team function. Herman Goldstein originated the concept of problem-oriented policing in a paper published in 1979. His idea in “Improving Policing: A Problem-Oriented Approach” (Goldstein, 1979) was simple: Policing should fundamentally be about changing the conditions that give rise to recurring crime problems and should not simply be about responding to incidents as they occur or trying to forestall them through preventive patrols.

Goldstein stated that police officers find it demoralizing to return repeatedly to the same place or to deal repeatedly with problems caused by the same small group of offenders.They feel overwhelmed by the volume of calls and rush around in a futile effort to deal with them all. To escape from this trap, Goldstein said that the police must adopt a problem-solving approach in which they work through the following four stages:

  • 1 Scan data to identify patterns in the incidents they routinely handle.
  • 2 Subject these patterns (or problems) to in-depth analysis of causes.
  • 3 Find new ways of intervening earlier in the causal chain so that these problems are less likely to occur in the future. These new strategies are not limited to efforts to identify, arrest, and prosecute offenders. Rather, without abandoning the use of the criminal law when it is likely to be the most effective response, problem-oriented policing seeks to find other potentially effective responses (that might require partnership with others), with a high priority on prevention.
  • 4 Assess the impact of the interventions and, if they have not worked, start the process all over again (Clarke and Eck, 2005).

SARA is the acronym used to refer to these four stages of problemsolving: scanning, analysis, response, and assessment. The SARA acronym was not created by Goldstein, but by Eck and Spelman (1987). Eck and Spelman defined SARA as a strategy consisting of four parts:

  • 1 Scanning. Instead of relying on broad, law-related concepts—robbery and burglary, for example—officers are encouraged to group individual related incidents that come to their attention as “problems” and define these problems in more precise and therefore useful terms. For example, an incident that typically would be classified simply as a “robbery” might be seen as part of a pattern of prostitution-related robberies committed by transvestites in center-city hotels.
  • 2 Analysis. Officers working on a well-defined problem then collect information from a variety of private and public sources—not just police data. They use the information to illuminate the underlying nature of the problem, suggesting its causes and a variety of options for its resolution.
  • 3 Response. Working with citizens, businesses, and public and private agencies, officers tailor a program of action suitable to the characteristics of the problem. Solutions may go beyond traditional criminal justice system remedies to include other community agencies or organizations.
  • 4 Assessment. Finally, the officers evaluate the impact of these efforts to see if the problems were actually solved or alleviated.
  • (Eck and Spelman, 1987, p. 2)

Although using the stages of SARA can be difficult, the greatest challenges will almost always be found at analysis and assessment. But, as Clarke and Eck (2005) suggest, it is precisely at these stages where the strategic analyst can make the greatest contribution. From the very first, Goldstein has argued that problem-oriented policing depends crucially on the availability of high-level analytic capacity in the department (Goldstein, 1979).

Indeed, the role of the strategic crime analyst is crucial. In support of problem-oriented policing, the analyst must: (1) carefully define specific problems; (2) conduct in-depth analyses to understand their causes; (3) undertake broad searches for solutions to remove these causes and bring about lasting reductions in problems; and (4) evaluate how successful these activities have been (Clarke and Eck, 2005).This is a form of action research in which analysts work alongside practitioners, helping to formulate and refine interventions until success is achieved. This is not the usual role of the researcher, in which he or she often works apart from practitioners, collects background information about problems, and conducts independent evaluations. In action research, however, the researcher is an integral member of the problem-solving team.This is the role of the crime analyst, who must inform and guide action at every stage.

Here is a brief overview showing what is essential to each stage of SARA:

Scanning

Identifying recurring problems of concern to the public and the police Identifying the consequences of the problems for the community and the police

  • • Prioritizing those problems
  • • Developing broad goals
  • • Confirming that the problems exist
  • • Determining how frequently the problems occur and for how long they have been occurring
  • • Selecting problems for closer examination

Analysis

  • • Identifying and understanding the events and conditions that precede and accompany the problem
  • • Identifying relevant data to be collected
  • • Researching what is known about the problem type
  • • Taking inventory of how the problem is currently addressed and the strengths and limitations of the current response
  • • Narrowing the scope of the problem as specifically as possible
  • • Identifying a variety of resources that may be of assistance in developing a deeper understanding of the problem
  • • Developing a working hypothesis about why the problem is occurring

Response

  • • Brainstorming for new interventions
  • • Searching for what other communities with similar problems have done
  • • Choosing among the alternative interventions
  • • Outlining a response plan and identifying responsible parties
  • • Stating the specific objectives for the response plan
  • • Carrying out the planned activities

Assessment

  • • Determining whether the plan was implemented (a process evaluation)
  • • Collecting pre- and post-response qualitative and quantitative data
  • • Determining whether broad goals and specific objectives were attained
  • • Identifying any new strategies needed to augment the original plan
  • • Conducting ongoing assessment to ensure continued effectiveness (Clarke and Eck, 2005)
 
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