What Should Police Be Doing to Implement Problem-Oriented Policing?
Problem-oriented policing covers a broad array of responses to a wide range of problems and the evidence base of rigorous studies remains limited. This makes it difficult to give specific recommendations as to how police agencies should deal with certain types of problems. Goldstein’s notion of problem-oriented policing, however, was not designed to provide agencies with specific ways of handling problems. Indeed, Goldstein rejected such one-size fits all tactics that had been typical in the “standard model of policing.” Essential to problem-oriented policing is the careful analysis of problems to design tailor-made solutions. While individualized solutions are important, it is also the case that police agencies across the U.S. often face very similar types of problems that may respond to similar types of solutions. The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing has recognized this, creating more than 70 problem-specific guides for police that provide recommendations on how agencies can tackle a number of different problems.
Weisburd, Telep, Hinkle, and Eck (2008) provided some limited guidance on the types of problem-oriented policing interventions that seem to be most effective:
1. Hot spots policing interventions that use POP have shown particularly successful results. In such studies, it is difficult to disentangle whether problem solving or the focus on small geographic areas is driving the success, but the two strategies seem to work quite well in concert.
2. Problem-oriented policing appears most effective when police departments are on board and fully committed to the tenets of problem-oriented policing. In a problem-oriented policing project in Atlanta public housing, for example, the program suffered greatly because the police were not fully committed to problem-oriented policing.
3. Program expectations must be realistic. Officer case load must be kept to a manageable level and police should not be expected to tackle major problems in a short period of time. In the Minneapolis Repeat Call Address Policing study for example, officers were overwhelmed by dealing with more than 200 problem addresses in a 12-month period. Conversely,in the Jersey City POP at hot spots experiment, officers were given a more manageable 12 hot spot case load, and officers were more effective in implementing the response.
4. Based on limited evidence, collaboration with outside criminal justice agencies appears to be an effective approach in problem-oriented policing. The two probationer-police partnerships included in the review were particularly successful in reducing recidivism.
5. In terms of using the SARA model to guide POP, police agencies typically fail to conduct in-depth problem-analysis. Indeed they often engage in a form of “shallow problem solving” that involves only peripheral analysis of crime data and a largely law enforcement-oriented response. While we do not want to advocate shallow adherence to the SARA model, the evidence suggests that even shallow problem analysis is effective in reducing crime and disorder. This also suggests that if police were to more closely follow the SARA model and expand their repertoire of responses beyond traditional law enforcement they might enjoy even greater crime control benefits from problem-oriented policing. The assessment phase in SARA also tends to be a weak area for many police agencies, but one that is incredibly important to inform police practice. As Sherman (1998) notes, evidence-based policing involves not only police using strategies and tactics shown to be effective, but also agencies constantly evaluating their practices. The assessment phase of the SARA model provides a framework for agencies to consistently learn from and improve their problem solving projects.