Problem-oriented policing

Problem-oriented policing

Problem-oriented policing (POP), coined by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Herman Goldstein, is a policing strategy that involves the identification and analysis of specific crime and disorder problems, in order to develop effective response strategies in conjunction with ongoing assessment [ Center for Problem Oriented Policing] - What is POP?] . This strategy places more emphasis on research and analysis as well as crime prevention and the engagement of public and private organizations in the reduction of community problems.

POP policy in a nutshell

Problem-oriented policing relies on the identification of problems by rank-and-file officers. Not all departments will define problems the same way, but a typical definition is:

* Repeated incidents;
* Occurring in a community;
* With related characteristics (e.g., behavior, location, people, time);
* That concern both the community and the police.

Where, under a traditional system, a patrol officer might answer repeated calls to a certain problem area or "hot spot" and deal only with each individual incident, that officer is encouraged under POP to discover the root cause of the problem and come up with ways of solving it. The goal is to find a cure for the ailment instead of merely treating the symptoms.

The exploration of possible responses to a problem is handled by patrol officers. Once a problem is identified, officers are expected to work closely with community members to develop a solution, which can include a wide range of alternatives to arrest. These may focus on the offender, the community, the environment, outside agencies, or the need for some kind of mediation. Situations often demand that police and citizens fashion tailor-made responses to problems, so a high degree of importance is placed on creativity and discretion.

Political issues and conflicts between actors

In the last decade the problem-oriented approach has become a popular one among police administrators and high-ranking city officials. There are two main reasons for this: First, it is an innovation readily accepted and approved by the public, which by and large welcomes the opportunity to be heard and to become more involved. Public favor translates into job security for administrators and elected officials. The second reason is the opportunity to collect substantial sums of money through federal grants. In 1995, a federal grant of $327 million from the U.S. Department of Justice was divided up among police departments implementing POP programs in the state of Arizona. The availability of federal grant money creates a real incentive for police agencies to use POP. Because POP policy may require considerable organizational restructuring, administrators can justify applications for inordinately large funds. A possible third reason is that POP usually represents a revolutionary change in procedures, and this can provide those who implement it with provocative material for books and speaking engagements.

The rank-and-file officers, however, often do not share their administrators' enthusiasm. One of the reasons for this may be a lack of clarity with respect to organizational goals. Poorly defined or ambiguous goals can lead to stress and frustration. Another possible source of rank-and-file discontent is the conflict between the administration's community policing mandate and the continuing need to respond to calls for service.

Significant impacts of POP policy

Problem-oriented policing often has a number of effects and some unintended consequences that flow from them.

Increased communication with the public

Under POP, the public has a much more direct hand in defining the goals of the police and influencing what issues the police will focus on. This can cause a conflict between what is traditionally of high importance to the police, such as robberies, burglaries and violent crime, and what is a priority to community members – which may be things as mundane as loitering crowds or acts of graffiti. This mismatch of priorities can hinder the relationship between the police and the community. It can also make the officer’s job more difficult and stressful as he or she is presented with conflicting mandates, one set coming from within and the other from without (the community).

Proactive vs. reactive

Another possible conflict may exist between the proactive implementation of POP and the need for traditional “incident-driven” policing. In large metropolitan areas, dispatchers receive a high volume of 911 emergencies and calls for service around the clock. Some areas of the city may be quieter than others, and these are typically the areas that don’t have many problems. Ironically, in these quieter and more peaceful areas, where officers have abundant time to pursue genuine problem-solving, it isn’t particularly needed. In the areas that could benefit most from POP, patrol officers may not have time to exercise it. Some jurisdictions have established units focussed on Nuisance abatement in order to assist in these areas.

Relationships between officers

Complications can arise if certain officers in each department are designated as community problem solvers or if a few enthusiastic officers earnestly commit themselves to the POP process, as this leaves the others on the same shift to pick up the slack in responding to calls for service. This can lead to tension and resentment, which in turn can diminish morale and adversely affect the ability of the officers to function as a team and be productive.

Abuse of authority or heightened conservatism

Increased discretion creates a risk for abuses of authority. POP encourages police to actively intervene in situations they had previously left alone, which presents more opportunities for abuse and a “net-widening” effect.

By the same token, increased discretion coupled with the possibility of larger social consequences could make officers more conservative in their approach; perhaps too conservative to fully achieve POP goals.

ee also

* Community oriented policing
* Fixing Broken Windows
* Intelligence-led policing


External links

* [ Center for Problem-Oriented Policing]
* Herman Goldstein, [ Improving Policing: A Problem-Oriented Approach] , "Crime & Delinquency" (April 1979):236-243.

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