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The concept of problem-oriented policing can be illustrated by an example. Suppose police find themselves responding several times a day to calls about drug dealing and vandalism in a neighborhood park. The common approach of dispatching an officer to the scene and repeatedly arresting offenders may do little to resolve the long term crime and disorder problem. If, instead, police were to incorporate problem-oriented policing techniques into their approach, they would examine the conditions underlying the problem. This would likely include collecting additional information—perhaps by surveying neighborhood residents and park users, analyzing the time of day when incidents occur, determining who the offenders are and why they favor the park, and examining the particular areas of the park that are most conducive to the activity and evaluating their environmental design characteristics. The findings could form the basis of a response to the problem behaviors. While enforcement might be a component of the response, it would unlikely be the sole solution because, in this case, analysis would likely indicate the need to involve neighborhood residents, parks and recreation officials and others.
Problem-oriented policing can be applied at various levels of community problems and at various levels in the police organization. It can be applied to problems that affect an entire community, involving the highest level of police agency, government, and community resources. It can be applied at intermediate levels (for example, a neighborhood or a police district), involving an intermediate level of resources. Or it can be applied at a very localized level (for example, a single location or a small group of problem individuals), involving the resources of only a few police officers and other individuals.