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Problem-oriented policing focuses, one-by-one, on specific problems of crime and disorder with the intention of identifying and altering the particular factors giving rise to each problem. The problems addressed in problem-oriented policing tend not to be confined to just a few police jurisdictions, but are more widely experienced. It is therefore likely that some other agency has tried to solve the kind of problem that you are dealing with now. Or perhaps some researcher has studied a similar problem and learned things that might be useful to your work. You could save yourself a lot of time and effort by finding out what they did and why. In particular, you can learn which responses seemed to be effective and which were not. So long as they made available a written report of their work, this guide will help you discover what they did.
Having found out what others have done, you cannot simply copy what they did. You will have to adapt any successful responses they used to your own situation. This guide does not tell you how to analyze and understand your own problem.† It will only help you to profit from the work of those who have dealt with a similar problem. It is designed to take you as quickly as possible to the information you need and to help you evaluate and make the best use of this information. In doing this, it assumes:
† See Weisel (2005) for a comprehensive treatment of analysis.
† Comprehensive descriptions are provided by Benamati et al. (1998) and Nelson (1997).
† Can be downloaded from www.adobe.com
The guide recommends a particular sequence of steps to take in searching for material, which should lead you as quickly as possible to the information you need. Even so, unless you are lucky and hit upon the right material quickly, you can expect to spend many hours on the Internet or in the library. For most problems, there is relatively little available literature, and finding relevant articles and reports can be difficult. Rarely will all the information you need about your problem be in one place unless it happens to be the subject of one of the Problem-Oriented Guides for Police Series. More usually you will have to piece together items of information from a variety of sources. At first, you should concentrate on understanding the factors that give rise to the problem. Later, you might concentrate on what others have done to reduce the problem. You might have to repeat your search as you narrow down the material you are seeking or as you need to find out more about particular aspects of a promising response. So, don't expect to complete your search all in one sitting. Instead, you might have to return to your computer or the library several times before you have assembled the information you need.
The Problem-Oriented Guides for Police Series is the best place to look for background research on a variety of common crime and disorder problems. Each guide summarizes the best available research on the causes of a particular problem, and also provides a blueprint for analyzing and responding to the problem. Guides have been published on such topics as drug dealing in privately-owned apartment complexes, thefts of and from cars in parking facilities, and burglary of single-family homes. Guides are continually being produced, and are available online through the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing at www.popcenter.org and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at www.cops.usdoj.gov.
You will greatly reduce the time spent searching for information if you tightly define your problem. Let us say that you are dealing with a rash of vehicle-related thefts in your town. An Internet search on "car theft" could yield hundreds of "hits" or sources. It would take too long to scan through all these sources to find the ones most relevant to your particular problem. It is like a crime investigation with too many suspects, not too few! So it is important that you focus more tightly. What kind of car theft are you dealing with: Is it both thefts of cars and from cars, or is it just theft of cars? Try to focus on the largest component of your problem. If it is theft of cars, where are these cars being stolen—from the downtown area, from the suburbs or from university campuses? If from downtown, are most of the thefts from the street or from parking lots? If from parking lots, are these public or private, or from surface lots or decks. And so on.
Making your search too narrow (for example, "joyriding thefts from downtown lots at night,") might yield no useful literature because nobody has undertaken a study on precisely this topic. So even if this defines your problem exactly, you might have to broaden your search a little to find some relevant literature. For example, searches for "car thefts from parking lots" or "juvenile joyriding" might yield articles or reports that begin to help you understand your problem and begin to suggest some possible responses, even if most of what you find is not directly relevant.
There are few firm rules about defining your problem to make your search efficient, though it is usually best to begin with a tight definition and broaden this progressively until you have begun to find relevant material.
Having defined your problem clearly, you will then need to formulate a search term for use in searching online databases and website search boxes for relevant material. Make a list of words that come to mind when you think of your topic. These will be the "keywords" that you use for your search term. In doing this, think about words with similar or identical meanings. Think also about alternative spellings, especially British spellings ("behaviour" instead of "behavior," "organisation" instead of "organization," etc).
Your search will probably be an evolving process. You may need to revise your search term as you find out more about your topic. Keep a record of your search terms (with words or phrases exactly as entered), the name of the databases that you used, and the date of your search. Don't waste time figuring out the same thing twice!
Sometimes a search can be overly general (which results in too many hits) or overly specific (too few hits). To fine-tune your search, you can use: (1) phrases, (2) Boolean operators, and (3) truncation symbols:
The websites listed in the next section (and many others) have a search box, usually on the home page, which helps you find relevant material quickly. In some cases, the search box comes with a tutorial or specific instructions in its use, which you should always read.
As you begin to search, you may find that you are getting either too many hits (your search is too broad) or too few (your search is too narrow). In these cases you will want to broaden or narrow your search.
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