• Center for Problem oriented policing


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.

  • You are familiar with problem-oriented policing. The guide assumes that a problem-solving model, such as SARA (Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment), is guiding your project. The guide will assist you at the Analysis and Response stages by pointing you to the possible cause of the problem you are tackling and to the ways you might respond.
  • You are wiling to consider new responses to the problem. Rarely does police enforcement alone solve a persisting problem. To bring a lasting improvement, it is almost always necessary to modify the conditions giving rise to the problem, such as a lack of security or surveillance. Whatever measures you adopt must be carefully matched to the nature of your problem. Many of the measures are likely to be outside your experience and, indeed, that of most police officers. So, you need to learn about the ones that have been successfully used before in dealing with the kind of problem you face. While it is not usually recommended that a police agency blindly adopt another agency's responses to a problem, neither is it a good idea to be blind to what others have done. The key is to understand whether lessons learned elsewhere would apply under the conditions that exist for your problem.
  • You have limited time. The guide assumes that you have limited time to research best practice and that you want results quickly. You are not writing an academic paper where you might be faulted for missing a particular article or book. You are simply trying to find information that will help you with the practical task of dealing with your problem. For this reason, the guide does not provide a comprehensive description of all information sources, whether on the Internet or in libraries.† Rather, it is intended to help you find two main categories of information relevant to your task: (1) articles by researchers who have studied the problem you are facing and, (2) reports of police projects dealing with the problem. The first category of information will help you understand the factors giving rise to your problem; the second will help you find effective responses. Later in the project, you might wish to search for a third category of information: detailed information about a particular response (say, street closures or a publicity campaign) that you would like to implement.

    † Comprehensive descriptions are provided by Benamati et al. (1998) and Nelson (1997).

  • You are not writing a formal literature review. The guide will not include guidance about writing up the results of your literature search, but it will provide some advice about reading the material you find and extracting the information you need.
  • You have Internet access. Nowadays, it is very difficult to research a problem without having access to the Internet. The guide assumes that you have this access and that you are familiar with searching for information on the Internet. (Indeed, you might have found this guide on the Internet.) The computer you use will need a copy of Adobe Reader,† which allows you to read and download articles in portable document format (.pdf) that you find at websites on the Internet. Unless your computer has a high speed connection, this process of visiting websites and reading and downloading material can be slow and frustrating. Most computers in libraries have high speed connections and you can usually pay to obtain print copies of the material you have downloaded.

    † Can be downloaded from www.adobe.com

  • You have library access. The guide assumes that you have access to a large public library, or preferably a university or college library. Not only do these have computers linked to the Internet, but they also have paid subscriptions to some on-line sources of information that can be particularly helpful in your research. In addition, college or university libraries hold large numbers of books and journals that contain information that may be very relevant to your needs, especially if they have a criminal justice program. They also have professional librarians who can point you in the right direction and save you hours of work.

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 Best Place to Start

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.

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