Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Crime Analysis 101: The SARA Model

A couple of months ago, I was having a conversation with another crime analyst and were talking about the blog. During our conversation, he suggested that I include a few articles on the basics of crime analysis for those who might be interested in learning more about the craft. This dovetailed nicely with a recent anecdote from my workplace.

I was talking with a patrol supervisor who's new job included being responsible for suppressing crime problems in a specific geographic area. As we kicked around some ideas regarding crime problems in this area, it became clear to me that this type of assignment included the necessity of him thinking like a crime analyst and not like a patrol supervisor. Something that he wasn't trained for or experienced in.

While he's a bright guy and one of the best supervisors at my department, he and most of the other patrol supervisors have never been trained to think like a crime analyst. Yet as my agency and many others move towards a more data driven and problem oriented policing model we need to ensure that all the folks responsible for overseeing this have a basic understanding of crime analysis.

In this post, I'm going to briefly cover one of the basic elements of crime analysis, the SARA model. SARA is an acronym for:

  • Scanning
  • Analysis
  • Response
  • Assessment

The SARA model outlines the steps we take in a problem oriented policing approach to crime fighting.

First, we must Scan for a problem. Before we can develop a solution, we must first have a problem to solve. To be honest, this is the easy part. You can ask yourself or your officers, what's the biggest crime problem facing your community, your district, or even your beat? If you have multiple problems in your geographic area, you may have to prioritize them to identify the one that is causing the greatest harm, or is consuming the most police resources.

Next, after we identify the problem we are going to tackle, we need to thoroughly Analyze the problem. A proper analysis will involve collecting as much data relevant to the problem and then looking at it from multiple angles. Questions like: How big is the problem? How long has it been going on? Is this problem greater in your jurisdiction than neighboring ones? What are the likely causes of this problem?

After our analysis, we can move to the Response phase of the SARA model. During this phase we need to develop a plan to respond to this crime problem. We may want to see what other jurisdictions have done with similar problems and how effective their response was. We also need to make sure that our response is within the capabilities or resources we have available. It's also important that we develop clear objectives in our strategy. Then, it's time to carry out our plan.

Even though we've implemented our new problem solving strategy, we're not done yet. In this last, but still very important phase, we need to Assess our strategy. We should examine things such as: Did we accomplish our goals? Was the plan implemented as designed? Can we measure our effectiveness? and Where could we improve our strategy?

It's very important that we don't skip steps but follow the SARA model through. Often times in police work, we tend to jump from Scanning (identifying) a problem to Responding. The authors of the most excellent book Crime Analysis For Problems Solvers put it this way:

By dividing the overall project into separate stages, SARA helps to ensure that the necessary steps are undertaken in proper sequence - for example, that solutions are not adopted before an analysis of the problem has been undertaken. This is a useful check on the natural tendency to jump straight to a final response, while skimping on definition of the problem and analysis and forgetting to assess their impact on the problem.

By formalizing our process, we can ensure that we are more likely to be successful in solving crime problems in our communities both now and in the future.

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