Friday, June 29, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 19 - Research Your Problem

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.


We're up to Step 19 in our walk through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers and we're going to cover Step 19 - Research Your Problem in this post.

When I first started in law enforcement 19 years ago, researching was a lot more time consuming. Back then, the Internet was in it's infancy and was mainly confined to academics. If you wanted to read about new policing approaches, you subscribed to magazines, read the few police science textbooks out there or went to a conference. Now with the proliferation of the Internet, you can do meaningful research in your patrol car on an iPhone.

That being said, the Internet is a big place and much of the information out there should be looked at with a highly critical eye. A couple of really good places to start are with a couple of websites from the US Department of Justice. The COPS Program website and the Center For Problem Oriented Policing have a wealth of information there or linked from there.

Step 19 - Research Your Problem also lists a few other places you can find information to help you with researching your problem. I'm not going to list them all here but I encourage you to read the whole article at the link.

I do want to point out Limitations of the Information from the article. In it the authors offer two caveats:

  • "Most criminologists are more interested in crime and delinquency in general than in specific forms of crime. They are also more interested in distant causes of crime, such as social disadvantage and dysfunctional families, than the near causes of a problem, such as poor security or lack of surveillance. So even when you find academic articles dealing with your problem, you might find the causes they identify help little in developing an effective response."
  • "Unless your problem is very common, do not expect to find many relevant police projects. Be skeptical about claims of success unless supported by evaluative data. Even projects that have received Goldstein or Tilley awards may not have been well evaluated. Be warned also that a response that worked in a particular town or neighborhood might not work in yours because of specific circumstances that make your situation different. However, past police experience of dealing with the problem is always an important source of ideas about what might be helpful in your situation." Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers 
The reason I point these out is that there is quite a gulf that exists between those criminologists that live in academia and cops and crime analysts that work in the real world. Don't be discouraged if you find that the only solution offered to your particular problem is some lofty sounding platitude such as "improve the social cohesion of the family unit". I don't know about you, but I can't affect the social cohesion of the officers I work with much less the socially deviant criminals that we encounter.

That being said, it is important to examine all aspects of your problem thoroughly before trying to develop a solution. I know that when your Chief is getting heat from City Hall he or she is likely to want a suggested solution "yesterday", but if you rush this you are liable to end up with a solution that is ineffective and wastes your limited resources.

Next time: Step 20 - Formulate Hypothesis.

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