Monday, January 9, 2017

An Introduction to Common Policing Strategies Part 1

I originally wrote this post for a software company’s blog in 2014. This company was bought out and recently their blog and website have been removed from the web permanently. I am reposting it here for posterity. 

There are a number of ways that people become crime analysts. Some analysts come from college criminology or criminal justice programs. In their schooling they are often exposed to the academic theories that underpin much of police work.

For crime analysts that come up from inside their agency, their training is often “on the job” and while they often have valuable “real world” experience, they don’t so often get exposed to the major theories and strategies of modern policing.

Much of my series of posts this year have been written with those later group of analysts in mind. Today’s post is no different as I want to take a brief look at some of the most common police strategies and terms.

We’ll look at:

  • Community Policing
  • Broken Windows Policing
  • CompStat
  • Hot Spot Policing
  • Problem Oriented Policing
  • Intelligence Led Policing

Community Policing

The US Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services defines Community Policing as:
“Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational  strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and  problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate  conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.” 

The biggest defining characteristics of Community Policing is the idea of partnering with the community to address crime and disorder problems. Law enforcement agencies have to identify, seek out and develop relationships with community leaders, organizations and community members in order to implement this strategy.

These relationships help agencies to understand the concerns, needs and priorities of the community. They also help the agencies to communicate with the community they serve and to promote the transparency that helps the community trust in the agency.

Here’s an example of a Community Policing approach to a crime problem:

A neighborhood begins to experience a problem with vehicle burglaries during the overnight hours. As the problem is identified either by members of the community or by police, they begin to communicate with each other about the problem. The agency may send officers to community meetings or even organize community meetings where information about the problem is discussed. The agency may distribute crime prevention information to the community and seek information from the community. The problem is later mitigated by getting potential victims to protect themselves and their property and/or by identifying the offenders.

It’s worth noting that many of these strategies are compatible with other strategies. Most of them are not mutually exclusive.

Broken Windows Policing

The Broken Windows theory was developed in the early 1980’s by two sociologists. The theory states that crime and disorder will increase when minor “quality of life” crimes are not addressed. Proponents of the theory state that the presence of “broken windows” and other minor disorder if unaddressed, sends a message to the community that the community is vulnerable and lacks mechanisms to address crime.

It gets it’s name from the idea that if an abandoned building starts to be vandalized by having its windows broken, and these problems are not addressed when they are small and manageable, will turn into larger problems that blight the surrounding neighborhood.

Broken Windows Policing is a policing strategy that addresses these small, relatively minor crimes before they can fester and develop into larger crime and disorder problems. This strategy was adopted by the New York City Transit Police and later by the New York City Police in the mid 1980’s and 1990’s. Police targeted quality of life crimes such as graffiti, panhandling and public urination in order to send the message that crime and disorder was not going to be tolerated. Eventually, the number of major crimes recorded in the community began to decrease.

The theory is not without its critics as there are some who believe that this style of policing led to an over reliance on “stop and frisk” and “zero tolerance” tactics especially in minority communities. This led to the breakdown in relations between police and the community as members of the community felt they were being treated unfairly.

However, it should be noted that taking care of quality of life issues within a community do not necessarily mean police have to rely on seemingly oppressive tactics to do so. In fact it’s been my experience that people in the community are very concerned about disorder and minor quality of life crimes. The key to addressing them is likely one that engages them in a partnership that addresses them.


The term CompStat is a contraction of the phrase “computer statistics” and is the name given to a police management technique that measures police effectiveness using crime statistics and then holds police managers responsible for reducing crime in their areas of responsibility.

CompStat’s principles:

  • Accurate and timely intelligence
  • Effective tactics
  • Rapid deployment of personnel and resources
  • Relentless follow up and assessment

In a nutshell, police agencies that practice CompStat rely heavily on crime analysis units to measure and analyze reported crimes. Managers within the agency will then regularly meet to discuss responses to crime problems and assess the effectiveness of these responses. They will continually adjust their responses in order to maximize the effectiveness of the response.

Probably the most commonly held notion of CompStat is that police managers are grilled and sometimes castigated in these meetings for crimes that occur in their areas. I know someone who attended a CompStat meeting at a large American police agency on the east coast and he said he watched a commander get publically demoted for failure to reduce the crime in his district. However, this notion of CompStat is the exception rather than the rule. Most agencies practice a “kinder, gentler” kind of CompStat.

The big key to CompStat is to measure your crime, give power and resources to the persons responsible and then determine if your response was effective.

We’ve covered the first three of our list of common policing strategies. Next time we’ll look at the rest of the list.

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