Friday, September 12, 2014

What's happening to our police? Part 1

Hot of the press: Future Trends in Policing from the COPS Office, PERF, and the Target Corporation. It is a report of a 2012 survey and summary of a one-day session with police leaders on the "Future of Policing."

It reveals what some police executives think might happen in future. Is it a prophesy we really want?


The survey reported 94% of respondents said their agency was involved in community policing, 89% in problem-oriented policing (COPS). Good news, right?

I've taught hundreds of police instructors over the past few years. Every time I ask them about COPS few, if any, admit to knowing anything beyond the superficial. Practically none of their agencies are doing anything beyond a small sprinkling of COPS specialists, less than 10% at best.

Last month I asked again, this time whether they knew anything about problem-oriented policing. The class had instructors from the east coast, mid-west, Canada, and the south. Same results: Out of 25 police instructors only 1 knew what POP was and he was from Madison, Wisconsin (the home of the POP Center).


Do police survey responders inflate whether they are doing COPS when they respond to a national survey on the topic? Saying one thing, doing another?


Future Trends had very little discussion of problem-oriented policing. In 45 pages of text it was cited only 3 times.

I did however notice the report was awash in GPS, cybercrime, body cameras, facial recognition software, predictive policing algorithms and intelligence-led policing. My personal favorite was NG 911 - Next-Generation 911.

[NERD ALERT: I love that stuff. Anytime I hear references to Star Trek - The Next Generation, my nerd-o-meter tingles. Beam me up!]

In other words science will come to our rescue? Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, what a wonderful day!


Survey statement: "In the future agencies will place less emphasis on community policing." 

75% of police agencies in the survey disagreed with that statement. Glass-half-full, right? But 25% offered no opinion or actually agreed that in future cops will do less community policing!

In other words, after 35 years of publications, conferences, training courses, and successes that account for at least some reduced crime, 1-in-4 police survey respondents see less community policing in the years ahead! Sounds more like a glass half-empty!

Considering the Ferguson riots two weeks ago that portends a bleak future.

Next week: Part 2 - The good news

8 Replies so far - Add your comment

Tim Hegarty said...

You know that normally I am on the same page with you, but there's something about the words "community policing" that always make me cringe just a little. Maybe it's because I have never seen it defined the same way twice. Maybe it's because I agree with Lawrence Sherman when he wrote, "Community policing, however defined, is not clearly linked to evidence about effectiveness in preventing crime." Maybe it's because I don't usually see it associated with measurable results or outcomes- if you can't measure it, you can't manage it. Maybe some of the survey numbers you cite are as much about a lack of a shared construct of community policing as anything else. Maybe the perceived failure of community policing is more about uncertainty than it is about resistance. Or maybe I'm just being too concrete in my thinking.

GSaville said...

Thanks Tim. Not sure we disagree.

Notice my definition of community policing attaches problem-solving to align with Peak and Glensor's definitions from their classic book by the same title. It is also the definition picked up by the COPS office - organizational transformation, community partnerships and problem solving. The latter part of that definition connected to problem-oriented policing where successes show up in abundance!

That's why the last question I asked the class of police instructors specifically mentions problem-oriented policing. Their response? Nada!

Shame too because as you know, the POP Center website has plenty of site specific measurements to prove the case.

Shame also the COPS Office defunded the one part of the story that actually worked and had the evidence to prove it. Maybe that's why the Combat Cop crowd is gaining ground?

Anonymous said...

Over the last 39 years my experience is that Crime Prevention programming and support has been cyclical. Your blog this week is on point (I look forward to reading part two and hearing some good news).

I do believe that public awareness and tolerance for the “warrior cop” is growing thin and that the pendulum will swing back. As to when, I am no amazing Kreskin- but I do hope that our distaste and unease with a constant “war footing” and siege mentality will lead to change.

John R.

GSaville said...

So true, John. So true. The pendulum does indeed swing back and forth. My consternation is what gets lost when we swing backward into militarism and away from our progress in preventing crime. It seems the lessons we once learned get forgotten and we end up re-inventing the wheel.

To backward lookers the Middle Ages might seem attractive for the Gothic architecture, but it was a time of barbarism and plague. Let's live with the forward lookers of the 21st Century!

Thanks for the comment.

Tim Hegarty said...

What are your thoughts on the stratified model of problem solving developed by Boba and Santos? It seems to be a good framework to institutionalize police problem solving with accountability measures that one normally doesn't see in a discussion of community policing.

GSaville said...

Good question Tim.

The stratified model - SM - is potentially helpful for internal management. I like the clear rules for tackling crime patterns that arise and keeping managers accountable to do it. That's great. Plus I support any new model that enhances more problem-oriented policing. We should congratulate them for that.

That is the pro side.

But as with all science glitz, we must guard against the slippery slope of unintended consequences. Here is the con side:

Stratified response reminds me of the 1980s Differential Response on steroids. Except differential response brought in external organizations into policing - SM doesn't.

Where is the community in all this?

For example in SR who chooses the goals? The success indicators? How are performance indicators determined? How will residents in a neighborhood see success indicators in their own lives, and I don't mean by abstract default - eg: police response quality improves therefore crime hotspots are reduced. What I mean is how much more secure will residents feel walking at night? How many more will participate in positive social life? Will the conditions that contribute to crime in the first place be reduced?

SM is obsessed on internal cop-world - % of problems responded to; officer activity and # of arrests (like we haven't done that before).

Are we just reinventing a very old wheel - as I said to John R above?

I worry this just reifies what is already part of the problem - cops solving problems with internal reference to more cops! Where is the community? The answer is they are absent. That is a slippery slope that distracts us from the core mission that Peel outlined 2 centuries ago - the prevention of crime!

Tim Hegarty said...

Agreed that the SM does not explicitly include community engagement, and as we know in the cop world, if it's not explicit, there's a good chance it won't get done.

One possible solution might be to marry procedural justice to the SM. One of the key principles of PJ is "voice," or providing people with an opportunity to participate in a process before decisions are made. I think that the community should have a say in what goals and objectives are established, how they will be met, and what role everyone plays in meeting them. Let's call it the SMPJ model (consonant-based policing, anyone?)

Mark said...

CBP is a deep down PHILOSOPHY and not a program. When Departments assign a crew to "do" community based policing, that means that the "others" don't have to. I suspect CBP was claimed by many due to COPS federal funding? So sad