The Key Elements of Problem-Oriented Policing
- A problem is the basic unit of police work rather than a crime, a
case, calls, or incidents.
- A problem is something that concerns or causes harm to citizens,
not just the police. Things that concern only police officers are important,
but they are not problems in this sense of the term.
- Addressing problems means more than quick fixes: it means dealing
with conditions that create problems.
- Police officers must routinely and systematically analyze problems
before trying to solve them, just as they routinely and systematically
investigate crimes before making an arrest. Individual officers and
the department as a whole must develop routines and systems for analyzing
- The analysis of problems must be thorough even though it may not
need to be complicated. This principle is as true for problem analysis
as it is for criminal investigation.
- Problems must be described precisely and accurately and broken down
into specific aspects of the problem. Problems often aren't what they
first appear to be.
- Problems must be understood in terms of the various interests at
stake. Individuals and groups of people are affected in different ways
by a problem and have different ideas about what should be done about
- The way the problem is currently being handled must be understood
and the limits of effectiveness must be openly acknowledged in order
to come up with a better response.
- Initially, any and all possible responses to a problem should be
considered so as not to cut short potentially effective responses. Suggested
responses should follow from what is learned during the analysis. They
should not be limited to, nor rule out, the use of arrest.
- The police must pro-actively try to solve problems rather than just
react to the harmful consequences of problems.
- The police department must increase police officers' freedom to make
or participate in important decisions. At the same time, officers must
be accountable for their decision-making.
- The effectiveness of new responses must be evaluated so these results
can be shared with other police officers and so the department can systematically
learn what does and does not work. (Michael Scott and Herman Goldstein
The concept of problem-oriented policing can be illustrated by an example.
Suppose police find themselves responding several times a day to calls
about drug dealing and vandalism in a neighborhood park. The common approach
of dispatching an officer to the scene and repeatedly arresting offenders
may do little to resolve the long term crime and disorder problem. If,
instead, police were to incorporate problem-oriented policing techniques
into their approach, they would examine the conditions underlying the
problem. This would likely include collecting additional information—perhaps
by surveying neighborhood residents and park users, analyzing the time
of day when incidents occur, determining who the offenders are and why
they favor the park, and examining the particular areas of the park that
are most conducive to the activity and evaluating their environmental
design characteristics. The findings could form the basis of a response
to the problem behaviors. While enforcement might be a component of the
response, it would unlikely be the sole solution because, in this case,
analysis would likely indicate the need to involve neighborhood residents,
parks and recreation officials and others.
Problem-oriented policing can be applied at various levels of community
problems and at various levels in the police organization. It can be applied
to problems that affect an entire community, involving the highest level
of police agency, government, and community resources. It can be applied
at intermediate levels (for example, a neighborhood or a police district),
involving an intermediate level of resources. Or it can be applied at
a very localized level (for example, a single location or a small group
of problem individuals), involving the resources of only a few police
officers and other individuals.