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Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers in 60 Small Steps

Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers in 60 Small Steps

One of the primary concerns in policing in the United States today – and for the foreseeable future – is the severe constraint on spending. The lion's share of police budgets is consumed in personnel costs. As a result, many police agencies are already operating significantly below their authorized strength. Funds to hire new officers to meet growing needs are hard to obtain. And, of special relevance here, traditional forms of policing, because they are so heavily dependent on personnel, are being curtailed. Calls cannot be handled as completely and quickly as in the past. Personnel cannot be as freely assigned to increasing the police presence on the streets in labor-intensive tactics, such as crackdowns, sweeps, and special task forces.

This reality is a powerful new force for rethinking the way in which we police. It connects with prior efforts to promote greater concern for the effectiveness of the police. And it lends fresh impetus to meeting a long-standing, neglected need – the need to equip the police with an institutionalized capacity to examine its work product; to routinely ask, before committing to more of the same, what it is that the police are expected to accomplish and how they can more effectively accomplish it.

Rethinking current methods requires a new understanding of the role of the police – both on the part of the police and the public they serve. It is essential to recognize that the police function is not as simple as it is sometimes portrayed. It is incredibly complex. It is not a singular function, commonly defined as enforcing the law. It requires dealing with a broad range of behavioral problems, each quite different from the other. It does not consist simply of reacting to an endless array of incidents. Police are now expected to prevent them from occurring in the first instance.

A fresh perspective on policing requires that the police examine, in depth, each of the numerous behavioral problems that together constitute their business; that they consider a broader range of strategies on how best to prevent, reduce, or eliminate each of them; and that they weigh more precisely their effectiveness upon adopting a new targeted response. This is the essence of problem-oriented policing.

Many advances have been realized under the umbrella of problem-oriented policing since the concept was first introduced in 1979. But these have not been mainstreamed within policing. Their implementation has been spotty, uneven, and without deep and lasting roots. They remain overshadowed by the dominant, continuing commitment to traditional policing and its heavy dependence on lots of police officers patrolling and making arrests.

Greater concern about police effectiveness in dealing with specific behavioral problems need not start from scratch. Collectively, we know much about the wide range of behavioral problems that constitute police business and how best to prevent them. This knowledge can be found in the substantial literature on crime and crime prevention – especially in the literature on situational crime prevention. Much of value can be found, too, among the practices of police agencies and in the minds of experienced police officers, but this experience and expertise must be tapped and subjected to rigorous analysis.

The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing (POP Center) (www.popcenter.org) now serves as a locus for the collection of the growing body of knowledge regarding problems commonly encountered by the police. It disseminates this material in various ways, but primarily through the publication of its problem-oriented guides. Each guide synthesizes existing knowledge and evaluated practices regarding a specific problem, and stimulates police to advance their own thinking about how best to handle the problem in its local context.

While the POP Center has documented hundreds of successful cases in problem-oriented policing, a major impediment to advancing the concept has been the absence of an analytical capacity within police agencies. Many police agencies do employ one or more crime analysts, but some of the largest and more advanced police organizations do not. When employed, the job of the crime analyst is often narrowly limited to tabulating crimes that occur. In others, it extends to identifying patterns of crimes with the primary objective of identifying the likely offender so that he/she can be apprehended. In its more ambitious form, the crime analyst's job may include identifying factors contributing to a crime pattern, but the job of deciding how to respond to these factors is usually deferred to operational personnel, who then tend to use traditional means for dealing with them.

Meanwhile, the field of crime analysis itself has grown much more sophisticated. A strong literature on its potential is now available. The ability to electronically capture, store, and retrieve massive amounts of data that police routinely collect is infinitely greater than it was just a decade ago. The capacity to map crime geographically is stunning, and is now a major, indispensable tool in crime analysis. Standard approaches have been developed for the collection, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence across jurisdictional lines.

In this manual, Ronald Clarke and John Eck set out a much more ambitious and potentially productive agenda for the analyst. They outline a role in which the crime analyst invests heavily in seeking new responses to the problems that are diagnosed and participates directly in efforts to test and implement them. The analyst is expected to contribute to exploring new, more creative, and potentially more effective ways of carrying out the police job. Through this manual, Clarke and Eck demonstrate how one analyst, properly trained and utilized, has the potential to increase many times the productivity and effectiveness of perhaps hundreds of police officers. Understood in this way, an investment in crime analysts can be a smart way to increase the return on the substantial investment that communities make in sworn police personnel.

Blending their expertise as researchers and their familiarity with policing, Clarke and Eck have collected all of the knowledge and methodology that is relevant and currently available; organized it in 60 small segments or steps that build logically upon each other; and communicated the material in a style that is both concise and engaging. The volume is packed with vital and sophisticated information that makes it one of the most significant publications addressed to the policing field in the past several decades.

The most immediate goal of the manual is to help the relatively small number of individuals now commonly employed in police agencies as crime analysts to expand their function and thereby contribute more to the effectiveness of their agency's operations. It is intended, more ambitiously, to contribute to the training of new crime analysts or problem-solvers, to increasing their number, and to their development as a distinct and vital profession. But problem analysis is not the exclusive domain of technicians. We hope that, everyone else in a police agency, from officers on the beat to police executives, and, more broadly, those in both the public and private sector concerned about crime, will incorporate the line of thinking set forth in the manual into the perspectives they bring to their work.

Herman Goldstein Professor of Law Emeritus University of Wisconsin-Madison