Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of disorderly youth in public places. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy. To help you define the problem, you should speak with as many people affected by it as you can.

Many incidents related to disorderly youth are not recorded in detail either by police or by private security. Most incidents are considered too minor to justify detailed reports. Unfortunately, it is from those details that the most effective responses will emerge. Consequently, you should first determine to what extent incidents are being recorded, and if they are not, create a reporting system that provides enough detail, at least temporarily, to give you a better understanding of the problem.

† Even a simple form that allows officers to check boxes rather than write extensive narratives is preferable to reporting systems that capture no detail at all.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of disorderly youth, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.††

†† A special note of caution is in order regarding official juvenile records: You should be sure to review applicable legal and policy guidelines or consult legal counsel before examining or sharing information drawn from official juvenile records. In most jurisdictions, access to and use of juvenile records are restricted.

Complainants

  • Who is complaining about the youth? What are the specific complaints?
  • What are the complainants' interests (commercial, peace and quiet, freedom from intimidation)?
  • Do complaints seem legitimate or exaggerated? (Some complainants exaggerate their reports of the problem to get a quicker or harsher police response than is justified.)
  • Is there objective evidence to confirm the complaints (e.g., customers' staying away from businesses, tenants' moving out of apartments, reports of crimes committed by the youth)?
  • Are complaints filed with police, private security or other officials? Are complainants reluctant to file official complaints for fear of retaliation?
  • Are there different cultural perspectives on the problem? (Different cultures have different expectations regarding adult supervision of youth.)
  • How do complainants believe the problem could be better handled?
  • What, if anything, have complainants done on their own to try to address the problem?

Youth

  • What are the characteristics of the young people causing the problems? How old are they? (There are significant differences between the interests and motivations of 13- to 14-year-olds and those of 20- to 21-year-olds, even though all are generally considered youth.) What race or ethnicity are the youth? Are they students? What gender are they? (Girls typically have greater parental restrictions placed on them, and they sometimes prefer to hang out indoors.)4
  • Where do the youth live? Near the place they congregate, or far away from it? How do they get there?
  • Do some of the young people have serious personal problems (e.g., are they runaways, substance abusers, victims of child abuse, prostitutes, homeless)?
  • How do youth perceive the problem?
  • Are youth more or less manageable when they congregate in large groups? (Smaller groups may congregate in multiple locations, making them more difficult to monitor.)
  • Is there any evidence the disorderly behavior is motivated by bias (racial or otherwise)?

Location/Time Problem Occurs

  • Is the location where the youth congregate urban, suburban or rural?
  • Is the location public or private property, or a mixture of both?
  • Where, specifically, do the youth gather? Near entrances to businesses or other buildings? Near stairways, escalators or other high-traffic areas?
  • Are there comfortable places to sit or lean?
  • Why do the youth gather where they do? For purely social reasons, or because they want to be near a particular institution (school, business, tavern, or club)? Why do they say they gather there? Do they feel they have been forced away from other locations, or is there something particular about this location that attracts them?
  • What accounts for the location's attractiveness? The type of food served? Access to restrooms, telephones, video machines? Seating (e.g., tables and chairs provided for regular patrons, benches at bus stops)? Absence of a manager or other authority?
  • What specific factors contribute to disorderliness (e.g., crowding, differing characteristics of youth and complainants, differing uses of public space, absence of authorities)?
  • Are youth congregating where they expect to be visible to the public (and the police), or where they do not expect to be seen?
  • Does the manager of the place where youth congregate tolerate disorderly behavior more so than seems reasonable? (If so, the manager may be involved in illicit conduct for which the youth offer some protection.)5

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. You should take all measures in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to disorderly youth in public places:

  • reduced recorded crime and disorder incidents related to youth in public places;
  • reduced calls for police service related to youth in public places (increased reports to officials or reduced anonymous complaints may be a positive indicator initially if you determine that complainants have previously been reluctant to come forward);
  • reduced numbers of young people congregating at particular locations (if crowd size contributes to the disorderliness);
  • reduced numbers of repeat offenders;
  • improved perceptions of complainants (merchants, shoppers, residents);
  • improved perceptions of elected officials who often receive complaints about juvenile disorder;
  • improved perceptions of youth regarding how fairly they are treated;
  • improved perceptions of parents regarding their children's conduct and police treatment of their children;
  • reduced costs for repairs due to vandalism (if vandalism is part of the problem);
  • evidence of displacement of the problem to other locations (where complaints may be higher or lower); and
  • evidence of reduced youth disorder-related crimes and complaints in areas not directly targeted by your initiative (otherwise known as a diffusion of benefits).