Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Implementing Responses to Problems

Tool Guide 7 (2007)

by Rick Brown & Michael Scott

Introduction

This guide deals with the process of implementing responses to problems in problem-oriented policing (POP) initiatives. It addresses the reasons why the responses you plan to implement do or do not get properly implemented, and how you can better ensure that they do. The guide does not address the broader issues relating to implementing a problem-oriented approach to policing within a police agency, matters that have been more fully explored elsewhere. 1

The POP literature has paid a fair amount of attention to the processes of analyzing the nature and extent of problems and developing suitable responses to them. Relatively little attention has been paid to the actual process of implementing the responses, and to the factors that are important in getting it right. 2 It is clear from POP studies, however, that implementation failure is common.

Implementation takes place in the "response" phase of the SARA (Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment) problem-solving model. The response phase actually comprises at least three different tasks: (1) conducting a broad, uninhibited search for response alternatives; (2) choosing from among those alternatives; and (3) implementing the chosen alternatives. 3

There are four basic reasons why any particular problem-solving initiative might fail:

  1. The problem was inaccurately identified: the underlying problem was something other than what it first appeared, the problem was not as acute as initially believed, or the police agency or the community was not as concerned about the problem as first thought.
  2. The problem was insufficiently or inadequately analyzed: the real contributing or causal factors were not discovered, or insufficient or inadequate evidence was mounted to persuade others to take interest in the problem.
  3. The responses developed from the problem analysis were improperly or insufficiently implemented, or not implemented at all.
  4. The problem was properly identified and analyzed, and responses were implemented, but the responses did not have the desired effect.

This guide concerns itself principally with the third of these four reasons: successful or failed response implementation.

The guide is divided according to the four key stages of implementation:

  1. The preimplementation stage, which addresses the factors you should consider before implementation.
  2. The planning stage, during which you should consider the specific implementation mechanics and systems.
  3. The implementation stage, in which you should put responses in place, monitor them, and make adjustments.
  4. The post-implementation learning stage, in which you should consider implementation successes and failures.

Bear in mind that POP initiatives are of varying scope and complexity, ranging from highly localized projects that a lone police officer might address as part of his or her routine duties, to ambitious projects affecting the entire jurisdiction that require a team of specialists to address. Therefore, the factors and recommendations discussed here will have more or less importance, depending on the POP initiative's scope and complexity.

Factors to Consider Before You Start Implementation

You must take into account a range of factors before beginning the implementation process. In some cases, these factors are a given and cannot be influenced. Understanding these will help in selecting responses and in planning how you will implement them. In other cases, you can alter the factors to generate a more satisfactory outcome from an implementation perspective. Regardless of the type of factor concerned, they help to set the context within which future implementation will be undertaken.

There are six key factors that you should take into account before starting implementation: 4

  • internal support,
  • external support,
  • leadership,
  • communication,
  • resources, and
  • staffing.

Each of these factors is discussed in the following pages.

Internal Support

Responses are more likely to be implemented where there is clear support for them within the organization undertaking the implementation. This is particularly important where an organization is expected to invest resources in an initiative. Here, there are a number of questions that you should ask that may affect internal support:

  • Does the initiative fit with current organizational goals and objectives?
  • Does the initiative fit with existing operations/initiatives?
  • Are there particular units/people within the organization whose support is essential for successful implementation?
  • Are there any issues associated with the organization's internal politics that may make implementing the particular initiative problematic?
  • Does implementation require a change to existing policies or working practices?
  • Is there a potential champion for the initiative at the senior management level?

You should consider each of these issues before starting an initiative, as a lack of organizational support could make it more difficult to win the necessary resources and colleague support to complete the work required. It is also important to bear in mind that internal support will also be helpful if there are subsequent implementation problems–especially problems involving external partners or the local community.

While it is important for the initiative to have the support of the organization responsible for its implementation, it is equally important to win the support of the specific people tasked with delivering the initiative. In the context of implementing POP initiatives, it is desirable that the people needed to implement responses feel some sense of ownership of the action plan. 5 You can cultivate a sense of ownership in key people by providing them with opportunities to influence the project's direction, such that they feel they are not merely implementing somebody else's plan, but implementing their own. Conversely, a lack of input by key people at meaningful project stages can lead to their lack of commitment to implementation. 6

Ideally, the same people should remain actively involved throughout a project, from initial problem identification to analysis to response development to response implementation to assessment. Ideally, those who spearheaded the problem analysis would have the capacity and desire to put their resultant plan into action.

In some cases, action plans are developed without the input or commitment of those who will be tasked with putting the plan into action, such as professional grant writers, whose role is to bid for external funding. This obviously can have a detrimental effect on winning ownership for an initiative if it is felt that the solution to the problem is imposed on those tasked with carrying it out.

Where it is impossible for the lead problem analysts to implement the action plan, the next best possibility is for the plan to be officially assigned to one or more people who will be held accountable for carrying it out. When responsibility for implementing an action plan is neither assumed nor assigned, the plan typically lies dormant.

The lead researchers of the earliest POP initiative examining the problem of drinking drivers concluded that the failure to fully implement the recommendations for action arising out of the inquiry were largely attributable to the fact that no one person within the police agency had or was given responsibility for doing so. 7 By contrast, the recommendations for action that emerged out of the same researchers' analysis of a second problem—repeat sex offenders—were promptly and effectively implemented owing largely to the fact that a police lieutenant was tasked with doing so. 8

A sense of ownership of a response plan is unlikely to be created merely by assigning it to someone, or by providing extrinsic motivations such as financial reward. For example, where police officers or others agree to carry out certain assignments principally because there is overtime compensation to be earned from doing so, it is often the case that the commitment to carrying out the plan as originally designed is weakened.

External Support

Just as internal support is essential to successfully implement a response, so too is external support. There are potentially a number of sources from which you might obtain external support.

Partner-Organization Support

In some cases, you can implement responses without requiring external organizations’ support or cooperation, using the police agency’s internal skills and expertise. However, increasingly, multifaceted initiatives involve working with other partner organizations, drawing on their particular mandate and expertise to complete aspects of the required work. 9

In engaging with partner organizations whose support is essential, it is important to take into account the culture, perspective, objectives, and performance indicators under which the organizations operate. 10 Partnership-working is likely to be most successful where there is mutual benefit from engaging in an initiative. Therefore, you must understand how an external organization is likely to receive involvement in a given response and, where necessary, sell the benefits of involvement in their own terms. Indeed, responses are more likely to be implemented if the people and organizations tasked with implementation feel they are competent to carry out the activity, one that fits their conception of what they or their organization should be doing. For example, police are more likely to conduct criminal law enforcement activities because such activities fit squarely within the scope of police competence and self-image. They are likely to be more reluctant to engage in other sorts of tasks, such as providing social services. So, too, with other agencies. The Boston Gun Project, which comprised an interagency task force, appears to have apportioned the various tasks that were part of its overall response plan in accordance with the participating agencies' respective competencies and self-images. The police engaged in enforcement crackdowns, the clergy and gang outreach workers offered aid to gang members, probation officers supervised their clients, prosecutors prosecuted crimes, and so forth. Responses were faithfully implemented perhaps in part because no agencies or people were asked to stretch their conventional sense of their own function. 11

In other circumstances, an organization may undertake an initiative without taking into account the existence of other organizations delivering similar interventions in a similar area. In the United Kingdom, police target-hardening of burglary victims’ homes, undertaken under the auspices of the Home Office-funded Reducing Burglary Initiative, sometimes conflicted with the work of local charities that were target-hardening the homes of vulnerable people (including burglary victims) in the same areas. It is therefore useful to consider who else is undertaking similar interventions for the same target area/group and to engage them in participating in the initiative, rather than setting up new structures that end up competing for the same intervention recipients. 12

Local Community Support

Response plans that enjoy grassroots community support tend to be more likely to be implemented than those without it because you can convert such support into political influence, which can mobilize resources and action. Indianapolis police could sustain an intensive effort to stop vehicles, search for guns, and investigate suspicious drivers and occupants in a predominantly minority community owing in large part to police preparatory work to gain community understanding of and support for the initiative. 13

Before implementing a response plan, you should consult with those community members whom the action will most affect. This may include active forms of consultation, such as community meetings and meetings with key community representatives, and more passive forms of consultation, such as letters to local community members informing them of the response plan. The response plan’s effectiveness may depend in part on this consultation. 14

Media Support

When media coverage of an initiative presents the police agency in a favorable light, it can provide a substantial boost to response implementation in several ways:

  • by increasing public understanding of and support for the course of action recommended;
  • by shaming and holding to account certain parties deemed responsible for contributing to the problem, or parties deemed not to be cooperating in the effort to remediate the problem;
  • by keeping the problem in key officials’ consciousness until it is properly addressed;
  • by providing a reasonably objective assessment of the case the organization is making for new responses to the problem; and
  • by encouraging staff in the implementing organization through the intrinsic satisfaction of positive publicity and recognition.

Media coverage, however, is not universally supportive of initiatives to address particular problems and can, in fact, thwart them. When Lauderhill, Fla., police filed a nuisance abatement action against a commercial property owner as a means of controlling an open-air drug market operating on the property, local newspaper coverage was hostile to the police action, adopting the editorial view that only drug dealers and buyers should be held responsible for the drug market, not the property owner, and further questioning police motives. Although the adverse media coverage did not ultimately hinder the legal action, it did weaken public support for it. 15

Leadership

Leadership associated with the project is key, both in terms of the person taking an initiative forward and in terms of the implementing organization as a whole. Where individual project leadership is concerned, it is often cited as one of the factors influencing response implementation. 16 Indeed, it often seems that a strong leader can make a success of even the weakest of responses due to his or her diligence, persistence, and perseverance in the implementation process. These people schedule and lead meetings, perform the tasks they have agreed to and hold others accountable for doing the same, and generally do whatever is necessary to keep the project a priority concern. These people often exercise a degree of leadership not commonly expected of their rank and position. They press ahead unless made to stop. This highlights the importance of carefully selecting a project leader. It should not simply be a matter of who can spare the time, but rather who is best for the job, preferably with a track record for delivering on past projects.

Where organizational leadership is concerned, response implementation can be assisted by strong senior management leadership. This can provide support and encouragement for a project, as well as address high-level problems should the need arise. It can also be beneficial where high-level policy changes are involved. This was exemplified when the Fremont, Calif., police chief spearheaded his agency’ initiative to change its response to burglar alarms. In the face of strong alarm-industry opposition, the chief pressed the case for a policy change by carefully presenting his agency’s internal analysis of its response to burglar alarms to alarm owners, elected officials, and the public at large. 17

In police agencies in which initiative is not encouraged among the lower ranks, POP projects can fail because the higher-ranking executive officers on whom project leadership depends can become easily distracted by other pressing concerns. The lack of engagement by high-ranking officers at critical junctures in the project can mean that the project achieves less than it might otherwise.

Good senior management leadership should also help to create an organizational attitude in which failure is acceptable, but where failing to try isn’t. Organizations with a strong blame culture will stifle innovation and creativity by making staff wary of trying something new, for fear of being seen to fail.

Communication

Good communication is essential with all parties involved in a project. From the outset, all parties should be aware of what is expected from them, and differences of opinion should be addressed early on, before they adversely affect people’s relationships.

Communication associated with an initiative needs to be multidirectional and possibly involve different messages for different groups. Those with whom communication should be undertaken include

  • internal colleagues and management,
  • project staff,
  • partner organizations,
  • response recipients, and
  • the wider community.

Resources

From the outset of a response, it is important to have in mind the resources available to complete an initiative. All responses will be subject to four key constraints: time, costs, other resources, and quality. Where time is concerned, there will usually be a deadline by which the response is expected to be completed. “Costs” refer to the financial expenditure or “hard cash” associated with the implementation. In many responses, some cash must be expended in the process. “Other resources” refer to the myriad other things that an organization can bring to a response. These will include staff time, office space and equipment, vehicles, etc. These are often viewed as free from the organizational perspective, but are subject to an opportunity cost—if they were not devoted to implementing this response, they could be used for other purposes. “Quality” refers to how the response is completed and how thoroughly a job is done.

From a resource–allocation perspective, there will be trade–offs among these four constraints. For example, a job may be completed in a shorter time if more other resources are devoted to it. Alternatively, a response may be completed at a lower cost by reducing the quality of the work that is acceptable. From the outset of implementation, it will be important to keep in mind each of these constraints, which will reflect the resources available.

While initiatives are often provided with time and other resources, there is often a problem with accessing working capital required to pay for the project's running costs. This could be because there are insufficient funds available or the administrative mechanisms that govern public organizations’ expenditures stifle the ability to make timely purchases. An evaluation of the U.K.’s Arson Control Forum’s New Projects Initiative found that while the funding had allowed local fire and rescue services to recruit arson task forces, some couldn't implement initiatives due to a lack of funds. 18 By contrast, some of the arson task forces leveraged in significant additional funding from partner agencies by offering some funding themselves.

Staffing

There are a number of issues associated with staffing that need to be addressed from the outset. These include

  • specialized assignments,
  • staff quality, and
  • recruitment and retention.

Each of these is discussed in turn below.

Specialized Assignments

Creating a specialized assignment to address a problem appears to increase the likelihood that action plans will be implemented. Specialized assignments might be in the form of special task forces, specialized units, detachments, and other similar arrangements. The specialization of the assignment might be either to the particular problem or to some sort of problem–solving unit within which the people assigned can choose problems to address and concentrate their work on them. Among the most successful POP initiatives, one more commonly finds them occurring within the context of specialized rather than generalized assignments.

Typically, specialized assignments provide not only the time and other resources necessary to the task, but also they often yield greater accountability because responsibility for addressing particular problems is more firmly established. Specialized assignments can also prevent staff from being used for other duties by protecting them as a dedicated resource.

Additionally, specialized assignments offer other intangible benefits to the people assuming those assignments: prestige, freedom from ordinary duties, greater autonomy over working conditions, and so forth. To the extent the people value these benefits, they have incentives to ensure that action plans are implemented and that the project appears to be moving forward and producing results.

Staff Quality

In many cases, the staff available to undertake a response may be nonnegotiable, based on who is then available. However, if possible, identify people with relevant skills and experience to implement the initiative. Furthermore, people with a good network of contacts in partner organizations can prove extremely useful, as it can mean the formal lines of communication between agencies can be circumvented, thereby getting the job done more quickly, and possibly with less potential for a refusal to cooperate. In addition, local knowledge of an area and the people that live there can prove useful for dealing with problems on the ground. In short, don’t under–estimate the importance of informal contacts.

Recruitment and Retention

When current staff are not available and budgets allow, it may be necessary to recruit new project staff. This has frequently been shown to take longer than anticipated, with a recruitment process’ often taking six to nine months before the candidate starts work. This can have a detrimental impact on an initiative’s timing, especially if implementation cannot begin until that staff member is in place.

Many positions will be funded on short-term contracts, and this creates uncertainty for staff funded in this way. One can usually expect a staff member to start looking for a new job six months before the contract termination. This can create problems of continuity if the staff member leaves some months before the end of the project, as there is likely to be insufficient time to recruit a new staff member. In turn, this can affect the degree of implementation that can be completed.

For agencies large enough to justify the cost, it may be preferable to hire and develop permanent support staff who have the necessary knowledge, skills. and abilities for problem–oriented projects. The permanent support staff should then be able to manage most projects internally, and even if external aid is needed, the permanent staff can work with the external staff to help ensure continuity.

† For a discussion of the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for effective problem analysis and management, see Boba (2003) [PDF].