Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Evaluating Your Primary Sources of Information

Though your search may yield information from a wide variety of different sources, your primary sources of useful information are likely to be: (1) articles by researchers who have studied the problem you are facing, and (2) reports of police projects dealing with the problem. This section is intended to help you read and evaluate these two sources.

Academic Articles

Unless you are dealing with an extremely common problem, do not expect to find more than a few academic articles directly relevant to your topic. Academic criminologists tend to be more interested in crime and delinquency in general than the very specific forms of crime that are typically the focus of problem-oriented policing projects. Criminologists also tend to be more interested in "distant" causes of crime–such as social disadvantage, psychological impediments and dysfunctional families–than in the "near" causes of a problem, which include situational factors such as poor security or lack of surveillance. As a police officer, you can do little about the distant causes, but you may be able to alter the situational factors. Consequently, even when you find academic articles dealing with your problem, you might find that the causal factors they identify will provide you with little help in developing an effective response.

Academic articles follow a fairly standard format designed to help readers decide quickly how relevant the article is to their interests. Most articles begin with an abstract. This is usually a single paragraph, which includes information about the data used for the study and a summary of the main findings. The abstract should tell whether you want to look more closely at the article. If so, go to the end of the article and read the "Summary," "Discussion" and/or "Conclusions." Only if the article seems valuable need you read more. Even if it is valuable, you may not need to read the literature review at the beginning of the article or the methodological sections dealing with data, analysis, and results. On the other hand, when the article is not directly relevant to your needs, you might still find useful material listed in the "References" at the end, which you might try to find and read.

Reports of Police Projects

Again, unless you are dealing with a very common problem, do not expect to find more than a few highly relevant police projects. The greatest limitation of those you do find is likely to be that claims of success frequently have to be treated with a considerable skepticism. Rarely are projects properly evaluated, with comparisons of crime data before-and-after the project, or with crime data for a "control" group or area not included in the project. Even some projects that have received Goldstein or Tilley awards (see the section above on Center for Problem-Oriented Policing) have not been evaluated in full accordance with social science research standards. Further, you should beware that a response that has worked in a particular town or neighborhood might not automatically work in yours. This could be because of specific circumstances that make your situation different from earlier ones. Or it could be that the effectiveness of a specific response depends partly on the other responses introduced at the same time. This does not mean that it is a waste of time looking at what other police agencies have done. To the contrary, this past experience is always an important source of ideas about what might be helpful in your situation and what might not. But in reaching decisions about the responses you want to implement, you must always weigh the information obtained from any particular project together with all the other information you find.

† For more details on the requirements of an evaluation see the POP Guide on Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem Solvers.