Problem Oriented Policing

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Problem-oriented policing coined by Goldstein (1990) denotes a strategy where the focus entails identifying and analyzing a given crime and other policing problems with the intention of developing effective and efficient responses. Over the years, the police have often focused on the means used to maintain law and order instead of the ends. In this respect, problem-oriented policing brings into focus a proactive approach taken by the law enforcers in identifying the root cause of a specific problem. In essence, by understanding the root cause of a problem, the law enforcers can use such an understanding minimize crimes and other illicit problems at their roots. In addition, other than a single focus on law enforcement agents to curtail crimes in a given state or society, the adoption of problem oriented policing also bring into focus the use, for instance, of municipal and community resources to prevent crimes and disorder (Cordner & Biebel, 2005). To this end, this paper critically analyzes the role of problem-oriented policing in enhancing the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and the challenges emanating from its adoption to reduce crime and disorder respectively.

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The effectiveness of problem-oriented policing in reducing crime and disorder

Policing in any given country plays an important role in minimizing crime and disorder respectively. In essence, the criminal justice system have a critical role in defining what constitutes a crime, the offences to prioritize and how law and enforcement agents can carry out their duties in an effective and efficient manner. Today, various strategies are adopted by law and enforcement agents for purposes of curtailing crime and disorder in their respective jurisdictions. While the role of law enforcers is to maintain law and order, the resurgence of crimes is increasingly posing a challenge to the police in terms of securing the safety of citizens. Conversely, while policing is associated with some common features across the globe, differences also emanate with regard to the strategies used to curtail crimes and disorder (Cordner & Biebel, 2005).

In the United States, for instance, problem oriented policing has gained prominence as a strategy for effective and efficient policing. For instance, major federal agencies and policing groups across the country have adopted problem oriented policing. Over the years, criminologists and law enforcers have grappled with the challenge of lowering crime rates. As such, efforts to take the increasing incidents of crimes have greatly influenced the development of various models to combat crimes and disorder. Among such model include, for instance POP that emphasizes results. The main strength associated with POP relates to the concept of problem solving as posited by Eisenberg and Glasscock (2001). In this respect, among the most popular models associated with POP is the SARA method. SARA (scanning, analysis, response and assessment) is based on a strategy where, the focus is first directed towards identifying a problem through the process of scanning. Subsequently, law enforcers embracing this model are expected to examine the presenting problem and develop an action plan. Such an emphasis enables the generation of appropriate solutions necessary for effective and efficient response to the identified or presenting problem (Sidebottom & Tiley, 2010).

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As observed by Sidebottom and Tilley (2010), the use of SARA method in POP makes it easier for law enforcers to tackle crime and disorder. However, while SARA provided practitioners with an excellent method of problem solving, its simplicity and lack of depth in terms of details necessary to solve a given problem contributed to the development of the 5ls (intelligence, intervention, implementation, involvement and impact). As a result, the 5ls play an important role in supplementing the SARA model to ensure law enforcers deal appropriately with the complexities associated with POP (Sidebottom & Tilley, 2010). In the past, crime was not a major issue compared to today where crime is more entrenched in the society. Further, due to social, economic and cultural changes fuelled by phenomenon such as globalization, policing has also changed to deal with crimes and disorders in a more diverse manner. Initially, policing mainly focused on containing crimes and enforcing the law, which restricted the need to give attention to a wide range of crimes (Corder & Biebel, 2005).

The criminal justice system, on its part, experiences challenges in terms of controlling crime rates through majorly focusing on prosecuting and sentencing or punishing offenders. Consequently, an emphasis on POP provides another dimension for the criminal justice system to address the problem of crime in an effective and efficient manner. In essence, POP plays an important role in reinforcing primary crime prevention by determining the root cause and analyzing the presenting problem with intentions to understand why a specific crime has occurred. Further, POP ensures that law and enforcement agents regardless of their rank engage in a proactive effort to determine and solve the root cause of a recurring problem. Through POP, police officers tend to address problems in a systematic manner to ensure the presenting problem is dealt with comprehensively to avoid instances of a reoccurrence (Fritsch, Liederbach & Taylor, 2009).

On the other end of the spectrum, communities today are faced with a myriad of problems that require the attention of law enforcers. As a result, POP is vital in establishing a policing partnership between communities that the criminal justice system. On the same note, POP facilitates a collective participation between the law enforcers and civilians in terms of combating crimes in the society. In an arrangement where communities are actively involved in helping law enforcers in their daily duties of maintaining law and order, it becomes easier to not only identify the presenting problems, but also develop appropriate strategies to solve such problems (Tilley, 2005). In a significant number of countries, crime prevention is often seen as the responsibility of the law enforcers. However, the surge in crime rates across countries around the globe shows that police alone cannot combat the crime menace evident today. The police have often maintained a focus on reactive approach to crime incidents as they occur. The challenge with a reactive approach is the inability to prevent the reoccurrence of the same crime. The POP approach emphasizes the use of scientific methods in important matters related to policing (Fritsch et al., 2009).

In a study conducted by Clarke and Goldstein (2002) that concentrated on theft at a construction site, it was understood that the increased incidents of theft at the construction site was due to accessibility of valuable items and poor security. Subsequently, through assessment and understanding of the problem, guidelines and procedures were developed and adopted by workers at the construction site. Consequently, the police were better placed to monitor compliance and track activities of workers at the construction site. By monitoring compliance and tracking activities of workers at the site, the police were able to understand the root cause of the problem. Understanding where the problem emanated allowed the law enforcers to prevent the theft of valuable products at the construction site without necessarily resorting to a reactive approach such as making arrests and carrying out investigations that may have cost the police and the company time and money respectively (Clarke & Goldstein, 2002).

On another note, POP is also vital in addressing crime and disorder in a wide geographical area and implementing long-term prevention programs that can address the root causes of problems. Additional benefits associated with POP include, for instance, decentralization in terms of shifting decision making from police chiefs to frontline officers. These officers are better placed to understand the underlying causes of problems and generating appropriate solutions to address the identified problems. In order to realize a better provision of policing services to the public in general, it is important for the law and enforcement agents to understand the crimes and disorder issues experienced by civilians (Fritsch et al., 2009). In addition, police officers also need to obtaining vital information related to the frequency of crimes in a given setting, receive support from senior officers and adapt to a problem solving approach that focuses on the emerging problems. Further, for effective response to crimes, POP also gives greater attention to intelligence gathering to understand the prevailing situations and development appropriate policing measures. In this sense, the use of POP plays an important role in limiting the possible occurrence of problems in the future rather than a reaction to past incidents (Sidebottom & Tilley, 2010). However, despite the benefits of POP in addressing in addressing crimes and disorder, there are also drawbacks associated with this strategy of policing.

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The drawbacks associated with problem oriented policing

Through the focus on SARA method emphasized in POP, the process of scanning and analyzing data gathered for policing purposes may not provide accurate information. As such, the solution generated to deal with the identified problem may not achieve its objective or reducing crime and disorder. The POP also engages the participation of communities in resolving problems related to crime and disorder; situations may arise where certain communities are reluctant to cooperate with the law enforcers in matters related to community policing. As such, it becomes a challenging process for the law and enforcement agents to achieve success with the POP strategy to reduce crimes and disorder. For instance, in efforts to address the problem of gang activities in various communities, liaison between the respective communities and the police in curtailing gang related activities is important (Cordner & Biebel, 2005). However, certain communities are likely to be reluctant in working with the police especially in communities that view the police as biased and oppressive. The outcome in this sense, is a continued reoccurrence of gang related crimes and additional time and money spent by the criminal justice system to prevent crime and disorder particularly in communities that perceive the justice system as part of the establishment that is biased and oppressive. On the same note, POP leaves police officers with no option but to work with communities in addressing issues of crime and disorder; however, the challenge emanate from the extent to which communities are willing to participate in a joint policing model (Tilley, 2005).

The effective implementation of the POP is also hindered by lack of appropriate skills by a significant number of law and enforcement agents to appropriately handle the complexities associated with a proactive rather than a reactive approach to policing. For instance, the adoption of POP requires police officers to improve their skills for purposes of effective identification, analysis and evaluation of strategies necessary to responding to the existing problems that require the attention of the criminal justice system. As further, noted by Goldstein (1990), the activities related to the implementation of POP are not only time consuming, but also requires skills for effective implementation, which to an extent, are lacking in the police service. Concerns regarding POP also relates to its cost effectiveness, which cannot be determined conclusively in monetary terms. POP is also perceived to mainly deal with minor crimes such as theft rather than major crimes that include, for instance, homicide or domestic terrorism. The society today, is increasingly affected by major crimes that require appropriate response from the police; however, a focus on POP may not necessarily benefit communities affected by such crimes (Eisenberg & Glasscock, 2001). On another note, law and enforcement agents may overlook the importance of the POP approach due to the bureaucracy involved in its implementation. For instance, there is a lot of paperwork related to the procedures of the POP approach, which may not be integrated appropriately in the routine activities of the police officers. Similarly, the embedded culture of solving crime with actual force may also hinder the effective implementation of the POP approach (Goldstein, 1990).

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The surge in crime rates across the globe require criminal justice systems to focus attention on strategies that can ensure crimes and disorder do not reoccur. Among such strategies that can play an important role in preventing the reoccurrence of crimes and disorder is the problem oriented policing. Through the adoption of the POP, the law and enforcement agents are better placed to embrace a proactive rather than a reactive approach to addressing crimes and disorder. Through a proactive approach, the focus is on the end results rather than the means, and as such, POP ensures that the police address the underlying cause of problem. In essence, by identifying the root cause of the problem, police officers are able to take intervention measures that would ensure the identified problems do not reoccur. Conversely, despite the benefits associated with POP, it also has some limitation such as failing to address major crimes.

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  1. Clarke, R., & Goldstein, H. (2002). Reducing theft at construction sites: Lessons from a problem oriented project. In N. Tilley (ed.) Analysis for crime prevention. Crime Prevention Studies 13. Cullompton, UK: Willan.
  2. Cordner, G., & Biebel, E. P. (2005). Problem‐oriented policing in practice. Criminology & Public Policy, 4(2), 155-180.
  3. Eisenberg, T., & Glasscock, B. (2001). Looking inward with problem-oriented policing. F.B.I  Law Enforcement Bulletin, 70(7), 1-5.
  4. Fritsch, E. J., Liederbach. J., & Taylor, R. W. (2009). Police patrol allocation and deployment. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  5. Goldstein, H. (1990). Problem-oriented policing, New York: McGraw-Hill.
  6. Sidebottom, A., & Tilley, N. (2010). Improving problem-oriented policing: The need for a new model? Crime Prevention and Community Safety, 13(2), 79-101.
  7. Tilley, N. (2005). Handbook of crime prevention and community safety. Cullompton, UK: Willan.
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