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Practice Profile

Problem-Oriented Policing

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Practice Description

Practice Goals
Problem-oriented policing (POP) is an analytic method used by police to develop strategies that prevent and reduce crime. Under the POP model, police agencies are expected to systematically analyze the problems of a community, search for effective solutions to the problems, and evaluate the impact of their efforts (National Research Council 2004). POP represents police-led efforts to change the underlying conditions at hot spots that lead to recurring crime problems. It also requires police to look past traditional strategies and consider other possible approaches for addressing crime and disorder (Weisburd and Eck 2004). Today, it is one of the most widely used strategies among progressive law enforcement agencies (Weisburd et al. 2010).

Practice Theory
The POP approach was first advanced by Herman Goldstein (1979), who argued that the standard model of policing (which is primarily reactive and incident driven) should be replaced with a more proactive approach to identifying and targeting problems that contribute to crime, disorder, and other community issues. Eck and Spelman (1987) later developed a framework for implementing POP through the use of the SARA (for Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment) model, which is discussed below. SARA is just one of numerous potential methodologies for implementing POP in practice.

Practice Components
POP interventions can take on many different forms and will vary depending on the specific problems being combated. One of the most popular methods for implementing POP in practice is a four-step process known as the SARA model.

In the first step, Scanning, police rely on several different sources to identify and prioritize potential problems associated with crime and disorder in a jurisdiction. This can include identifying problems of concern to the community, confirming that the problem exists, figuring out the consequences of the problem, and determining how frequently the problem occurs.

Once the problem is identified, the next step is Analysis. This stage of the process involves identifying and analyzing relevant data to learn more about the problem, including potentially narrowing its scope and figuring out possible explanations why the problem is occurring. This information is essential for selecting the most effective and appropriate response to the problem, which occurs in the next step.

During the third step, Response, police and their partners select one or more responses or interventions based on the results from the Analysis conducted in the previous step. A response plan is outlined that includes the nature of each response, the specific objectives these responses are intended to achieve, and the responsibilities of the various partners involved in implementing the response. Once the response is selected, it is implemented by the police and their partners.

Finally, the Assessment step involves evaluating whether the responses were implemented in a way that was consistent with the Response plan, and whether the responses achieved their intended effects. Thus, the assessment phase includes both process evaluation and impact evaluation components.

POP approaches can take on a variety of forms. Strategies may focus on crime hot spots or they may target nongeographic concentrations in crime and other problems, including repeat offenders, repeat victims, and repeat times. The key ingredients in POP are the selection of a narrowly defined problem type and the application of a wide range of targeted responses intended to reduce the incidence or severity of that problem type. Other important ingredients include the inclusion of partners outside of the police agency and the central role of data and information in selecting a problem type, analyzing it, evaluating the responses, and adjusting as needed.

POP relies primarily on a diverse range of tightly focused policing strategies, some of which involve traditional law enforcement approaches and some of which involve alternative approaches. POP overlaps to some extent with other recent innovations in policing, including community policing, third-party policing, focused deterrence, and hot spots policing. Nonetheless, POP’s central elements are distinctive. Problem-oriented policing combines the resource targeting strategies of hot spots policing with the diverse approaches of community policing. Community policing draws on a variety of approaches to address crime and disorder issues, including partnerships between police and other organizations and community groups. However, community policing does not necessarily involve the intense degree of focus on a specific problem type like POP. Third-party policing involves the mobilization of third parties to assist the police in solving community problems. Hot spots policing strategies rely mostly on traditional law enforcement approaches. However, police powers and resources are directed toward dealing with a specific crime-ridden area or group of offenders (National Research Council 2004, 249). Finally, focused deterrence strategies often rely heavily on problem-oriented policing approaches, but they have several distinctive elements that fall outside the most common definitions of POP. A visual representation of the relationship between the diversity of the POP approach and its degree of emphasis compared with other policing strategies, such as community-oriented and hot spots policing, can be found in Weisburd and Eck (2004, 45).

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Overall, looking at the outcomes from 10 studies, Weisburd and colleagues (2008) found a significant—but modest—effect of problem-oriented policing (POP) strategies on crime and disorder (d=0.126). This means that on average the POP strategies led to a significant decline in measures of crime and disorder.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11989 - 2006100

Meta-Analysis 1
Weisburd and colleagues (2008) looked at the evaluation literature to examine the effects of problem-oriented policing (POP) on crime and disorder. To be included in the review, studies had to meet four criteria: 1) the SARA (for Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment) model had to be used for a problem-oriented policing intervention; 2) a comparison group was included in the study; 3) at least one crime or disorder outcome was reported with sufficient data to calculate an effect size; and 4) the unit of analysis could be persons or places.

A comprehensive search of the literature was conducted, including a keyword search, a review of bibliographies of past POP reviews, a hand search of leading journals in the field, and an email to leading policing scholars. After identifying 5,500 articles, only 10 studies were found to meet the inclusion criteria. The 10 studies took place in eight cities across the United States (Jersey City, N.J.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Oakland, Calif.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Atlanta, Ga.; San Diego, Calif.; Philadelphia, Pa.; and a suburban area of Pennsylvania) and six wards in the United Kingdom. Four of the studies were randomized experiments; six were quasi-experimental designs. In addition, four studies were from peer-reviewed journals, two were government reports, three were unpublished reports, and one was a dissertation.

The 10 studies concentrated on various POP interventions. Two of the studies focused on interventions that dealt with reducing probationer/parolee recidivism, two examined drug markets, one looked at vandalism and drinking in a park, one targeted combating crime in hot spots of violence, one addressed school victimization, two focused on interventions targeting problem addresses, and one dealt with overall crime.

The primary outcome of interest was crime or call type. The effect size was calculated as the standardized mean difference. A random effects model was used to examine the results.
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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Implementation Information

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Information on implementing problem-oriented policing (POP) is available in a 2012 report from Scott and Kirby: Additional information and publications are available at the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, run by the University of Albany:
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Weisburd, David, Cody W. Telep, Joshua C. Hinkle, and John E. Eck. 2008. “The Effects of Problem-Oriented Policing on Crime and Disorder.” Campbell Systematic Reviews 14.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Eck, John E., and William Spelman. 1987. Problem Solving: Problem-Oriented Policing in Newport News. Washington, D.C.: Police Executive Research Forum.

Goldstein, Herman. 1979. “Improving Policing: A Problem-Oriented Approach.” Crime & Delinquency 24:236–58.

National Research Council. 2004. Fairness and Effectiveness in Policing: The Evidence. Committee to Review Research on Police Policy Practices. Wesley G. Skogan and Kathleen Frydl (eds.). Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

Scott, Michael S., and Stuart Kirby. 2012. Implementing POP: Leading, Structuring, and Managing a Problem-Oriented Police Agency. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing.

Weisburd, David L., Cody W. Telep, Joshua C. Hinkle, and John E. Eck. 2008. The Effects of Problem-Oriented Policing on Crime and Disorder. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.

Weisburd, David L., Cody W. Telep, Joshua C. Hinkle, and John E. Eck. 2010. “Is Problem-Oriented Policing Effective in Reducing Crime and Disorder? Findings From a Campbell Systematic Review.” Criminology & Public Policy 9(1):139–72.

Weisburd, David L., and John E. Eck. 2004. “What Can Police Do to Reduce Crime, Disorder, and Fear?” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 593:42–65.
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Related Programs

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Following are programs that are related to this practice:

Operation Peacekeeper Effective - One study
A community and problem-oriented policing program in Stockton, CA, to reduce gang involvement and violence among urban youth (10-18). Youth Outreach Workers served as mentors for youth in neighborhood settings. This program is rated Effective. The program was associated with a significant decrease in the monthly number of gun homicides. Also, when compared to gun homicide trends in other midsize California cities, the reduction in homicides in Stockton could be associated with the program.

Operation Ceasefire: Hollenbeck Initiative Promising - One study
A policing initiative that targeted specific dangerous gangs using aggressive enforcement to reduce gun violence. The program is rated Promising. In the five targeted police reporting districts, violent crime decreased by 37 percent during the six months after the intervention. This was a significant change in comparison to the other districts, where violent crime decreased by only 22 percent. The intervention also reduced gun and gang crime.

Specialized Multi Agency Response Team (SMART) Effective - One study
A drug-control program designed to reduce drug-related problems and improve habitation conditions at targeted sites. The program is rated Effective. Half the treatment sites experienced improvements in field contacts or arrests. There were reductions in the number of individuals contacted or arrested at the same SMART site; in the number of persons displaced to a catchment area address; and in the number of new individuals attracted to a site (suggesting a small net diffusion of benefits).

Safer Cities Programme (UK) Effective - More than one study
An initiative designed to reduce crime, fear of crime, and to create safer environments for economic and community life to flourish. The program is rated Effective. There was a reduction in burglary rates, burglary risk and the fear of burglary. For programs of moderate to high intensity, crime rates dropped in surrounding areas, while displacement was found more with the low-intensity programs.

Operation Safe Streets (Philadelphia, Pa.) Promising - One study
A problem-oriented policing program targeted at high-crime areas and drug corners to prevent violent and drug-related crime. The program is rated Promising. Localized analysis of the intervention areas found reductions in violent and drug crime rates. Analysis on the adjoining areas suggests the intervention caused some spatial diffusion of benefits for violent and drug crime displacement. There were no statistically significant effects on citywide homicides, violent or drug crime rates.

Operation Ceasefire (Boston, Mass.) Effective - More than one study
A problem-solving police strategy that seeks to reduce gang violence, illegal gun possession, and gun violence in communities in Boston, Mass. The program is rated Effective. There was a statistically significant decrease in youth homicides, citywide gun assaults, calls for service, and the percentage of recovered handguns that had a fast time-to-crime (the time between a firearm’s first sale at retail and subsequent recovery in a crime).

Hot Spots Policing (Lowell, Mass.) Effective - One study
A crime-reduction policing strategy that uses a disorder policing approach to concentrate on improving physical and social order in high-crime locations in Lowell, Mass. The program is rated Effective. There was a statistically significant reduction of the total number of calls for service in the treatment areas relative to the control. Observed disorder was alleviated and calls for service were not significantly displaced into surrounding treatment areas.

Hot Spots Policing (Jacksonville, FL) No Effects - One study
A geographically focused policing strategy intended to reduce violent crime in high-crime areas using problem-oriented policing and directed patrol techniques. The program is rated No Effects. There was a significant reduction in nondomestic violent crime (i.e., street violence) in hot spots that were assigned to the problem-oriented policing condition, but no significant reductions in violent crime, property crime, and calls for service.

Drug Market Analysis Program (Jersey City, NJ) Promising - One study
A "hot spots" policing program targeting identified drug activity locations to reduce public disorder by engaging local residents and business owners and applying pressure via crackdowns. The program is rated Promising. There was no significant difference between the experimental and control locations on violence and property offenses; but, there were reductions in disorder and narcotics offenses and fewer calls for service for some measures in the treatment catchment areas.

Problem-Oriented Policing in Violent Crime Places (Jersey City, NJ) Promising - One study
The program is a focused policing strategy intended to reduce violent crime in high-crime locations through the modification of specific characteristics and situations that promote violence. The program is rated Promising. The citizen calls for service were significantly reduced at three of the five treatment locations. Reported criminal incidents were significantly reduced at two of the treatment places. Social and physical disorder were alleviated 91 percent.

Richmond (CA) Comprehensive Homicide Initiative Promising - One study
A problem-oriented policing program that offered a broad collection of enforcement and non-enforcement strategies, including a middle school mentoring program, designed to reduce homicide in Richmond, California. This program is rated Promising. It had a significant impact on homicide reduction in Richmond.

Safe Street Teams (Boston, MA) Promising - One study
A place-based, problem-oriented policing strategy implemented by the Boston (Massachusetts) Police Department in response to a sudden increase in violent crimes. The program is rated Promising. The results showed that the intervention had significant reductions in total violent index crimes, robberies, and aggravated assaults over the 10-year study period; however, there were no significant reductions in homicides and sexual assaults.

Project Safe Neighborhoods (National Evaluation) Promising - One study
This program is a multiple agency initiative to reduce gun violence in large cities through enhanced enforcement and deterrence. The program is rated Promising. Cities that received the program experienced a significant reduction in violent crime relative to control cities between 2000 and 2006.

Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) in Kansas Promising - More than one study
This is a law-enforcement model in which both location-based crime and automobile crash data is analyzed to determine where such incidents disproportionately occur (“hot spots”) and to employ targeted traffic enforcement strategies. The program is rated Promising. The areas of targeted enforcement experienced significant declines in robberies, burglaries, and traffic crashes.

Group Violence Reduction Strategy (New Orleans, Louisiana) Effective - One study
This focused deterrence strategy in New Orleans, Louisiana, aims to reduce gang violence and homicide. The program is rated Effective. There were statistically significant reductions found in overall homicide, firearm-related homicide, gang member-involved homicide, and firearm assault from the pretest to the posttest period. Further, New Orleans showed significantly decreased homicide rates after the program was implemented, compared with 14 cities with similar violent crime rates.
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Practice Snapshot

Settings: High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots, Other Community Setting

Practice Type: Community and Problem Oriented Policing, Community Crime Prevention , General deterrence, Hot Spots Policing, Specific deterrence, Violence Prevention

Unit of Analysis: Places