Criminology Essays - Problem Oriented Policing

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Problem Oriented Policing

What, exactly, is problem oriented policing? Critically discuss its potential benefits.

Policing in the UK and many other countries play an extremely vital part in helping to reduce different forms of crime. The police have a major impact on what becomes defined as a crime, which offences are prioritized, and which sections of the community are portrayed as ‘dangerous’ or ‘troublesome’. (Waddington 2000:156).

There are a number of different approaches to reducing crime; however my main focus throughout this essay will be on problem oriented policing. Problem oriented policing has its advantages as well as disadvantages in preventing crime. In this essay I will discuss whether problem oriented policing has potential benefits in order to prevent crime in society.

Police in the UK today is seen as a civil service that helps to solve and tackle the problem of crime. The police are faced with many problems everyday and do their best to deal with it within the restrictions of law, there are a number of different policing strategies used to tackle and prevent the problem of crime. Policing is a social institution which involves maintenance, peacekeeping, crime investigation, prevention and the rule of law enforcement which involves having a certain amount of power to serve their purpose (Jones and Newburn, 1998).

To understand the current situation of policing it is essential to look at the background and history how crime was reduced in the past and what changes have been made in order to help reduce and prevent crime today. Although policing has some core features globally (Bayley 1985; Mawby 1999; Waddington 1999a: 3-4), the exact forms that it takes vary widely, even within particular localities.

Modern British policing, for example, with its ‘omnibus role’ incorporating ‘crime prevention, detection, peacekeeping, public order maintenance and the preservation of state security (Reiner 1994a:755) emerges from several very different historical strands. The occupation of patrolling to prevent crime and apprehend offenders emerged from the functions of the medieval constable and watchmen, while ‘riot control’ emerged from the role of military in suppressing disorderly crowds (Rawlings 2002; Vogler 1991). These differing traditions, and the ideologies and practices they have given rise to, represent continual tensions in policing.

Crime in the past was not as a great deal as it is in today’s society. There have been a lot of social changes as a result the way in which the state was controlled differed as there weren’t a lot of opportunities to commit crimes in the past. In today’s society, there are many different forms of policing as there are a number of different offences that need to be dealt with in a diverse way.

In 1829 Sir Robert Peel established one of the well recognized policing systems which were the Metropolitan police. People hoped that the political system would improve aspects of society because in the 19th century, crime rates were increasing and the home office and government needed to act quickly upon this problem or things would get worse.

Also there is a criticism of the role of policing as it is only concerned with crime and the enforcement of law which has restrictions and limits only to a certain extent to prevent crime (Goldstein, 1979). Goldstein argued that a new strategy needed to be developed as most crimes are in the same place and committed by the same individuals. Developing new strategies for preventing crime came about because of social, cultural, economic changes and growth of the state over the years. The criminal justice system as an approach on its own didn’t seem to have a great deal of an effect in controlling crime as it was made up of prosecuting, sentencing and punishing those who had offended.

As a result when addressing the problem of crime, it was seen as a suitable way to use an additional approach alongside the criminal justice system which in this case is problem oriented policing (POP). In the 1980’s a new idea was introduced to the police in order to reinforce primary crime prevention. ‘This idea was called problem-oriented policing (POP), which was developed in America by Herman Goldstein’ (Goldstein, 1979; 1990) it’s purpose was to seek the main route of the crime and analyse it in order to understand why the crime had happened. POP became a success in the UK and North America. (Pease, 1997).

It involves rank and file officers becoming pro-active in solving root causes of reoccurring problems in relation to the type of offender, localities and victims (Tilley, 1996). Problem oriented policing is a type of pro-active policing strategy and has become increasingly influential in the UK and addresses problems systematically in an ongoing process.

The development of POP was based on perception that demands placed upon the police service meant that key issues of community to the community were often neglected (Tiley,2003:318) ‘thus the active involvement of the community and external agencies is often vital to the identification of problems and the development of strategies to solve them’ (Leigh, Reid and Tilley, 1996:5).

Crime prevention in Britain has constantly been seen as being the duty of the police. The British crime survey in 1982 showed that crime was four times higher than police had recorded it. (Walklate, 1996.) And more recently Barclay, (1995) found that only 3% of government expenditure on crime and criminal justice matters was spent on crime prevention. (Pease, 1997.) This showed that that the police alone could not combat such a level of crime.

The basic premise of POP ‘is that the core of policing should be to deal effectively with underlying police-recurrent problems rather than simply to react to incidents calling for attention one by one as they occur’ (Bullock and Tilley, 2003:1). ‘This approach places the application of scientific methods at the heart of policing’ (Ekbolm, 2002; Bullock and Tilley, 2003: 5-6; John and Maguire, 2003:38) and involves: ‘identifying and analysing recurrent problems’ ‘interrogating their underlying sources’ ‘finding some points of intervention that will block caused and risk factors’ ‘Implementing the initiatives that have been devised’, ‘evaluating the success of initiatives put forward to respond to identified problems.’

An example of this would be in Clarke and Goldstein 2002, which was a study done on a construction site that concerned theft. The crime was understood to be easy access to valuable products being available where the site was poorly safeguarded. With police assessment and knowledge of the problem, the construction site followed guidelines and some procedures where the police monitored compliance in order for it to be tracked.

The results showed that the reaction the police got was successful as the analysis focused on understanding the circumstances that caused the problem to occur in the first place. In this sense it could be seen as a successful way to help prevent crime as no power was used, no arrests were made and it solved the problem quickly and effectively saving the police and company time and money.

This is a successful way to monitor how different companies can protect themselves by doing a straightforward task such as getting appropriate equipment to guard property such as alarms, and then offenders will think twice before wanting to carry out a crime if the opportunity is not there.

Problem oriented policing also engages in problem analysis triangle (PAT) and scanning, analysis, response and assessment (SARA). In a two year research project conducted in Leicestershire, there was training based on PAT and SARA which provided officers with knowledge of what the job involves. This was an experiment which involved tackling specific problems. The research project makes use of the strategies by identifying a problem, using knowledge and data to look further into the problems and causes of crime.

It also teaches officers how to respond in an effective way by working with the community to assess if the solutions worked and what has been learnt. Problem oriented policing has gone further by being introduced in Thames Valley policing in 1997, Merseyside and other police forces. This shows that the approach used is a wide geographical spread, long term prevention program that is successful in tackling the underlying causes of problems.

This project builds an idea how it would be successful to deal with problems and help prevent crime by working together and finding a solution that will prevent problems. It also shows how PAT and SARA is used to prevent crime and solving community problems. Problem oriented policing is therefore examining patterns of crime to identify and prevent underlying problems within the community. Oriented policing has shown to of had a great impact on the United States and is becoming more influential in the UK.

The government and home office have implemented and introduced several different laws and agencies to help reduce crime. However, it is open to discussion to say what it is regarding problem oriented policing that has made it more significant in the UK and does it work? There are many merits as well as drawbacks to the benefits of problem orientated policing.

There are a number of benefits of problem oriented policing, these include: ‘Decentralisation, POP attempts to move the focus of police decision making away from managers and towards front-line officers who are in a better position to understand the causes and possible solutions for problems’( John and Maguire,2003:65). It has been argued that ‘officers must know the underlying issues locally, be in contact with the community, have information to help understand the nature of the problems that generate clusters of incident, be supported by senior offices in attempting to solve problems imaginatively and tailor problem-solving to emerging local issues’ (Jordan, 1998:73).

This should enable police resources to become more directly related to community needs. ‘Enhances the status of neighbourhood officers, POP envisages a significant role for local police officers whose status in the police service are likely to rise’ (Blair, 2005). ‘A shift away from law enforcement, POP involves activities to solve crime-related issues which are undertaken by agencies other than the police and by local communities’ an example of this is the burglary reduction initiative on a large housing estate in Stockport. (Bratby, 1999: 28-9). ‘Emphasises the importance of intelligence to police work, POP places considerable emphasis on the gathering and analysis of intelligence as the basis of society’s response to crime. The emphasis is on eliminating problems in the future as opposed to reacting to past incidents’ (Joyce,2006:130).

However a drawback of this point is it could be argued that the scanning and analysis of the data collected may not be accurate as it is community biased so is the data collected true and who is benefiting from the work carried out. It could be looked at in a sense that the community need to help themselves address issues as well as with the help of the police. For example when addressing the trouble of gang activities, the community need to get involved by disciplining their children and if gangs are making a nuisance of themselves then the community need to tackle this problem together.

Even though there is optimistic perspectives in the benefits of problem oriented policing. Problem oriented policing has changed the work of some police forces so it makes it easier to refer to other cases and they have knowledge of what is going on. Officers will find it easier to respond to problems and know what they are dealing with so that the main cause of the problem is solved, reducing the risk of it happening again. It is obvious to state that the police must work with the community to know what issues must be addressed, however, how much are people in the community willing to participate.

It has been seen that progress in applying a problem-oriented approach to policing was patchy (HMIC,1998) and many were identified as being a long way off from implementing it fully (HMIC,2000). The reason for the relatively slow progress includes: ‘The need to respond to incidents, much police work is demand led, having to respond to calls for help made by members of the general public’, ‘Complexity, considerable social skills are required in connection with problem identification, the analysis of their causes and the evaluation of the strategies to respond to these issues.

These skills are not readily found within the police service, these activities are time consuming’. (Goldsteing, 2003; Matassa and Newburn, 2003:213). It has been argued that ‘POP is interpreted and implemented in too many ways to permit any firm conclusion’ (Stockdale and Whitehead, 2003:244) it has been further argued that the assessment of outcomes in monetary terms is insufficiently developed to be able to assess whether POP is cost effective Stockdale and Whitehead, 2003:249).

It can also be argued that problem oriented policing deals with minor incidents such as theft and ignores other major problems. By focusing on such a minor problem is not going to be benefiting the community as there are other crimes that need to be addressed and the police will sooner or later deal with the problem by enforcement.

A small amount of attention is paid to the oriented policing approach in dealing with problems it is likely that with policing they tend to naturally think enforcement. Oriented policing is interpreted and implemented in a number of ways; it is difficult to implement it. Also officers may not take the approach seriously due to the hassle of paperwork and following that procedure sometimes does not fit in with the police forces routine so there is the drawback of the approach not being used.

Culture is another drawback within the police force as most officers have the principle that crime can only be solved if actual force is used. If officers are following this belief then no problems will get solved because the origin cause will not be solved, offenders will keep committing the same offence and officers will take action by using enforcement.

It is clear to see that problem oriented policing has its drawbacks but this is the situation with most crime prevention strategies. Every strategy that has been implemented will always have its pros and cons. Research shows that this approach would work if it was encouraged more and used more effectively within the day to day routine of the officers. The police forces find it straightforward and easy to use enforcement.

Other strategies involved in reducing crime, such as intelligent led policing and community policing. They work in a different way compared to problem oriented policing. Even though these three models are pro-active strategies there job roles cannot be correlated to work collectively as they have different means and different functions.

The proactive approach has an impact on crime reduction as it produces a compelling solution and reduces the underlying causes of crime without being too reactive. There are a number of factors that make up problem oriented policing and it has a lot of benefits. The benefits of problem oriented policing are clear to see that it involves a better served public, convenient demands on the police because underlying problems are solved such as reducing replicate emergency calls and officers with greater job satisfaction from being successful in meeting the communities objectives.

Overall it seems that Goldstein’s approach was not successfully used as it was planned. The main reason being the police force are involved in tackling the cause of problems but there is no time for it as police forces are so complex. The objectives of policing are set nationwide and there are no serious circumstances of implementing problem oriented policing, I have outlined many advantages and disadvantages to this approach throughout this essay, and it seems to show that the benefits are lower than the disadvantages of this approach for this approach many things do need to change also other agencies need to be involved as it cannot solely be up to just the police force to battle the problem of crime. On the whole, problem oriented policing has its implications but it has delivered some benefits and the approach is still undertaken today so to a degree it is beneficial to the community in some way.

Referencing list

  • Goldstein, H. (1990) Problem-Oriented Policing, New York: McGraw-Hill
  • Joyce, P. (2006) Criminal Justice, An Introduction To Crime and The Criminal Justice System. Chapter 3 (page119) Policing: methods, structure and organisation
  • Lecture 7 Handout, Proactive/Problem Oriented/Zero-Tolerance Policing
  • Maguire Mike, Morgan Rod and Reiner Robert, 2002, The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, chapter 26, Crime Reduction.
  • Newburn, T. (2003) Handbook of Policing, Cullompton: Willan
  • Tilley, N. (2005) Handbook of Crime Prevention and Community Safety, Cullompton: Willan
  • Walklate, S. (Ed. By McLaughlin & Muncie) (1996) Controlling Crime. London: Sage.