Situational Policing

Article excerpt

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"


"That depends on where you want to get to."

The Cheshire Cat

--Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland

A recent study explored whether community policing could work in different types of neighborhoods. The analysis found it successful in some communities, but not in others. Of the 15 participating Chicago police beats, the researchers rated 9 excellent or reasonable and 6 struggling or failing. Although the study's findings prove enlightening, the research question itself garners even more interest for it suggests that community policing should have similar benefits in different types of neighborhoods. (1)


To this end, the authors present a theoretical framework to help police decide what type of community policing strategy could work best in specific neighborhoods. Making this decision requires an identification of the ultimate goal of policing (i.e., its desired end). This holds particular importance because it provides the basis for evaluating competing strategies and the ultimate measure of police effectiveness. Through the Situational Policing Model, the authors hope to present a clear and observable desired end state for officers as they work to respond to neighborhood crime and disorder. Choosing the right road, or policing strategy, depends on where the police are heading. Once this destination becomes set, officers will be better able to decide which roads most likely will get them there.



For over 20 years, the Broken Windows Theory--that neighborhood disorder leads to serious violent crime--has influenced policing. (2) Many authorities believe that physical and social disorder serve as predictors of violent crime. To this end, practices, such as zero-tolerance and order-maintenance policing, have become popular. (3)

More recently, researchers have raised important questions about any causal link between disorder and crime because they say the two are, essentially, the same thing. In other words, disorder is crime--they just differ in seriousness. These experts suggest that disorder and crime stem from the same societal problem (i.e., weakened informal social control). (4) They argue that it is not disorder that predicts crime but the level of collective efficacy--"the cohesion among residents combined with shared expectations for the social control of public space"--that predicts both crime and disorder. (5) Put another way, residents feel liable for safety and upkeep in some neighborhoods more than others, and this feeling of shared responsibility relates to the level of crime.

In a comprehensive study of 196 Chicago communities, these researchers found that not only was neighborhood-level collective efficacy the most significant predictor of crime and disorder but when collective efficacy and structural characteristics, like poverty, population density, and mixed land use, were taken into consideration, the connection between disorder and crime all but disappeared. These findings have implications for modern policing policies and practices.


Collective efficacy characterizes the neighborhood as a whole. The social sciences have established that groups, organizations, and entire societies have collective properties, like efficacy. Much of the knowledge about the dynamics of collective entities comes from studies of small groups, an emerging focus of scientific analysis starting in the 1940s and continuing today.

For example, these studies pointed out that many groups pass through, regress to, or get stuck in identifiable developmental stages. (6) For their purposes, the authors suggest that at any point in time, a neighborhood can exist primarily in one of three.

1) Dependence: The group depends on the leader for direction and the members share the assumption that the individual is competent and able to provide effective leadership. …