On the Beat: Police and Community Problem Solving

On the Beat: Police and Community Problem Solving

On the Beat: Police and Community Problem Solving

On the Beat: Police and Community Problem Solving

Synopsis

This book examines one of the most important topics in contemporary law enforcement- problem-oriented community policing. Reporting on how community policing really works on the streets of Chicago, the book describes the five-step problem-solving model that the city developed for tackling neighborhood problems ranging from graffiti to gang violence. The first step was to identify problems and set priorities among them, and in Chicago this featured a great deal of community input. Police and residents were to analyze these problems using a "crime triangle" that called for information on offenders, victims and locations of crimes. Next they were to devise solutions to priority problems that might deal with their chronic character. Police and residents were trained to "think outside the box" of traditional police enforcement tactics and to apply new resources that had been developed to support problem-solving efforts. The book describes how the organization was restructured to support these problem solving steps; specific "organizational design" features were required to give the program a chance of working. Chicago reorganized the way police patrolled, moving away as much as possible from simply responding to 911 calls toward turf-based teams of officers charged with dealing with all of the problems in their area. To examine how problem solving really worked, the authors selected 15 police beats for detailed study. These neighborhoods represented many of the conditions and life styles of Chicagoans. Residents of some beats were largely white, others were predominately Latino or African American in composition, and some were extremely diverse. Some beats were dense with large apartment buildings, while single family homes prevailed elsewhere. Some were affluent and some desperately poor. The problems each beat faced varied as well. Residents of most areas reported that drugs and gangs were at the top of their list of concerns, but social disorder (graffiti, public drinking, etc.) and physical decay also posed problems in many areas. The highly variability and sometimes complex social meaning that residents gave to local problems was precisely the reason for Chicago to adopt a very decentralized policing program: Through their closer association with residents, police could learn about local concerns and act locally in response, and the organizational arrangements created to support problem solving gave them tools to deal with a broad range of problems.

Excerpt

For several months neighbors had been flocking to their local policecommunity meeting to complain about unsavory goings-on at a nearby residential hotel. Although what was actually going on inside the facility was a subject of speculation and rumor, neighborhood residents could observe prostitutes soliciting passers-by on the street and leading customers to the hotel. As drug dealers plied their trade just outside, gang members were entering and leaving the premises around the clock. The scene was so objectionable that the principal of the Catholic school across the street had to move a classroom of students to the back part of the building so they would not be exposed to the commotion.

Officers assigned to the area decided to run a computer check of arrests made at and around the hotel, and they contacted the city's emergency dispatch facility to obtain numbers on calls for service to that address. Not too surprisingly, there had been a lot of both. Armed with the data, the officers came to the subsequent meeting prepared to brainstorm with community members about appropriate strategies for attacking this problem. By the end of the meeting, the combined forces of the beat-police officers and neighborhood residents-were mobilized to launch a multi-pronged attack on the hotel.

With help from the districts neighborhood relations officers, community members tracked down the name of the hotel owner and arranged for a hearing at the city's licensing commissioner's office. They took pictures to document the complaints they would be airing there. To augment their increased patrolling activities, beat officers contacted the city's Department of Buildings to request inspections of the premises, and they filled out city service request forms to have municipal crews replace burned out streetlights and repair the curbs and sidewalks.

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