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.

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