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Changing the Culture & History of Policing – Part 1

This is a two-part series about the needs, challenges and promises for revolutionizing the profession of policing.  We have performed brilliantly at times, and with an openness for improvement, we will be brilliant always.



    The apple never really falls far from the tree, and this remains a truism of policing’s reactive paradigm of responding to crime.  The tree I’m referring to is England’s tithing system begun in 648 A.D. that included groups of village men (usually 10) responding to the commission of a criminal offense.  The group was summoned from the course of their daily routine by a “hue and cry” that beckoned a response to pursue the offender. Upon capturing the rogue, he was turned over to an authority and the group disbanded, returning to individual duties.


    Fast forward a scant 1346 years later to observe today’s Patrol shift in action. They randomly move throughout a subjectively drawn geographic beat conducting independent police and non-police actions.  There is little explanation for the patterns they travel or the areas selectively chosen for conducting these random acts of policing.  That is until the high-band radio cries out an offense in progress, and the non-cohesive actions of a clustering of officers turns into a coordinated response.  

     Singular in mission and motion, these officers unite for pursuing the offender.  Upon apprehension, he is delivered to the local authority and the unit disbands yet again into their non-choreographed areas of responsibility.  We even still use the horse, domesticated dog and chase on foot during these actions while remaining close to the historical roots of our enforcement service delivery methods.  Although I’m sure even the village idiot would appreciate today’s police fleet advancements, whether it’s the act of deploying ultrasonic sound to disorient an offender, or throwing a rock from the village cliff, the philosophy of reactive response remains unchanged.

K9 pursuit

The evolution has been slow to come, but it is coming. Citizens, elected officials and progressive law enforcement commanders are demanding efficiency and effectiveness from agencies entrusted with serving as peace keepers and social service providers.  As a profession, policing assumes the responsibility for measuring levels of crime and perceived effectiveness in combating that crime.  This is a dangerous combination, and is similar to asking the fox to keep a count of the chickens.

Recently, federal grant solicitations to law enforcement are including requirements for partnering with universities while conducting research designs to quantifiably examine the effects of enforcement efforts.  This is a giant leap in the right direction.  Not because police and quantitative statistics go together like gasoline and fire, but the ecology of law enforcement is entangled with internal performance requirements, external demands and political pressures.

Anecdotal stories and back patting for a job well done does not allow the responsible internal partners and external stakeholders the accurate information specific to the successes of reducing social harms. Analyzing data using various scientifically rigorous methodologies is the only manner for ensuring that police organizations are conducting their mission conducive to the mandates of the body they serve.  Today’s police executive handles an array of requests ranging from mundane to the impossible. The expectation that the chief of police is aware of precisely how effective the organization operates without the use of data is unrealistic.

There is a body of expertise in law enforcement emerging from the traditions of “crime analyst” that are evolving from one-time number counters of post-events and activities to a progressive, scientifically based predictive policing professional. The International Association of Crime Analyst (IACA) leads the way for this truly emerging skill. With the use of statistical packages and geographic information systems, analysts provide the fuel for running the data-driven engine of modern law enforcement.

data map

    For the past four years I have had the great fortune to travel this country delivering workshops on behalf of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that offers a progressive system for changing the culture of policing.  My former agency participated in the pilot phase beginning in 2008, and as the model progressed along with my career, it is entrenched as the cornerstone of the city police department I serve as chief.  Data analyst now replaces the rock throwing village idiot, and intelligence centered Patrol assignments replace randomized ineffective practices of patrolling without purpose.

The concept of proactive policing is known by various names including intelligence-led policing, hotspot policing, predictive policing and selective enforcement.  My base of experience is rooted in the data-driven approaches to crime and traffic safety (DDACTS) philosophy.  It is a business model effecting the efficient allocation of policing resources for the purpose of reducing social harms.  Based on the analysis of crash and crime data, agencies affect the occurrence of both social harms with the application of highly visible traffic enforcement strategies.

The correlation of crash and crime occurring within close proximity allows the police executive an opportunity for addressing both challenges with a singular tactic.  The use of highly visible enforcement (HVE) sustains a flexible and cost efficient method for reducing these social harms. By placing on-duty officers in geographic locations based solely on the statistical frequency determined by a micro-place and micro-time analysis, communities may enjoy the benefits of decreases in actual and perceptual fears of crime and victimization.

    The cognitive nature of human beings as patternistic, and the ecological dynamics of placed-based victimization provide the foundation for law enforcement to capitalize on the historical routines of individuals as they move through time and space as either victims or victimizers.  By mapping multi-year data sets of crashes and crimes, policing agencies begin to see the high frequencies of occurrences for both categories overlay within a jurisdictional map. 

Simply put, create a map of crashes over the last three to five years.  Now produce a map of crimes over the same period of time.  Finally, lay one map over the other and like GIS-magic, the hotspots appear.  Going a little further, agencies may examine these hotspots to determine the days of the week and times of the day when the highest levels for crashes and crime are happening.

 Learn more about this article here:

1.  Walker, S. and Kratz, C. (2007).  The police in America.  An introduction, 6th edition.

ISBN 9780078111495

2.  Ratcliffe, J. (2012).  Intelligence-Led Policing.  ISBN 978-1-84392-340-4

3.  Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS). Retrieved

from the World Wide Web October 5, 2012 www.ddacts.com

4.  COPS Office (2012). A Hot Spots Experiment: Sacramento Police Department.  Retrieved

from the World Wide Web September 04, 2012, http://cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/06- 

5.  The Kansas City Preventative Patrol Experiment; A summary report.  Retrieved

from the World Wide Web October 5, 2012 http://www.policefoundation.org/pdf/kcppe.pdf

 I wrote this article for Law Enforcement Today in 2012, and want to share it with you today.
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