The core mission of law enforcement worldwide is to secure public safety and serve our communities. This purpose may be phrased many different ways in mission statements and enacted through a multitude of differing policies, tactics, and strategies, but I would suggest that we can all agree that controlling crime is a key element of protecting our communities.
But what does “crime control” really entail—and how do we determine which crime control strategies are most relevant and effective based on our jurisdictions’ particular needs and resources? Originally, crime control encompassed policing methods that concentrated on the arrest, prosecution, and penalization of those who committed crimes. This perspective on crime control is reflected in the legislation of some countries, including the United States, that mandated more severe sentences for the perpetrators of certain crimes. The intents of this reactive approach to crime were to both keep offenders off the streets and to discourage future offenders (or recidivism among released offenders).
While it’s obvious that it’s still vitally important to have clear consequences for crimes against public safety and to discourage future crimes, law enforcement approaches to crime control have shifted over time to align more closely with what we commonly call crime prevention. This perspective isn’t an entirely new idea—in the oft-cited principles attributed to Sir Robert Peel, the concept is clearly and succinctly stated: “The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.”1
This shift from penalization to prevention can also be defined as a move from reactive policing to proactive policing. Effective proactive policing has a number of benefits. If we can prevent crime from happening in the first place, then not only do we improve public safety, but we also reduce the pressures on the often-overloaded criminal justice system (e.g., courts, corrections). Proactive policing can also reduce fear in our communities and increase trust—if there is less crime and less victimization, it stands to reason that our community members will feel safer and trust our organizations to maintain that safety.
One tool that can assist in informing policing strategies, and has become more accessible recently due to advances in technology, is predictive analytics. When used effectively, predictive analytics can help determine the likelihood of where and when future criminal activities might take place. It can reduce traffic crashes by finding a pattern in location, time of day, or dates when the most crashes occur; it can identify trends in a jurisdiction that could suggest potential benefits from increased police presence; predictive analytics can even use patterns in crime to identify businesses at the highest risk for burglary or to identify an expansion in a gang’s territory. By maximizing data and recognizing and highlighting trends, predictive technology allows us to allocate our officers and other resources when they can do the most good.
While technology is constantly improving, the importance of our crime analysts to the success of intelligence-led and data-driven policing cannot be overstated. The technology is only as good as the people operating it, and skilled crime analysts can not only guide resource allocation decisions, but can also provide us with the information we need to answer two key questions that we will hear from our colleagues, community members, and the media: (1) what are the major crime problems in the community? and (2) what are we doing about them? Experienced analysts have skills that go beyond statistical analysis and data interpretation—their training also typically includes problem-solving, and their understanding of the data can provide them with ideas or solutions that are not as obvious to those of us standing behind the chief’s desk or patrolling the streets.
We hear a lot about community engagement, and building trust and legitimacy is a valuable goal in itself. However, community engagement can also be an effective element of a larger crime control strategy. Community members have a vested interest in reducing or preventing crime in their own neighborhoods, and community leaders can provide knowledge and insight into the root causes of problems that might not be readily apparent to law enforcement. Consistently communicating with and involving these stakeholders in public safety can achieve the dual goals of building relationships and controlling crime.
A type of crime control that incorporates communication with the community and found to be effective for certain types of crime is focused deterrence. This strategy incorporates both proactive and reactive elements. It applies to crimes by known offenders (e.g., gang violence, drug crimes, domestic violence) because it consists of swift, effective consequences for the targeted group or individual. In cases such as gang violence or drug activity, law enforcement can team up with community leaders to identify and locate members of a particular gang or group. Reaching out to these individuals allows law enforcement to communicate their options—stop offending or face increased enforcement and other penalties. By incorporating community leaders in these operations, both in accessing targeted individuals and hearing their ideas for effective penalties, agencies can encourage community investment and engagement.
As you read the articles in this month’s Police Chief that discuss these and other crime control strategies, best practices, and recommendations, I encourage you to consider how proactive crime control can increase public safety and build stronger relationships in your communities. Effective crime control can help us fulfill our shared mission of ensuring the safety and security of those we are sworn to serve.♦
1“Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing,” New York Times, April 15, 2014.
Please cite as
Donald W. De Lucca, “Crime Control in the 21st Century: Proactive, Analytical, and Collaborative,” President’s Message, The Police Chief (July 2017): 6.