By John D. Wintersteen, Chief of Police, Paradise Valley, Arizona
Since adopting the CompStat process, the Paradise Valley Police Department gets good ideas about solving crime from staff at all levels.
ive years ago, members of the Paradise Valley Police Department would not have been interested in harnessing computer technology for analysis of crime and collision statistics. It is a smaller agency serving a smaller town, and officers were confident that they knew the status of crime activity in Paradise Valley. They did not need a formal process for reviewing statistics to inform their decisions.
Today, they know that analyzing the statistics allows them to see things differently, and they came to realize that there were crime and collision problems the department had not been acting on as effectively as they could have. Now that all supervisors are involved in the CompStat process, the department gets good ideas about solving crime and real support from staff at all levels of the organization.
Crime and Collisions in Paradise
The Paradise Valley Police Department is a full-service agency of 36 sworn and 12 civilians. Officers are assigned full time to traffic and crime prevention. The department has its own 24-hour 911 public safety answering point as well as administrative records employees who oversee photo enforcement and monitor security and fire alarms.
The department has as many committed volunteers as paid employees, including reserve officers, uniformed police aides, and more than a dozen homeland security and crime prevention volunteers trained to assist in emergencies, control traffic, patrol in the same marked cars as officers use, and handle tasks involving police visibility. Volunteers distribute flyers in crime-prone areas, conduct vacation watch checks, and carry out a number of other tasks.
In an affluent bedroom community of about 14,000 nestled in a scenic, mountainous area and surrounded completely by the major cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale, the department focuses on friendly and prompt service to residents while dealing with the inevitable major crime consistent with major metropolitan areas.
The town was founded in 1961 by people who wanted to preserve a rural way of life characterized primarily by zoning lots of at least once acre, restrictions on commercial activities, and restrictions on outdoor lighting and noise. They also wanted their own police department.
In many ways, the town is a paradise, with few crimes against persons, a low collision rate, and enough police officers to take care of people’s needs. As a result, town residents have high regard for the police and provide excellent salaries and benefits, equipment, and facilities.
But Paradise Valley’s affluence, darkness, and layout make the city a magnet for property crime—342 cases last year.
Starting a CompStat Program
In early 2001 the department instituted its own version of CompStat by bringing the sergeant responsible for maintaining and reporting the department’s statistics to a weekly command staff meeting to review crime, collision, and workload statistics; to form a plan of action in specific areas; to make task assignments; and to monitor progress.
In early 2003 the review of crime, collision, and workload statistics was moved to the monthly management team meeting so that all supervisors, including patrol sergeants, lead officers, and the civilian office support supervisor, could participate. A statistical report is distributed to everyone a few days before the management meeting.
After the review of crime, collision, and workload statistics, which takes most of the first hour of the monthly meeting, the management team oversees preparation of a report that consists of a one-page cover memo analysis of the most important areas, a two-page statistical breakdown by month and year, bar charts for the current year, the past year, and the last 10-year period for burglary, theft, auto theft, and collisions, and a list of goals and task assignments in each area.
The report is sent to all police personnel, volunteers, and the three local newspapers. It is also posted on the department’s Web site, at www.ci.paradise-valley.az.us/police . The department sends an abbreviated version to the mayor and town council members.
Analyzing Data, Setting Goals, and Assigning Tasks
Before the monthly meeting, sergeants and lead officers have enough time to review the statistics and check with their subordinates for more direct input on where the crime and collision problems are and for suggestions to reduce crime and collisions from those with the most direct community contact. The first meeting of each quarter is a clean slate meeting to start fresh, while the following two months focus on review and course correction.
In each category, management team members compare current statistics to those of the same month of the prior year as well as statistics from the previous month to discover long-term trends. Then they agree on a goal, which may have two parts, and assign specific tasks to patrol officers, detectives, traffic officers, command staff members, the crime prevention officer, the public information officer, and the homeland security and crime prevention volunteers. When the problem was burglaries (and thefts) from construction sites, for example, tasks included the following:
- Increase construction site patrols by officers and volunteers during the hours these crimes most commonly occur and conduct stop-and-talk visits at construction sites
- Send command staff to meet with builders to emphasize what they can do to protect themselves and to seek their support for a reward program for construction site crime
- Have the crime prevention officer reprint an existing brochure on construction site crime and distribute it at the town hall counter where building permits are obtained
- Have detectives focus on solving these crimes and making arrests while continuing close liaison with the burglary details of the two large neighboring cities and a construction site task force
- Have the public information officer prepare an article for the newspapers and for the town’s planning and building department newsletter for contractors about safeguarding their sites
- Institute a reward for information about construction site burglaries and thefts
The Results: Crime Down, Collisions Down, Vigilance Up
Although no single factor solely affects crime rates, the bottom line is that crime and collisions are down since Paradise Valley police began using CompStat methods:
- Crime down 20 percent in 2005 compared to 2003
- Crime down 38 percent (projected) in 2006 compared to 2003
- Collisions down 16 percent in 2005 compared to 1997, despite increased traffic and more distraction factors
Crime rates in Arizona remain high and have not dropped anything like what has been experienced in Paradise Valley.
In the police department, there have been other changes that could have affected the crime rate. The department now has a K-9 team that responds to every nighttime burglary when on duty, for instance, and now two officers respond to burglary alarms during hours when burglaries are more likely. There have also been some equipment improvements.
But the biggest change has been in the behavior of the residents of Paradise Valley. In response to a major publicity campaign, residents now take steps to reduce the risk of becoming a crime victim and to protect their neighbors. Two visible examples of changed behavior that thwarts crime:
- Several years ago, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of homes with several days’ worth of newspapers collected in the driveways on Saturday after noon, especially on long weekends. Today, it is possible to drive through several neighborhoods on a Saturday afternoon, as the burglars were doing, and find not one home with more than one newspaper in the driveway.
- Stealing from an open garage is defined as a burglary under Arizona statutes, and finding open garage doors, night and day, with no one around, was typical in Paradise Valley.
Today, in the course of a patrol shift, it is typical for an officer to see not one unattended open garage.
Each month, the police department’s new focus on crime problems has resulted in a robust public education program created in the last four years. Officers, along with volunteers scheduled specifically for neighborhood patrol to deal with these problems, check neighborhoods thoroughly, then move newspapers to a location not visible from the street. They then fill out a crime prevention form and mail it with a cover letter from the crime prevention officer to the homeowner the next working day to notify the homeowner that the newspapers (or dry cleaning, or bottled water, or packages) were moved to a protected location at the home.
If officers and volunteers discover that a residential garage door is open, they attempt to contact the homeowner immediately, and if no one is at home, they close the garage door if possible. They then mail a follow-up letter to the homeowner.
The department has created an aggressive schedule of crime prevention classes, several a month during the fall, winter, and spring, on ID theft prevention, mail theft prevention, women’s safety (three classes, given twice a year), and other topics.
Crime statistics are regularly covered in the town’s local weekly newspaper and in two regional papers. Newspaper articles frequently include suggestions of how to reduce the risk of crime. Lastly, the department’s crime prevention focus has resulted in new requests for police presentations to homeowner groups, clubs, churches, and so on.
Another Benefit: Reenergized Officers and Volunteers
Regular, formal focus on crime and collisions through the CompStat process in the police department, with formal task assignment, has been the major factor in reducing crime and collisions in Paradise Valley. The process has also brought a new sense of ownership to the problem of crime and collisions in the Paradise Valley Police Department, where police officers at all levels and community volunteers all commit their ideas and energy to solving crime and making their community safe.■