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Back to Archives | Back to October 2007 Contents 

Status of Crime Prevention Efforts in Law Enforcement, 2007

By Beau Thurnauer, Assistant to the Chief, East Hartford, Connecticut, Police Department; and Chair, IACP Crime Prevention Committee


Images for Community Safety

The Crime Prevention Committee has developed a crime prevention awareness campaign that features three versions of four different posters designed to serve as reminders that crime prevention is everyone’s business. Each poster is available in three languages: English, French, and Spanish. Two of the posters deal with property crime, and the other two address crimes against persons.

These images are designed to raise awareness among police chiefs of the need to encourage police community collaborative efforts focused on crime prevention, to assist the chief in integrating the concept of community safety into the law enforcement culture, and to motivate people to change their behavior and take preventive and precautionary action. The end purposes of the images are to reduce victimization, heighten awareness, increase community participation, integrate crime prevention into all police services, enhance local and national crime prevention movements, and inculcate crime prevention as a daily habit.

The artwork on the posters can be used on postcards, billboards, bus placards, baseball cards, and other public-awareness business tools. Additional uses include media relations tools and crime prevention literature. The images are available on compact disc, and an agency can add its logo to these images. To see the images, visit the Crime Prevention Committee section on the IACP Web site at www.theiacp.org .


C

rime prevention is a basic law enforcement tool that has become lost in the United States during the current scramble for technology dollars and shrinking federal assistance. We make excuses for the elimination of crime prevention in our agencies because of a lack of time, financial resources, or staff, but in reality, maybe it is because of lack of understanding and training.

As members of the IACP Crime Prevention Committee talk to leaders of police departments, one of the first things chiefs say is that they want to spend more time on crime prevention. The State Associations of Chiefs of Police (SACOP), in cooperation with the IACP Crime Prevention Committee, has helped to meet that need by presenting short workshops at SACOP conferences. These two- to four-hour presentations stress the role of agency leaders and how proactively approaching prevention can save time and money while putting one more tool in chiefs’ leadership toolbox.

Chiefs, sheriffs, and other law enforcement leaders have an intuitive sense that their communities expect crime prevention programs. The basic tenets of a good crime prevention program and the characteristics of a good leader are very closely related. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to recognize that championing a crime prevention effort might be one of the most distinguishing leadership actions available. If we as chiefs fail to have a crime prevention program of some sort, we are failing our communities and failing to lead. We can develop an environment that is meant to be proactive in the reduction of crime while concurrently displaying our leadership skills.

The IACP Leadership in Police Organizations [LPO] program is one of the most dynamic and practical courses anyone in policing can take. Although summarizing an overwhelming three weeks of education in this space is impossible, one of the most significant aspects of the LPO program emphasizes the importance of accounting for the current problem before formulating an action plan. As traditional managers with many time constraints, we normally identify issues of concern and then immediately formulate an action plan. We have been following this strategy since the day we entered the academy: going to the scene of a domestic dispute and resolving it before clearing the scene; or responding to a vandalism complaint by collecting the evidence, pursuing the suspect, and clearing the scene. Now, as executives, we review a personnel issue and decide on how to deal with the employee in question, or we see that officers are working too much overtime and try to adjust schedules and personnel. Normally, our decisions are based on years of experience partnered with training.

What many of us miss, however, is inserting that extra step: trying to account for the problem. Why do we have a personnel issue? What is the officer’s motive for acting this way? Why don’t other officers do the same thing? Does the officer otherwise perform in a manner that furthers the goals of my agency? Is the problem a result of a generation
gap? Did I not communicate the agency goals adequately? What biases might be affecting the officer? Perhaps the officer feels that there is a lack of equity within the agency?

Do these questions sound like too much work to answer? Such analysis is as much a part of what we should be doing with significant issues in our police departments as are crime prevention techniques with every call to which we respond. Analysis is a process we should be teaching in the academy and should be practicing throughout our careers, regardless of the assignment. The process and practice of crime prevention in our agencies are very similar.

During the Situational Crime Prevention Research Planning Meeting that took place in Washington, D.C., in 2005, Professor Ronald Clarke, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University, defined situational crime prevention (SCP) as a way of “reducing opportunities for crime rather than attempting to change criminal dispositions. . . . Officials find specific problems, ‘analyze the problem,’ figure out a solution, implement the planned solution, and then assess the results of their actions.” SCP would not be useful without “analyzing the problem.” Leadership is only management unless analysis comes between identifying problematic circumstances and formulating an action.

Practical examples always help illustrate concepts. At a recent SACOP meeting in Delaware, the speaker discussed an ever-increasing rate of serious assault in family violence cases. The leader can use SCP concepts to address this issue. Instead of simply asking the state’s attorney for more fervent prosecution, it may be more appropriate to organize a team to analyze this disturbing trend. Bring together the stakeholders such as representatives of the court, the medical profession, churches, schools, a nearby law enforcement agency, drug counselors, alcohol counselors, and family service staff—and never leave out the first responders. As Professor Clarke stated, “Commonly, people quickly define a suggested solution . . . and describe the ‘problem’ to suit a chosen solution, rather than looking and examining circumstances to see what the real problem might be.”

Callout
Use this model for every issue within your community. It doesn’t matter if the problem is residential speeding, roaming animals, vandalism, or carjacking; the concept and problem-solving model remain the same. It is not coincidental that the LPO manual states, “Leaders seek to account for what is happening. You seek to understand how different events relate to one another by constructing a logical chain of events, applying relevant theories, and then arriving at a root cause that in total provides a coherent and unified understanding of the situation.”1

Much as SCP specialists or researchers depend on surveying to study effectiveness, police leaders must formulate a tool to evaluate whether their crime prevention actions work. The largest agencies have access to crime analysis units, but even the smallest agencies can use some very telling statistics. Has the injury rate gone down? Has the rate of successful prosecution gone up? Be sure to compare results to a control group to prevent false positive or negative outcomes; this can be as simple as comparing to statewide figures or those of similar surrounding towns. You can even compare in-house statistics to those in your own agency’s reports from the previous year or quarter. It may be great that domestic violence injuries have decreased dramatically since you instituted your new program, but don’t take too much credit if everyone else in your county has had the same results, but without any new programs. And don’t forget your gut feelings and intuition—they function as our sixth sense. They help leaders understand, analyze, and interpret.

In a recent project, the IACP Crime Prevention Committee distributed internationally a series of photographs that were designed both to depict a specific crime issue and to foster recognition that police can design a strategy to prevent the crime (some examples are included with the crime prevention article on pages 110–128). For example, a child walking down a street after school with a set of keys tethered to her backpack is a latchkey kid possibly approaching a home alone. Police chiefs who are crime prevention leaders see the picture and think strategically about how to prevent burglary, theft, abduction, or worse. They may bring together stakeholders to speak at community meetings, create a flyer, or devise other novel ideas to combat this common problem.

In the case of the problem of latchkey kids, situational crime prevention experts would, as part of the analysis process, look for “handlers.” Handlers are people who can reduce an offender’s opportunity to offend. According to the SCP research report, this may include neighbors, seniors who go for a walk at about the same time as potential victims, or others who can be trusted to look out for potential victims.

As police executives, we are continually seeking methods to make our organizations more effective and efficient. We are looking especially for cost beneficial ways to do this. But because we are pressured from exterior forces to address high-profile issues, we often lose focus on one of our primary missions, which is to prevent crime. We can demonstrate our leadership profile to external and internal observers by subscribing to a sincere collaborative approach to crime prevention in general and, specifically, situational crime prevention. It is our responsibility. ■

Beau Thurnauer is the retired chief of the Coventry, Connecticut, Police Department. He currently serves as assistant to the chief of the East Hartford, Connecticut, Police Department, where he is in charge of the Professional Standards Unit.

Note:

1International Association of Chiefs of Police, Leadership in Police Organizations, 2d ed., vol. 1, lesson 2 (New York: McGraw-Hill Custom,2002), 36.

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From The Police Chief, vol. 74, no. 10, October 2007. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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