Charles Wiley, Chief of Police, and Timothy Smith, Assistant to the Chief for Information Technology, Denton, Texas, Police Department
To the credit of the many men and women of the Denton Police Department, community oriented policing has been the standard in Denton, Texas, since 1987. Community oriented policing empowers police officers who answer the calls for service and perform the patrols in the various neighborhoods to make decisions that have traditionally been reserved for supervisors. These decisions can have a significant effect on the quality of life. Who better to make those decisions than the men and women who actually patrol those neighborhoods and are best equipped to collaborate with those who live and work in those neighborhoods?
A much written about and discussed policing concept has been the Compstat model of New York City. To quickly summarize, the most prevalent quality-of-life complaints in New York's Times Square were noise, panhandlers, peep shows, and squeegee boys. The police department's Compstat program required officers to address these quality-of-life matters and others-graffiti, litter, broken windows, abandoned cars and buildings, and a host of other seemingly minor violations of city codes. In the process of solving these problems, officers found that the neighborhood improved in surprising ways and more serious crimes became less frequent. The lesson is that if we ignore our neighborhoods because they seem less than desirable then the problem will become worse. This is known as the broken windows theory1 and it has been the heart and soul of community-oriented policing for many years. The essence of the theory is that if we clean up the community and continually address the quality-of-life issues, then the larger issues will most often take care of themselves, if they ever occur. A greater sense of pride exists when neighborhoods that have deteriorated are renewed.
The CAM ConceptIn 1987 the Denton Police Department embraced this model of policing and problem solving coupled with a three-part problem-solving method that consists of consultation, adaptation, and mobilization (CAM). Denton police officers are empowered to consult with our customers in order to determine the nature and extent of the problem, adapt and adjust our efforts to effectively resolve the problem, and mobilize the necessary resources to solve that problem.
In Denton, as in most communities, solutions for effective problem solving often require resources that are external to the police agency. It was common, for instance, to find that code violations of one kind or another led to the conditions that were at the core of the crime problems in a given neighborhood. It was found that addressing those issues led to a safer and more secure neighborhood and that if this model was effective in one neighborhood then it could be effective in others. The idea being that we could make our community safer by reducing the root causes of criminal activity one neighborhood at a time. This approach proved effective in the southeastern part of the city, and longtime residents in that neighborhood are true believers that this process will work.
CAM Goes High-TechAfter several years of success with CAM, the Denton Police Department instituted CAMStat, which combines the CAM problem-solving method with computer technology and immediate access to statistical data. Modeled after Compstat, CAMStat is aimed at reducing criminal activity in every neighborhood.
Web-based Technology: As is the case with every attempt to apply technology to a dynamic environment, police departments launching applications such as CAMStat run the risk that they do not have the proper tool for the task. However, in this instance it appears we found the right tool with our first attempt. Our officers were in need of a simple-to-use, to-the-point tool that could provide instant information in real time from different databases. We found all that functionality in one Web-based product. With this off-the-shelf enterprise software package, we are able to analyze database information through a Web browser, export, configure, modify on-the-fly, and create charts; and this is all accomplished by the end user with minimal training. Relying on officer's input, we are designing useful reports that produce data that facilitate decision making, not just historical documentation but also tools that can help us adapt to new situations and therefore mobilize our resources with greater benefit.
Geographic Information System: Another information tool we have incorporated is a GIS (geographic information system) software product that enables us to integrate local data with Internet data sources for display, query, and analysis in an easy-to-use Web browser. Utilizing our district map of the city we can post criminal statistics throughout the city or in a single neighborhood. We can query an address, neighborhood, or entire district for information. Very soon we will be offering some of this search functionality to our citizens via the Internet.
SQL Database Query: The third tool we are using is little more than a SQL (which stands for "structured query language," a language that allows users to pose complex questions of databases and is pronounced "sequel") database query tool delivered via an intranet page. This tool allows oncoming patrol units to view any or all call data from the previous shift. This enhancement of roll-call briefing has enabled our officers to have a much clearer picture of the duties ahead by showing what has come before. Via wireless mobile computing officers receive information directly from the records management system to include suspect photographs, which was previously impossible.
CAMStat Meetings: At the weekly CAMStat meeting, components of each division of the department come together to share issues of the previous week and discuss current or future action plans intended to address these issues. As we continue to develop this new paradigm we are seeing that adaptation is now taking place at the street level and mobilization is occurring without the handicap of time.
The Future of CAMStatThe principles we are developing and employing here at the Denton Police Department are valid for virtually any city. Recognizing that principles never change, just the methods, we would be the first to understand that it is likely that a different approach or method may yield more positive results in another jurisdiction. The one constant here is that technology is expensive and often difficult to justify. Ours is not a unique environment, by any means. When searching for tools we found solutions already employed in other parts of our city government. Taking advantage of an opportunity to form internal partnerships we happened onto a synergistic relationship with our information technology department that has proven to be invaluable. Clearly, we do not support any particular software tool or company, as there are dozens of viable alternatives that will serve the purpose, but the two we found are working well for us, today.
What we have determined beyond any doubt is that our CAMStat initiative has generated a paradigm that is supportive of what is referred to as outside-the-box thinking and has yielded a consistently higher level of communication throughout our organization, even across functional and divisional lines. This is particularly encouraging and important as we search for ways to do more with less and faster. The measure of success of policing is a direct result of what an officer does to prevent criminal activity as well as what our department does in response to reported crime. Proactive policing combined with statistical data in support of effective planning, response, and efficient deployment of resources offers the best hope for that success. ♦
1 James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, "The Police and Neighborhood Safety," The Atlantic (March 1982), 29-38. The article popularized the so-called broken windows theory of crime's relationship to disorder: "If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. . . . One unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing" (page 31).