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Targeted Analytical Policing System (T.A.P.S.): Improving Policing in New Castle County

Wendi Feeser, Captain New Castle County, Delaware, Police Department; and Patrick Crowell, Senior Lieutenant, New Castle County, Delaware, Police Department




New Castle County (NCC), which lies in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, is the most populated of the three counties in the state of Delaware, and the New Castle County Police Department (NCCPD) is the second-largest police agency in Delaware. The department serves a population of nearly 540,000 and handles an average of 130,000 calls for service per year with a current authorized strength of 375 sworn officers.1 The department’s jurisdiction is divided into 4 patrol districts and 15 sectors.

Traditionally, policing at NCCPD has been largely reactive and driven by 9-1-1 calls. With a long-standing reputation of being community oriented, NCCPD has tried many different policing styles and strategies, including CompStat, SARA, problem-oriented policing, operations meetings, and repeat calls, all of which have had limited success. Additionally, as experienced by many other departments, the economy and attrition has left NCCPD short-staffed and with limited financial sources over the past several years.

In mid-December 2012, Captain Elmer M. Setting was appointed the department’s acting chief of police, and, in late February 2013, he was confirmed as chief of police by the New Castle County Council.

Upon assuming command of the agency in December 2012, Colonel Setting immediately began working with county executive Thomas P. Gordon and the police command staff to change how the police department analyzed crime data and provided police services to the communities it served.

Historically, police utilized maps to plot where serious crimes had already occurred and then plan their response in hopes of preventing similar crimes. However, for those communities and individuals who were already victimized, the police response was too late.

Colonel Setting held the strong belief that police must pay attention to more than just the most serious crimes such as robberies, assaults, and murders. He believed that police should analyze the incidents most frequently reported by citizens. Often characterized as “quality-of-life” calls for police service, these incidents include reports of disorderly subjects, speeding cars, loud radios, suspicious persons or vehicles, fights, people loitering on a street corner, and drug dealing. If these relatively minor issues were left unchecked, it was believed that they would grow into more serious crimes. Colonel Setting also knew that if efforts were not made to suppress or prevent crime from occurring, the patrol officers on the street would continue to be reactive and spend the majority of their time responding to 9-1-1 calls instead of being able to actively interact with community residents in their assigned areas.

One important approach to improve police service was to conduct a computerized analysis of current data associated with these quality-of-life incidents, which would “predict” where and when these issues would most likely occur. This information allowed police officers to address these minor incidents proactively, thus preventing them from escalating into more serious concerns.

To facilitate organizational change, Colonel Setting challenged NCCPD’s Information and Analysis Unit to develop new analytical policing maps with the technology currently available to them. The maps were to “predict” areas of the county where quality-of-life issues may occur.

The starting point for analyzing and creating a “predictive” map program began with this simple question:
If an officer were at the location of these complaints just prior to the 9-1-1 call being made:

  1. Would the incident have been prevented, or
  2. Would an officer been in the position to make an immediate apprehension?

Based on the answers to these questions and by analyzing the quality-of-life calls made by our citizens, Targeted Analytic Policing System (T.A.P.S.) maps were created.

Armed with these new maps, police administrators determined that this information must be efficiently pushed out to as many stakeholders as possible on a regular basis. The format that NCCPD had been using until this point was a police-only weekly operations meeting. During this meeting, the prior week’s most serious crimes were reviewed by police commanders, detectives, and officers and the corresponding response by each unit within the agency was discussed.

While these operations meetings were a tool to discuss crimes trends that had already occurred, Colonel Setting believed that there had to be a better way to formulate a response to prevent these crime trends from occurring in the first place.

The agency began to host a weekly “Predictive Policing” meeting. These meetings are open to elected officials; other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies; other branches of government; and police researchers. The rationale behind information sharing is simple: the more stakeholders who are aware of what is occurring in the communities and what the police department is doing about it, the more resources, ideas, and preventive measures can be focused on the issues impacting citizens.

During the weekly meetings, the T.A.P.S. maps are reviewed in detail. The maps show a detailed analysis of when and where quality-of-life calls have a higher probability of occurring. Assignments are then made to respond to these “hot spots” noted on the maps, and a log is maintained to ensure accountability for each area. If one of the hot spots was discussed at the previous week’s meeting, then actions taken during the previous week in that area are reviewed.

With the commanders of every section of the police department in attendance, their various areas of expertise are drawn upon to determine the best methods to address each hot spot. Each commander considers available resources and discusses and decides which methods are best to address the issues. These approaches include, but are not limited to, assigning officers to the community, utilizing specialized units such as the Mounted Patrol to patrol the area, directing officers from the Patrol Division to team up and maintain a presence in the community, assigning undercover officers, having the Community Services Unit intervene, and considering property abatement.

Additionally, the department established a second Mobile Enforcement Team (MET). The first MET has been in existence since January 2007and was geographically responsible for the entire county. The team was over-tasked and understaffed. NCCPD’s goal is to have a MET responsible for each of three districts in the county. Currently, each MET is comprised of six officers and a supervisor whose primary mission is to address crime trends, specific incidents, and general quality-of-life issues that affect the communities. The teams are not tied to responding to 9-1-1 calls for services, but are instead proactively assigned to hot spot communities. The teams are assigned to neighborhoods with the most serious and persevering issues for extended time periods.

To further enhance the police response in the designated areas without impacting normal operations and staffing, NCCPD uses federal and state grant funding to place officers on extra-duty assignments in the targeted areas. Officers working these extra-duty assignments are supplied with detailed information about the given area and specific instructions such as conducting foot patrol or checking particular areas.

To aid in the program, for the first time in over a decade, criminal investigators have been added to the Drug Control Squad and the Property Squad to further address the direct link between drugs and property crimes. It was also realized that efforts had to be made to pro-actively target the worst offenders, conduct surveillance in areas being impacted by crime trends, and even monitor those who pawn an inordinate amount of and or unusual pieces of property. Subsequently, a full-time proactive team, Special Investigations, was assigned to the Criminal Investigations Unit to give detectives proactive instead of just reactive investigative abilities. The team comprises four investigators and a supervisor and is responsible for proactively developing cases on known violent offenders in T.A.P.S.-defined areas. The investigators use traditional investigative techniques such as surveillance, developing confidential informants, and warrant execution to target the offenders. The team partners with other units within NCCPD such as the Drug Control Squad, MET, and Safe Streets to further their investigative efforts.

By bringing more focused resources from outside of the Patrol Division to combat each hot spot, street officers no longer spend the majority of their shifts in just one area, but rather spend additional time patrolling neighborhoods that normally may not see a police officer unless someone called 9-1-1.

The results of the program have been impressive. In the first two weeks of the program, five illegal firearms and substantial amounts of drugs were seized in one of the identified hot spot areas. In another area, a month-long robbery trend was ended. Multiple wanted subjects have been apprehended and dangerous drivers have received citations.

The below statistics compare 2013 to 2012 and show significant decreases in calls for service, 9-1-1 calls, and quality-of-life calls in all of NCC. As the statistics reflect, NCCPD continues to make progress in many areas, and for the first time, NCCPD has seen a decrease in the reported number of thefts. As discussed in T.A.P.S. meetings, many property crimes are directly tied to illegal drugs. Due to an increase in the number of investigators in the Drug Control Squad and the Property Squad, investigations are stronger and offenders are being held accountable for their crimes. Self-initiated activity, traffic citations, and stops are up substantially, which indicate the officers’ willingness to devote their time and efforts to quality-of-life issues.

Type of CrimeChange in 2013
Overall reported crime New Castle CountyDown 10.1%
Dispatched Calls for Police ServiceDown 7.6%
In-Progress Quality–of-Life CallsDown 10.1%
RobberiesDown 26.8%
AssaultsDown 27.2%
BurglariesDown 27.2%
Vehicle TheftUp 3.3%
TheftsUp 2.2%
Proactive Vehicle and Pedestrian StopsUp 43.3%
Gun Violations/Shots firedDown 18.0%
HomicidesDown 41.2%

The entire police department continues to develop and fine-tune the T.A.P.S. program each week. The use of the departmental portal, an internal website that brings information together from diverse sources, to document actions and progress in the hot spot areas allows for a unified response. Every officer in the department is able to view and update information and actions pertaining to the area. Additional technology will be added in the form of a “dashboard,” allowing officers, command staff, and partners to have analysis tools, scorecards, and reports at their fingertips. These tools will enhance the maintenance and follow-up needed in the identified areas.

The T.A.P.S. program has already received international exposure as a delegation from the Department of Public Security for the Republic of Panama visited NCCPD on April 17, 2013. NCCPD hosted a Spanish version of the weekly T.A.P.S. meeting for the delegation. NCCPD has also partnered with a team of three researchers from the University of Delaware, some of whom have conducted direct field observation through ride-alongs with officers deployed to hot spot areas. The researchers have attended weekly T.A.P.S meetings; held regular meetings with NCCPD’s Information and Analysis Unit; analyzed 9-1-1 and crime data; and worked with NCCPD to identify problems, assist in the selection of program approaches, and evaluate implementation and outcomes of the program.

Police personnel, the county executive’s office, and the elected members of the county’s council continue to encourage the public to call and report incidents in their communities. What is interesting is that many of these calls for service tend not to be for violent crimes; the calls are more focused on property crimes, quality-of-life issues, and drug activity. This observation is also supported by the data generated by the department’s customer satisfaction survey on the divisions’ website. According to the most recent summary, the top area of concern reported by respondents is property crimes (thefts, burglaries, criminal mischief), followed by drug violations and disorderly subjects. To specially address property crimes, the department implemented a “Property Crime Initiative” in January 2014. This effort includes trained, uniformed patrol officers who immediately investigate and conduct forensic processing of any burglary, multiple thefts in one area, and recovery of stolen vehicles. These officers work closely with detectives and the entire department’s efforts are reviewed and accountability assigned during weekly Property Crime meetings. In just two months, burglaries have been decreased by 46 percent, thefts by 35 percent, and vehicle thefts by 19 percent.

T.A.P.S. has allowed NCCPD to significantly reduce crime and calls for police service without an increase in funding or personnel. In a time of stagnant budgets and reduced staffing, NCCPD was able to make its communities safer by utilizing off-the-shelf crime mapping software without additional equipment or personnel. By addressing these minor issues impacting citizens, having a focused response to these issues by all stakeholders, allowing participation by community leaders and elected officials, and assigning accountability within the department, the NCCPD is building a safer New Castle County.

Note:
1 2010 U.S. Census Bureau: State and County QuickFacts, New Castle County, Delaware.

Please cite as:

Wendi Feeser and Patrick Crowell, “Targeted Analytical Policing System (T.A.P.S.): Improving Policing in New Castle County,” web-only article, The Police Chief 81 (March 2014), http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/admin/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=view_article&article_id=3276&issue_id=32014 (accessed XXXXXX).

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXXI, no. 3, March 2014. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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