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Back to Archives | Back to April 2006 Contents 

A Comprehensive Approach to Reducing Demand for Services

By Michael Matulavich, Chief of Police, Akron, Ohio



orking with the community, the Akron Police Department developed a strategic crime control plan. The plan establishes 29 internal primary tasks that the department must complete to ensure that the community's expectations of the police department are met. These tasks include the following:

  • Responding to calls for service in a way that effectively prioritizes calls, captures data needed to make decisions, promotes beat integrity, and provides high citizen satisfaction
  • Establishing ownership of beats by patrol officers and providing them with the time to address beat-level problems, while still maintaining an effective response to calls for service
  • Achieving the best possible results through a total-agency effort that assigns solvable cases for investigation, improves case quality, and establishes a process for dealing with repeat offenders
  • Improving the human resources function to help bring the best possible employees to the department, train the newly hired employees, and give them feedback on their performance to promote career development
  • Implementing an organizational structure, communication mechanisms, and a management information system designed to strengthen accountability
  • Establishing a formal telephone report officer program geared toward reducing the number of calls for service for patrol officers so that they can use their time conducting proactive patrols and solving problems

Faced with high incident of calls for services and limited resources to answer the calls, the Akron Police Department had to find a comprehensive method of providing quality service. Using information system data, the department conducted a detailed analysis of the calls for service. The analysis considered the nature of the calls and the time spent on them as well as the locations that were generating disproportionate number of calls. The data established what the beat officers already knew, namely, that for some addresses the police had responded to calls more than 100 times in one year.

It became clear that the department shared some of the responsibility for fixing the problem. In order to make changes, the department had to work smarter. To work smarter, the Akron Police Department employed specific strategies and engaged the community's help to reduce demand for services.

Quick Facts
The Research
The department formed committees of line officers, first-line supervisors, and in some cases civilians to analyze the calls that consumed an inordinate amount of police resources. Some calls drain resources by the high frequency of their occurrence, and others deplete resources due to the amount of time it takes to handle the call. Ultimately, the committees recommended ways to reduce the demand for certain services in certain places and to improve the way those services were provided.

Landlord Education
Information developed through Akrons network of civilian block watch captains led police to believe that people living in rental properties were committing most of the neighborhood crimes. Police identified high crime areas throughout the city and then pinpointed the location of rental properties in those areas.

After tracing ownership records through the city health department, the police department compiled a mailing list of owners of the affected rental properties. Police then invited those owners to a meeting to discuss ways the owners, neighborhood residents, city agencies, and the police department could reduce crime committed by renters.

At the event, police shared crime data and general information about crime. A representative from the Fair Housing Advocate Association spoke about landlord-tenant rights. A civil court magistrate made a presentation on the eviction process. A city prosecutor informed attendees on the city's nuisance abatement law, and members of the police department provided instruction on how to better design applications and screen applicants.

More than 200 landlords attended the seminar, representing more than 1,000 of the city's rental properties. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. This effort was an influencing factor in the lowering growth rate of our calls for service.

Modifying Theft Reports from Convenience Gas Stations
The committees research found that approximately 500 misdemeanor theft reports were taken from convenience gas stores each year. In many of these cases, the stores did not wish to prosecute and were only filing the report for insurance purposes. Police discovered that the original call takers were recording much of the same information that officers were taking down while completing the incident report at the scene. Akron adopted a new policy to eliminate this redundancy. When there was no suspect to arrest and the station owners did not wish to pursue prosecution, the original call to the communication center would serve as documentation for the theft. A tracking number is issued to the call for verification purposes and the necessary insurance filing. But in those cases where a convenience store wanted to prosecute, the department would dispatch an officer to the scene.

To implement this change, the police department worked with the store managers. Letters were sent to each store detailing the new reporting process. Store managers were invited to attend an orientation session, where the concept would be presented in detail and provide the manager with an opportunity to ask questions and determine how the process would work with their company's policies. Store managers have expressed their support for the transition and this new initiative spares the resources it would take to write 500 incident reports each year.

Providing Report Writing Training to Local Retailers
The committee researched shoplifting and theft calls from local retailers as a frequent and labor-intensive type of service call. To reduce the amount of time street officers spend on these calls, police offered to teach retail employees what information to gather. Police officers conducted the training in high-incident stores. Store personnel welcomed the instruction and understood that the information could easily be compiled during the time they were waiting for the officer to arrive. This collaboration saved consider able amount of patrol time.

Increasing Traffic Enforcement at Frequent Crash Sites
Traffic crashes are labor-intensive service calls. Reducing their number would save a considerable amount of time. With that in mind, police developed a ranking of loca tions in the city contributing a high proportion of traffic crashes. The department then dedicated additional resources to perform enforcement at these areas to reduce the number of vehicle crashes. The city received a state grant that helped the department undertake this initiative. This initiative was successful: there were 600 fewer incidents after the program.

Reducing Mental Health Calls
Akron has a crisis intervention team that comprises 66 officers. Team members undergo 80 hours of training in how to deal with individuals suffering from mental illness. After analyzing the calls for service, the department decided to improve the program. The police department formed alliances with the mental health community to consolidate resources. Police identified the addresses that were generating a higher number of mental health service calls so that an outreach program could be undertaken to reach those citizens in need. Personnel were dedicated to follow up on the progress of the individuals residing at these addresses. Many afflicted individuals now receive the proper attention and treatment for their affliction rather than having to be sent to jail when a 911 call is placed. The agency received 244 fewer calls in the following year.

Attacking Repeat Call Locations
Research of repeat call locations identified 37 addresses that required 1,967 police responses in a 12-month period. That is an average of 53 calls per year at each of those locations. In order to reduce these numbers, officers were assigned to analyze each site and develop a strategy for successfully reducing the number of repeat calls for service. Each location would have specific program with defined objectives to reduce the service calls. This effort resulted in a 57 percent reduction of calls for service at the problem addresses.

Reducing False Alarm Calls
A committee identified false alarms as a drain on resources and came up with a method to reduce the number of false alarms. Officers meet with personnel from the city licensing bureau, the agency responsible for monitoring false alarms and assessing fines in Akron. Together, police and licensing agents determined that many alarm users in the city were not properly licensed. The police department identified unlicensed alarm systems and worked with property owners to bring those systems into compliance with the city's alarm licensing requirements. Next, fines for false alarms requiring police response were levied more expeditiously. These efforts have reduced false alarm calls by 10 percent.

Residential Speeding
An area that generated a high number of calls for service was residential speeding. Patrol units that are dispatched on these calls usually arrive after the incident is over and officers can do little at the scene. To reduce the number of such calls and to address residents concerns about unsafe driving in their neighborhoods, the department started a warning letter program. It informed the public of the program through the existing block watch captain network, and a newspaper article publicized the program.

Under the program, the police encouraged residents who observed a traffic violation to obtain the license plate number of the speeding vehicle and provide it to the police department when they called in their complaint. The police department then determined the registered owner of the vehicle and sent a letter to the owner informing them of the complaint. Police believe the program has encouraged drivers in Akron to watch their speed, and the program gives parents an extra set of eyes to monitor the behavior of their driving teenagers.

Prostitution Reduction Campaign
Calls related to the problem of prostitution were rising. To attack the problem, the department used several approaches. The police department once again partnered with the community and formed a commit tee that included several citizens to create a comprehensive plan of attack. This plan sought out prosecutors and judges to expedite the prostitution cases. The jail was asked to make space available in order to hold violators, even if it was only temporarily, to serve as deterrent. These activities were supplemented with increased enforcement efforts and undercover sting operations. The number of prostitution arrests increased by 26 percent, and the number of incoming prostitution complaint calls decreased by 15 percent. In addition, officers are observing a reduction in the number of men cruising the targeted areas known for prostitution.

Juvenile Intervention
Police in Akron consider juvenile intervention programs important crime reduction programs. The department partnered with the juvenile detention center and started a victim-offender panel. At the same time, the department committed more resources to the juvenile diversion program to help reduce juvenile crime. Additionally, the department continued to move forward with the Knaff (Kids Need a Firm Foundation) program, named after Officer George Knaff, who was killed in a traffic crash. The Knaff program intervenes in the lives of juveniles who are living in difficult environments. Officers and various members of the community interact with the at-risk juveniles and serve as positive role models. These adolescents are mentored and given guidance to develop a solid value system and increase their self-esteem. The department also has the Reach One, Teach One and Do the Right Thing initiatives. These programs are having a positive effect. Juvenile complaints decreased by 8 percent in 2004.

Reorganizing Internally
Even as it implemented the highlighted programs, the department was making internal changes designed to make police operations more efficient and help officers and mangers work smarter with the resources available.

A major change was new district lines. Reallocating the districts had not been done in more than 60 years and the workload parity needed improvement. Redrawing the district lines was accomplished by a committee of one sergeant, six officers, and a civilian. They analyzed call-for-service data and performed driving time trials to ascertain whether response time would meet specifications. The result is balanced workloads in the districts. Since redrawing the boundaries, the department has assisted four different cities that were planning their own redistricting process.

Another major change was assessing calls for service on each shift. Based on this analysis of service calls, the shifts were real located with personnel and staffed with sufficient officers to handle the demands for services. Today, the on-duty staffing availability nearly mirrors the hourly demand for service.

What Lies Ahead?
Internal reallocation, enforcement tactics, crime prevention strategies, and community police in Akron provide quality service with limited resources. Recently, the department started a program where officers make presentations in high schools teaching students about how to conduct themselves during a traffic stop. Simply explaining to students why officers approach them in a certain way fosters an understanding of traffic enforcement procedures and helps make traffic stops safer for officers and young motorists.

Another initiative is focusing on domestic violence. Akron has tracked the addresses that have been generating a higher number of domestic dispute and domestic violence calls. The department is partnering with the local battered women's shelter and other agencies that regularly deal with domestic violence. Together, the initiative will reach out to the people residing at these locations to offer free counseling and other intervention resources.

The prospects for these forthcoming initiatives are good. Police focused on calls for service in five categories, and those calls make up 25 percent of total calls for service. In a 12-month period, demand reductions occurred in all five of these categories. As an added benefit, based on internal and external feedback, the quality of service provided is even better than it was before implementation of the initiatives.

Officers and managers in the Akron Police Department have become better processors and sharers of information. The department has reduced the demand for calls for service and provided needed services more efficiently. ■

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From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 4, April 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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