Police have traditionally responded to most incidents in a reactive fashion. A call for service was received, an officer was dispatched and handled the call in a prescribed manner, and the call was cleared. Rarely was consideration given to the cause of the problem, so similar and identical calls were responded to over and over with only temporary resolution. The need for a new, problem-oriented approach to police work gave rise to an initiative with a descriptive title, Problem Oriented Policing, an effort of the Police Department of Newport News, Virginia.
Made possible through grants from the National Institute of Justice and the Police Executive Forum, the Problem Oriented Policing program first focused on the dual problems of burglaries from the Briarfield Apartment complex and thefts from vehicles in downtown Newport News. To address these two public safety challenges, a four stage problem solving process was designed. It included: 1) scanning, the identification of an issue and the determination of its severity; 2) analysis: the collection of information to determine the scope, nature, and causes of the problem; 3) response: the use of information garnered during analysis to develop and implement solutions; and 4) assessment, the evaluation of the effectiveness of the response.
The heart of the process is the analysis stage. To help officers analyze problems, the task force designed a problem analysis guide that breaks a problem's events into three components: actors, incidents, and responses. Actors include victims, offenders, and others involved in the events. Incidents consider the social context, physical setting, and actions taken before, during, and after the events. Responses are the perceptions and responses of citizens, and private and public institutions to the problem. The successful use of these analytical tools to address the pilot issues led to the growth of the program, which is used for 79 separate instances that may involve police.
The Problem Oriented Policing program looks to officer satisfaction indicators as success measures. Starting with 1985, the first year of program operation, officer satisfaction has improved significantly. Officers surveyed indicated that Problem Oriented Policing made their job much more efficient, effective, and challenging. The program also looks at individual projects to measure success. For example, our barrow pit project took calls for service from several each month for at least 15 years down to zero calls since November of 1987.