Problem-oriented policing has modest impact

Problem-oriented policing has a modest impact on crime and disorder, according to a new Campbell-review.

Problem-oriented policing (POP) was developed in 1979 in response to the criticism that policing was too 'means'-focused, and had neglected the 'goals' of crime prevention and control, and community problems. Its core premise is that 'problems,' rather than calls for service or individual incidents, should be the focus of police analysis. This concept had a tremendous impact on American policing and is now widely implemented in the US and other countries. The classic implementation of POP follows the 'SARA' model of problem-solving (Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment).

Review findings

This review examined 10 rigorous evaluations of POP programs following the SARA model, carried out in the US and the UK. The studies covered a wide range of problems from school victimization to vandalism and drug markets. Overall, the analysis showed that POP has a modest but significant impact on reducing various types of crime and disorder. Interventions focusing on 'problem persons' rather than 'problem places' seemed to have a bigger effect on crime reduction.

Cautious optimism about POP A further review of 45 less rigorous studies (which did not include any comparisons to areas not subject to POP) indicated overwhelming support for these interventions. When comparison groups were included, programs still provided benefits but on a smaller scale. Nonetheless, caution is urged in interpreting all of these beneficial effects.

Although the programs followed the same model in responding to problems, it was not always consistently implemented, and the types of problems and specific responses employed in the areas studied varied greatly. Across such a small number of studies, then, it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions. It is surprising that so little rigorous research has been carried out on such a popular policing tactic.

This article is based on the systematic review (access full text version):
Weisburd, D, Telep, CW, Hinkle, JC, Eck, JE: The Effects of Problem-Oriented Policing on Crime and Disorder.

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