Thursday, November 20, 2008

Evidence-based policing

This is the fifth and final post in a series that started Monday.

Having spent the week vastly oversimplifying criminology and policing, I need to acknowledge a couple things. First, there are many other theories of crime, supported by really smart people that I have not even mentioned. Second, no one theory explains crime. I think that even the most ardent proponent of a particular theory would probably agree with that. As a police officer, you can see crimes that seem to be best explained by one or another. Many of the distinctions in theory are blurred in the real world. Police strategies are not neatly compartmentalized into those based on one particular theory. There is a good deal of overlap.

In my own paradigm, I tend towards routine activities and rational choice theories because they are actionable. As a police officer, I can actually do something about wolves, ducks, and dens. Given a crime pattern, generating alternatives grounded in routine activities theory and situational crime prevention is comparatively straightforward. Information about what works and what doesn't is often available. The Problem-Oriented Policing Center provides a great compendium of such information. It is more difficult to come up with strategies that I have the resources to implement if I accept strain theory or subcultural theory as the best explanation for criminality. I'm not discarding other theories, just focusing on strategies that are within our power to carry out.

Most of all, I want us to engage in police strategies that work. Evidence of impact impresses me more than theory. Show me that arresting more drunk drivers is correlated with fewer alcohol-involved fatal accidents, and I'm on board. Demonstrate that enforcement of minor public order crimes is related to lower overall rates of victimization, and I'll head that direction. Prove to me that when an offender is arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced for an act of domestic violence that he or she is less likely to commit the same crime against the same victim in the future, and I will make those investigations a priority.

I believe in practicing evidence-based policing. The evidence isn't always clear-cut, there are often gaps in our knowledge, and sometimes you must operate on the best information you have at the moment. You should always, however, keep your mind open for new and better information, and be willing to change course and adapt as the state of our knowledge improves. You should also look for any available evidence of the impact of your own activities on your desired outcomes, and at the bare minimum be able to describe the logical link between what you are doing, and what you hope to accomplish.

The Series:

Theory and practice
Evidence-based policing


Anonymous said...

Yawn!!! What I learned is wolves wait in their dens to come out and eat the stupid ducks.
Some ducks are smart and some are dumb. You can't teach a dumb duck smart tricks and some ducks just don't care.

Atticus said...

Officers at LPD are definitely involved in impacting crime at all levels: wolves, ducks, and dens. It is gratifying knowing that our efforts have helped prevent victimization after we have employed some crime prevention techniques, or provided information to potential victims which will help them become less of a soft target. Its is very satisfying to go into a den and clean out the problems or at least make it difficult for the problems to continue. This is usually done with the aid of property owners, neighbors, other city departments, etc.
But one cannot deny the fact that directly impacting a particular wolf by placing them in cuffs and lodging them in jail, is the most immediately gratifying action. Most of us are smart enough to know (or cynical enough) that an arrest is rarely the end of a wolf's criminal activity. The follow up prosecution and justice system do not provide the closure we all hope for. But at least for a moment, a brief period of time, we can say that we won. Good conquered evil. The resulting peace may not last as long as the long-term effects of impacting the ducks and the dens; but there's something to be said for immediate gratification.

Anonymous said...

One thing that's a lock: When a predator is in jail/prison, they can't victimize anyone directly, except for corrections staff and other inmates.

If the law required that convicted violent felons (and I would include residential burglary and auto theft) serve their entire maximum sentence, instead of being kicked loose after half of their minimum sentence was served, it'd have a huge impact on violent crime. Sure, we'd have to build (and pay for) a lot more cells, but put it on the ballot, and I'll vote for it, and happily pay the taxes. These sort of offenders have a high recidivism rate, so keeping them in the clink as long as possible is a no-brainer. If we have to change the law to do that, then so be it.

Anonymous said...

Now this in interesting, to me at least: A8-116320 - since those cars came standard with an engine immobilizer from the manufacturer. Perhaps a duplicate key (made by someone that had access to the keys or a previous owner if the car was-pre-owned), or else a tow-away theft, but you'd be hard-pressed to steal one any other way.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

Atticus--nice to 'read you' back again. The instant gratification is also good for the public--because we ARE doing something. It is discouraging however, to see the charges dismissed, or amended to something that will have little or no consequence.

Grundle said...

To Anon 4:59, sorry you found this so boring. Perhaps instead of wasting your time reading, and then additional time commenting, on this series, you could have spent your time more killing boars in the fields of 'World of Warcraft'.

Anonymous said...

It was a good idea to post about the criminological theory summaries. I just got a good piece of education with it.

Does geography and immigration have a theory with it? It seems like even if Lincoln was ridden of criminals, the next day low life from Omaha or bordering countries would wonder in this way. People believe illegal immigration shows trends in crime, but are there any widely accepted theories about it?

On the other hand, one busy street can separate two differently crime rated neighborhoods.