Five Things and Open Source Policing

The National Institute of Justice just released a report entitled, “Five Things Law Enforcement Executives Can Do to Make a Difference”

This is really a quick and simple summary of things that are proven to improve police operations and service. At the top of the list is the fact that crime is rarely random and police patrols should not be either. Most people who work in police departments have known this for years but for some reason most police patrols in this country are still sent out in a very random fashion assigned to respond reactively to calls for service in specified geographical areas. As technology becomes more affordable and accessible and as education and expectations rise there should be more movement towards sending police patrol forces out with a mission to work smarter. The first step is to use crime analysis within all levels of an agency so that the overwhelming flow of data that comes into our police departments is turned into useful information. More importantly, that information needs to be made useful for officers in the field and it needs to be acted upon.

Police agencies needing assistance with implementing a crime analysis function can turn to organizations such as the International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA) and regional associations such as the Massachusetts Association of Crime Analysts (MACA). These are nonprofit organizations who exist solely to help promote the use of crime analysis and the training of crime analysts. While membership is not free it is very affordable with the IACA charging only $25 per year and MACA charging only $40 (which includes IACA membership) 

Both associations hold annual training conferences which offer world class training for new and experienced analysts and networking opportunities to help law enforcement analysts and leaders learn from police officers, analysts and academics from around the country and around the world.

No matter what type of policing you do or what you want to call your policing strategy crime analysis is the key component to get started. Agencies with little or no spare resources to dedicate to this can receive assistance if they are willing to ask for it and there are plenty of free software programs and free training programs that can help.

The second recommendation is that quality is more important than speed. Law Enforcement agencies that are overly focused on their response times are doing a disservice to their communities. Response time is critical on certain types of calls but for most police services it is irrelevant. It is also important to remember that an emphasis on clearing calls quickly so that other calls can be handled immediately has also been a failed strategy over the years. If police departments spent a little more time focusing on problem solving strategies and focusing on achieving objectives everyone would win. Again, analysis plays a huge role in making this change and there are free resources that can help.

Third on the list is the suggestion that DNA works on property crime as well. The public has a very high expectation that police will use DNA and solid forensics to solve all sorts of crimes but the sad truth is that in many cases “minor” crime scenes are not processed for any type of evidence. There is a need to train more officers in the collection and preservation of DNA evidence but there also needs to be a realization that we need to spend more on crime lab services to process the backlogs of collected evidence or we need to train and certify line level employees to perform the analysis of evidence to a level that is acceptable by the courts. We can train and certify police officers to operate breathalyzer machines, collect samples and testify in court on the results and we need to have a similar ability for other types of evidence. There is no point in having DNA collected for property crimes if there is no way to analyze it and testify in court about the results. Free training is available but more needs to be done to make this third recommendation realistic.

Fourth up is the fact that (public) perceptions matter. This is a key principal of open source policing. If the public being served by a law enforcement agency does not support that agency then there will only be failure. Every employee of a police agency needs to realize that the public won’t blindly support the police. Officers and agencies that realize the value of treating people with respect and really listening to what the good people in their community want will always be more successful than those who believe they can go it alone. Social media has opened up many new ways to listen to the public and to educate the public so that they can make better informed decisions about their police agencies. The days of the thug police officer are over as are the days of the anti-police reporter or news agency telling one sided stories. We are in a new age where we can open up more to the public and explain to them why things are done in a certain way and we can counteract false stories in a way that was never possible in the past. Police and the news media will be held to a level of accountability never seen in our history. Conditions have never been better for police, the media and the public to work together to share as much information as possible and to work together to solve problems. Police agencies that don’t realize this will fall behind and suffer.

Finally, our fifth recommendation is to make officer safety and wellness a priority. This is excellent advice as communities that take care of their officers will be better taken care of by their officers. There are many opportunities to implement what the research shows are best practices in order to improve officer wellness and morale and the added benefit is that society can save a lot of time, money and resources.

It is a great time in policing and despite years of budget cuts we are constantly improving in all areas due to technology and the information that is now available to us. Every member of the public can learn more about policing than was ever possible and every member of a police agency can take advantage of a number of free resources to improve their knowledge and skills. Police have more opportunities to communicate with and learn from each other and to work more closely with the public than ever before. I suggest checking out the Five Things page and looking at all of the free and low cost resources available. Police executives should follow the advice on this page and members of the public should make it clear that they expect their police agencies use these best practices.






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