Developing a Professional Foundation for Policing

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I enjoy discussing the impact of one of law enforcement’s great influences; Jane Jacobs.    The response I get nearly 100% of the time is, “Who is Jane Jacobs?” Was she a chief of police, director of a federal law enforcement agency, or one of the nation’s first females elected as sheriff?  No, but her contributions to academia helped shape some of the very practices we employ today.  She was an urban theorist whose 1960s seminal research, The death and life of the American city inspired numerous criminological theories.

While you will not find her works in the annals of law enforcement, this urbanist coined the term “eyes on the street” to explain the natural surveillance concepts inherent within the built environment of traditional neighborhoods.  Porches, stoops and street-level windows frequented by residents provide a foundation for sharing information and interpersonal accountability.

Although Jacobs never a member of law enforcement, this academic inspired environmental criminological theory to include Oscar Newman’s “Defensible Space”, C. Ray Jeffery’s “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design” (CPTED), James Wilson and George Kelling’s “Broken Windows” Theory and the community policing models that followed the reformist Professional Policing era of the 1940 – 1960s.

While you may question the purpose of discussing an urban planner’s relationship to crime theory, I illustrate these works as examples of the value of building an academic foundation for the practical application of law enforcement.  Prior to returning to graduate school, I served in high-risk assignments such as SWAT, undercover narcotics, and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Task Force agent for 15 years.  I knew the criminal code as if I had written it myself. I was keenly aware of the mission, but clueless as to why the mission mattered.

Continuing in my career, I earned a Master of Public Administration and Ph.D. during the next eight years in a command-level capacity for a nationally accredited sheriff’s office and then chief of police.  Not because of promotional opportunity, but academics, did I begin to gain an objective perspective about the holistic nature of policing and public service.

Higher education teaches the skill of research, and introduces the learner to a body of literature with unlimited areas of interest.  The ability to research is vital to law enforcement leaders required to become knowledgeable in everything from criminal law to human resources.  While it is not possible to inherently know all of these things, it is possible to develop the abilities required for conducting research and articulating this information.  Learning this specialized skill set is where a formal education most benefits the police leader.

The commitment to advanced law enforcement and criminological theory is key to exploring fresh perspectives in an evolving profession currently transitioning into a hybrid paradigm of community relations, anti-terrorism enforcement, and intelligence-led policing.  Even basic research related to employee motivation, retention, and productivity is found in available college courses.

Would you believe that assembling telephone relays can affect law enforcement leadership?  Review Elton Mayo and Fritz Roethlisberger’s Hawthorne effect on the psychology of workplace and organizational behavior.   A formal education reveals many nuggets of effective management and theory.  While there are professional training programs, the value of a college education to the field of policing provides a sphere of academic influence applicable beyond the occupation.

Practical application is where the rubber meets the road in our profession, and a final example of the resources acquired through advanced education demonstrates the use of theory relative to resource allocation for reducing crime and calls for service (CFS).  As decision makers, we are regularly presented with issues concerning staffing, overtime availability, and responding to site specific problems for addressing community concerns similar to the Problem Oriented Policing model.  If you studied Chris Koper’s curve theory, then you have a prized resource in your tactical solutions bag.  This crime suppression and deterrence theory provides actual usage opportunity when the challenges of staffing and crime fail to peacefully coexist.

I am fortunate to sit on the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Research Advisory Committee (RAC), which includes evaluating submissions for an excellence in police research award.  During my appraisal of the applications, I reviewed a research project testing the validity of the Koper curve principle.  The Sacramento Police Department (SPD) and their local university combined to quantify the results of hotspot policing through the use of the principle.  This research is an example of the synergy between a street cop’s curiosity, and academe’s foundation in theory and methods of quantitative study.

In brief, this theory states that in areas experiencing disproportionate levels of crime (hot spot) compared to similar geographical locations, communities can experience reductions in crime and CFS after employing highly visible enforcement (HVE) strategies for 12 – 16 minutes at a time.  Before you close the cover to your IPad, take a look at SPD’s Sergeant Renee Mitchell’s results as published by the COPS office; “A Hot Spots Experiment: Sacramento Police Department”.

Upon completion of this examination, she showed Part 1 crimes decreased by 25 percent in the areas employing the 12 – 16 minute intervals of HVE, while the control areas (no implementation of the 12 – 16 minutes HVE) had a 27.3 percent increase in Part 1 crimes during similar periods.  Additionally, CFS in the treatment area dropped by 7.7 percent while a 10.9 percent increase was seen in the area without intervals of HVE.

In a profession often measuring levels of effectiveness by outputs such as arrests and citations, the examination of Sacramento’s crime challenges from a comprehensive perspective afforded through academics and criminological theory, allowed those communities most adversely affected by crime to enjoy the benefits of major outcomes; the reductions of crime and fear of victimization.

Another brief illustration of the value education has afforded me and law enforcement was the ability to personally apply this principle.  During the summer of 2009, my agency was challenged by limited patrol officer resources Crime mostly associated with juveniles was historically set to rise.  The use of DDACTS identified a particular location as a statistical hotspot, yet that limited resource was reallocated to other areas within a jurisdiction covering nearly 100 miles.

Having been recently introduced to the Koper theory in class, this was the right opportunity to test its validity.   A temporal analysis identified the highest frequency for identified blocks of time for offenses reported.  Officers were dispatched into the hotspot for 15 minutes, and removed for 30 minutes over the course of the block of time.  After a summer of wisely investing minimal HVE time during a six hour blocks, crime and CFS were drastically diminished.  Most importantly, human capital was allocated in an efficient and effective manner, while the best measure of operational success resulted in reductions for instances of victimization within that community.

Developing a Professional Foundation for PolicingDeveloping a Professional Foundation for Policing

 

 

 

 

Charts illustrate a patrol beat designated as “E”, and the resulting CFS by signal codes and time frames by comparing one month to the next after applying the Koper curve theory.

These examples of using academic theory to supplement strategic operations are a glimpse into what awaits the curious commander.  I personally found it rewarding to understand the entirety of our profession from the origins of the tithing system to the dynamics of enculturation that envelops our loyalty to the fraternity.  Centered in an academic environment, police leaders gain a distance from the daily grind of signing requisitions and overtime requests to experience the theoretical side of policing.  Although abstract theory does not always apply to concrete practice, the exposure to and research skills involved in discovering them adds value to the police executive’s base of knowledge.

Whether you choose to begin your college education or advance your degree into graduate school; the profession, your community and employees deserve your best.   That may come from newly discovered criminological theory, anthropological ethnographies on the culture of occupational socialization, or a statistics course to help interpret data analysis.  Whichever the source, a professional foundation based on the principles of scientific theory will assist the police executive in guiding their organization with a dynamic and creative synergy reserved for the most committed.  Are you committed?

Scott Silverii, Ph.D. was appointed Chief of Police for the Thibodaux Police Department, Louisiana in January 2011, after serving 21 years for the nationally accredited Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office.  Chief Silverii began his law enforcement career in 1990 by serving in a variety of investigative and supervisory assignments including twelve years undercover and sixteen years in SWAT.  A subject matter expert in data-driven approaches to crime and traffic safety, he was appointed to the IACP’s prestigious Research Advisory Committee after earning his Ph.D.  Chief Silverii earned a Master of Public Administration and a Doctorate in Urban Studies from the University of New Orleans, focusing his research on anthropological aspects of culture and organizations.  He also serves as an adjunct professor teaching government and criminal justice courses.  Chief Silverii can be contacted at [email protected], LinkedIn, or Law Enforcement Today.  His agency website and Facebook can be accessed at http://ci.thibodaux.la.us/departments/police/index.asp

Learn more about this article here:

Jacobs, J. (1961).  The death and life of the American city. New York: Vintage.

Newman, O. (1972). Defensible Space. New York: Macmillan.

COPS Office (2012). A Hot Spots Experiment: Sacramento Police Department.  Retrieved from the World Wide Web September 04, 2012, http://cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/06-2012/hot-spots-and-sacramento-pd.asp.

Koper, C. (1995). Just enough police presence: Reducing crime and disorderly behavior by

optimizing patrol time in crime hotspots. Justice Quarterly, 12(4): 649-672.

Mayo, E. (1949). Hawthorne and the Western Electric Company. The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization. Routledge

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