Proactive Police strategies: are they useful?

Proactive police practice may be understood to be “police practice strategies which, among their objectives, include the prevention or the reduction of crimes and disorders and that are not reactive in that they primarily focus attention on uncovering ongoing crime or investigating crimes after they have been committed”.  This is the definition that is used as a reference in the book Proactive policing: Effect on crime and communities, published by the National Academies of the USA in November 2017.

The book is the result of an investigation carried out by a scientific committee made up of sociologists, criminologists, lawyers and members of security forces, which intends to review evidence and debate the shortcomings related to data and methodology by focusing on four aspects of proactive police practice in the fight against crime:

  1. the effects and the different ways it is implemented,
  2. whether it is applied in a discriminatory way,
  3. if it is used in accordance with laws,
  4. the reaction of the community to this strategy.

To do this, they have established four different approximations to proactive police activity: based on space, resolution of problems, centred on people, and based on the community. Each of these approximations defines its own logical models of crime prevention, proactive strategies, primary objectives and main ways of meeting objectives, all of which are reviewed in the table below:

  Place-Based Approach Problem-Solving Approach Person-Focused Approach Community-Based Approach
Logic model for crime prevention Capitalize on the evidence for the concentration of crime at microgeographic places Use a problem-oriented approach, which seeks to identify problems as patterns across crime events and then identify the causes of those problems. Draw upon solutions tailored to the problem causes, with attention to assessment Capitalize on the strong concentration of crime among a small proportion of the criminal population Capitalize on the resources of communities to identify and control crime.
Policing strategies Hot spots policing; predictive policing; CCTV. Problem-oriented policing; third party policing; proactive partnering Focused deterrence; repeat offender programs; stop, question, and frisk Community-oriented policing; procedural justice policing; broken windows policing
Primary objective Prevent crime in micro-geographic places Solve recurring problems to prevent future crime Prevent and deter specific crimes by targeting known offenders Enhance collective efficacy and community collaboration with police.
Key ways to accomplish objective Identification of crime hot spots and application of focused strategies Scan and analyze crime problems, identify solutions and assess them (SARA model)[1] Identification of known high rate offenders and application of strategies to these specific offenders. Develop approaches that engage the community, or that change the way police interact with citizens.

Font: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017, page. S-2)

The report has found evidence that, at least in the short term, many proactive police practices are successful in reducing crime and disorder, without hindering relations between the police and the community. Despite this, some flaws in the research carried out mean that some important questions cannot be assessed, like at the moment, the legality of police procedures or discriminatory conduct for racial reasons. Nor have the effects of this type of police strategies been successfully tested in the long term, or applied in anywhere larger than a local environment.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Proactive Policing: Effects on Crime and Communities. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[1] Model SARA de l’acrònim d’Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment (Escanejar, analitzar, respondre i valorar)


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