Section 6.4: Community Problem Solving

Fundamentals of Policing by Adam J. McKee

Police officers have a tough job! They need to be ready to handle emergencies, stop fights, and investigate crimes. But they can’t do it alone. Imagine trying to solve a puzzle with only one piece: it’s impossible! That’s why community policing is so important.

Imagine the police as the puzzle builders and the community as the pieces. When everyone works together, it’s much easier to solve problems and keep our neighborhoods safe. People can let the police know about things that worry them, and the police can use this information to find the best solutions.

This isn’t just a theory – it’s proven to work! When police and people work together to solve crime and other issues, it leads to:

  • Less Crime: By tackling the root causes of problems, we can prevent them from happening in the first place.
  • Feeling Safer: Knowing that everyone is working together to keep our streets safe gives us peace of mind.
  • More Trust: When people trust the police, they’re more likely to cooperate, making it even easier to solve problems.

From Reactive to Proactive

Instead of just waiting for emergencies to happen, community policing encourages officers to get ahead of the game. They use a special model called SARA to identify problems, analyze them, come up with solutions, and then check if those solutions actually work.

This approach is like a doctor diagnosing a disease and then treating it with the right medicine. It’s not always easy, but it’s the best way to make sure our communities are healthy and safe.

Beyond Crime Fighting

While catching bad guys is important, it’s only one part of the police’s job. They also help maintain order, solve conflicts, and provide important services to the community. Think of them as “community helpers” who are always there when you need them.

Remember, Hollywood doesn’t always show the real picture. While police action shows are entertaining, they don’t accurately portray the day-to-day work of officers. Real-life policing is complex and involves a lot more than just chasing criminals. It’s about working together to create a safe and healthy community for everyone.

Reflect 🔍

How can working together help solve problems in your own community?

The Real Police Job

You might think the main job of police officers is to catch criminals, but there’s a lot more to it. An expert named Goldstein realized that police work is mostly about solving society’s problems. This means they don’t just react to crimes; they try to fix the issues that cause them.

The Idea of Problem-Oriented Policing (POP)

Goldstein introduced a new way for police to think: Problem-Oriented Policing. This approach wants officers to focus on the root causes of problems, not just the symptoms. Think of it like a doctor not just treating a cough but finding out why you’re coughing in the first place.

Research That Changed Policing

Some studies, like one by the Rand Corporation, showed that patrol officers (the ones you see on the streets) are super important in solving crimes. They often gather crucial info that can solve cases quickly. This finding suggested that these officers should be more involved in investigations, leaving the more complex cases to detectives.

What Does This Mean for Communities?

Goldstein’s big idea was that police need to understand the social and physical aspects of a neighborhood to effectively control crime. This can mean looking at things like building design, local issues, and community needs. By addressing these, police can prevent a lot of different problems from happening.

Examples in Real Life

Here’s an example: Imagine a public housing area with issues like burglaries, vandalism, and intimidating behavior. Goldstein would say these are all signs of deeper problems, like the design and management of the buildings. If police only focus on stopping the burglaries and ignore the bigger picture, the problems will keep happening.

Community Concerns Matter

POP and community policing are all about listening to what people in the community are worried about. Sometimes, the police and the public don’t see eye to eye on what’s important. It’s crucial for officers to help people understand how solving one big problem can fix many smaller ones.

The Role of Community Policing

Community policing is about building relationships between the police and the community. It’s not all about police solving every problem. Sometimes, they work as a bridge connecting people to other services and organizations that can help.

Variety in Community Problems

Community issues can vary a lot. They might be as simple as people being annoyed by street solicitation or as serious as a spike in burglaries. Police work with communities to find unique solutions for these diverse problems.

Not All Problems Can Be Solved Completely

Sometimes, an intervention by the police can totally solve a problem. Other times, it might just reduce the issue. The important thing is to keep trying different solutions and making improvements where needed.

Leveraging Community Partnerships

In today’s world, the best solutions often come from working together with the community, respecting everyone’s dignity, and using the least force necessary. This is where community policing shines, multiplying police resources by working with local organizations and groups.

Patrol Officers: The Key Players

Patrol officers are crucial in this process. They’re on the ground every day, understand local issues, and can build trust with community members. This trust helps them solve problems directly and effectively.

The Big Picture in Problem Solving

Every level of the police department, from patrol officers to the command staff, plays a role in solving community problems. This might mean working with other agencies on larger issues, like domestic violence, and using a team approach for more effective solutions.

Empowering Officers for Grassroots Problem-Solving

Senior police leaders should focus on policies that encourage cooperation with other groups. At the same time, they need to make sure officers have the time and freedom to work closely with community members, finding creative solutions to local problems.

Reflect 🔍

How do you think Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) and community policing can change the way we view the role of police in society?

Understanding the S.A.R.A. Model in Policing

What is the S.A.R.A. Model?

Have you ever wondered how police tackle the problems in our communities? Well, there’s a cool method called the S.A.R.A. Model, and it’s like a four-step plan for solving problems!

The Four Steps of S.A.R.A. in Detail


  1. Identifying Community Concerns: Scanning is the first step where police officers act like community detectives. They keep their eyes and ears open to identify recurring problems or emerging issues in a neighborhood. This could involve noticing an increase in graffiti, a rise in noise complaints, or a pattern of traffic accidents at a particular intersection.
  2. Gathering Data: In this phase, officers collect data from various sources. They might look at police reports, talk to community members, or use technology to track trends. This data gathering helps them understand the scope and nature of the problems.
  3. Recognizing Patterns: The key in scanning is to recognize patterns. For instance, if there’s a spike in car thefts in a specific area, officers will start connecting the dots. They look for similarities in these incidents to identify a pattern.
  4. Engaging with the Community: Scanning also involves talking to people in the community. Officers might attend neighborhood meetings or have informal chats with residents. This helps them get a sense of what’s bothering people and what’s not on the official records.
  5. Setting Priorities: Once the problems are identified, officers prioritize them. Some issues might need immediate attention, while others can be part of a long-term strategy.


  1. Understanding the Causes: In the analysis phase, officers turn into problem-solving scientists. They delve into the reasons behind the identified patterns. This could involve looking at why a certain area is prone to burglaries or what’s causing traffic issues at a particular junction.
  2. Research and Data Analysis: This step requires a bit of detective work and research. Officers might analyze crime statistics, study environmental factors, or look into the social dynamics of an area. It’s all about understanding the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’.
  3. Consulting Experts: Sometimes, police consult with experts like urban planners, social workers, or traffic engineers. These experts can provide insights that the police might not have considered.
  4. Community Feedback: Analysis is not done in isolation. Officers also seek feedback from the community. They might learn that a park is poorly lit at night, leading to safety concerns, something that statistical data alone wouldn’t reveal.
  5. Formulating Hypotheses: The end goal of analysis is to formulate hypotheses about the causes of the problems. These educated guesses will guide the response strategy.


  1. Brainstorming Solutions: Now, it’s time to get creative. Officers brainstorm solutions that address the root causes of the problems. These solutions could range from increasing patrols in an area to starting community outreach programs.
  2. Collaborating with Others: Police often collaborate with other organizations, like local businesses, schools, and social services. For example, if underage drinking is a problem, they might work with schools and parent groups to start awareness programs.
  3. Implementing Strategies: After brainstorming, the police put their plans into action. This might involve new policing tactics, community workshops, or infrastructure changes like better street lighting.
  4. Flexibility in Approach: Responses are often experimental. Police understand that the first solution might not be the perfect one, so they stay flexible and ready to adjust their strategies.
  5. Focusing on Prevention: The ultimate goal of the response phase is not just to handle current issues but to prevent future ones. This proactive approach is what makes problem-oriented policing stand out.


  1. Evaluating the Impact: In the assessment phase, police look back to see if their strategies worked. They check if the crime rates have dropped if traffic accidents have decreased, or if the community feels safer.
  2. Gathering Feedback: They also gather feedback from the community and other stakeholders. This helps in understanding the effectiveness of their responses from different perspectives.
  3. Learning from Successes and Failures: Assessment is about learning. If a strategy was successful, it can be a model for future problems. If it fails, it’s a learning opportunity to understand why.
  4. Adjusting Strategies: Based on the assessment, police might tweak their responses. If a particular approach didn’t work as expected, they might try a different tactic.
  5. Continuous Improvement: The assessment phase is not the end, but a part of a continuous cycle of improvement. It’s all about making ongoing adjustments to keep communities safe and happy.

Why It’s More Than Just Police Work

Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) extends far beyond the conventional duties typically associated with police work. At its core, POP is about fostering strong, collaborative relationships between police forces and the communities they serve. This approach recognizes that effectively tackling societal problems requires not just law enforcement expertise but also the insights and cooperation of those directly affected by these issues. By engaging with residents, local businesses, and community organizations, police can gain a deeper understanding of the challenges within a community, leading to more tailored and impactful solutions.

A key aspect of POP is its multidisciplinary nature. It’s not just about enforcing laws; it’s about understanding and addressing the underlying causes of issues. Police officers in this framework often work closely with social workers, urban planners, educators, and other professionals. This collaborative approach allows for a more holistic understanding of problems, leading to innovative and sustainable solutions. For instance, addressing youth crime might involve not only police patrols but also youth engagement programs developed in conjunction with educational and social service organizations.

Moreover, POP emphasizes the importance of proactive measures over reactive responses. Traditional policing often focuses on responding to crimes after they occur. In contrast, POP aims to identify potential problems and address them before they escalate into more serious issues. This could involve analyzing crime data to identify trends or working with community leaders to address factors that contribute to crime, such as lack of recreational spaces or lighting in public areas.

Community involvement is another pillar of POP. This model encourages open dialogue and regular interaction between police officers and community members. Such interactions can take many forms, from community meetings to informal discussions. The goal is to build trust and understanding, ensuring that the community views the police as partners in problem-solving rather than as enforcers of the law. This trust is crucial for the success of POP, as community cooperation significantly enhances the effectiveness of policing strategies.

Finally, POP is about flexibility and adaptability. Communities are dynamic, and their needs can change rapidly. Police forces employing POP principles are encouraged to be flexible in their strategies and open to feedback from the community. This adaptability ensures that policing methods remain relevant and effective in the face of changing social landscapes. By continually evaluating their approaches and being willing to adjust strategies based on community feedback and evolving circumstances, police can maintain their effectiveness and relevance in serving their communities.

In summary, Problem-Oriented Policing represents a shift from traditional policing methods towards a more community-focused, collaborative, and proactive approach. It’s about understanding the complexities of societal issues and working hand in hand with the community to create safer, more harmonious environments.

The Challenge of Problem-Solving

Problem-solving can be tricky, especially when it comes to understanding and evaluating the issues. Police officers have to be really smart about research and statistics. It’s like being in a tough class that’s really important for your job.

Changing Policing Through Problem-Solving

You might think, “How can officers do all this with their busy jobs?” It’s a big challenge, but policing is changing. Officers are using more data and evidence to make decisions and to ask for the resources they need. It’s about being smart and focused on reducing crime.

Problem-Oriented Policing: More Than a Trend

Some people might see problem-oriented policing as just another passing trend, but it’s actually making a big difference. It’s not about following the latest fad; it’s about getting real results and making our communities safer.

Reflect 🔍

How do you think the S.A.R.A. model changes the way police solve problems in our communities, and why is it important for officers to work closely with the community and other groups?

How does the S.A.R.A. model in policing compare to the scientific method you’ve learned about in science classes? Think about the steps each process involves and consider the similarities and differences in how both methods approach problem-solving.


Police work is often portrayed as a high-octane pursuit of criminals, but in reality, it’s much more nuanced and collaborative. Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) is a prime example of this. It involves the police working closely with the community to identify and solve issues. This approach is not just about responding to crimes; it’s about understanding and tackling the root causes of societal problems.

POP is effectively executed through the S.A.R.A. model, which stands for Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment. This methodical approach starts with scanning the environment to identify recurring problems. Police officers gather data, recognize patterns, and engage with the community to understand these issues. They then analyze these patterns, consulting experts and community feedback to formulate hypotheses about the causes of these problems.

The response stage involves brainstorming and implementing creative solutions, often in collaboration with other organizations and community groups. This phase focuses on prevention, aiming to address issues before they escalate. Finally, the assessment stage evaluates the impact of these strategies, gathering feedback and learning from both successes and failures to continuously improve their approach.

POP extends beyond traditional police work. It’s multidisciplinary, involving collaboration with various professionals like social workers and urban planners, and it emphasizes proactive measures over reactive responses. Community involvement is a crucial pillar of POP, as it builds trust and ensures that the police are seen as partners in problem-solving. This trust is vital for the success of any policing strategy.

In essence, POP represents a shift towards a more community-focused, collaborative, and proactive approach to policing. It’s about understanding societal complexities and working alongside the community to create safer and more harmonious environments. This model challenges officers to be smart about research and statistics, using data and evidence to inform their decisions and resource allocation. POP goes beyond being a temporary trend; it’s a proven method that yields real results and significantly contributes to safer communities.

 Key Terms

References and Further Reading

Modification History

File Created:  08/15/2018

Last Modified:  12/17/2023

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License


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