One of the biggest challenges to the creation and maintenance of efficient and safe communities is the persistence of crime. Though abolishment of crime in its entirety is an unrealistic goal, police forces and criminologists are constantly working to better control the causes, and thus, minimize the effects of criminal acts. Prior to the late 1970’s, police action consisted mainly of a system of patrolling, crime response, and follow-up, but researchers found this implementation of police forces was too limited to prove effective. Realization of these limitations prompted the institution of a new approach to community law enforcement, termed problem-oriented policing (POP). POP empowers each officer to evaluate the source of crimes within his patrol area and to work to subdue the problem at its source.
One of the most commonly used methods for such problem solving is the S.A.R.A. model. This acronym refers to the four sequential stages of Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment with regards to any criminal problem. “This is a useful check on the natural tendency to jump straight to a final response, while skimping on definition of the problem and analysis and forgetting to assess their impact on the problem” (Clarke). The first step in this method, scanning, involves identification of the root cause of a problem. A problem is defined as a group of two or more incidents, similar in aspect, causing danger or harm. This stage involves identifying problems and their consequences, prioritizing such problems, and developing broad goals with regards to these confirmed troubles.
The next step in the S.A.R.A. model is the analysis phase; this portion is the heart of problem solving. In order to fully understand the effects of any particular crime on a community, a complete and thorough analysis must be performed. This provides further details to the objectives described in the scanning phase. A critical point to note during this phase of problem solving is the need to be objective. Analysis of crimes cannot be tainted with one person’s feelings or beliefs, as this can skew further progress of the method. Research and data collection are critical here, as each problem faces its own set of unique challenges. Although some amount of insight can be gained from other successes in relation to similar problems, each analysis must be tailored to the unique requirements of the problem and the community.
After performing a thorough analysis of an incident, a response needs to be developed. Work done during the analysis phase will dictate what type of response is warranted. The response phase allows law enforcement to work closely with the victims of crime and the community. Through Community-Oriented Policing (COP) and POP, officers can work to reduce crime and give leverage to the people, who are usually the first points of contact when a problem occurs. Programs such as a neighborhood watch assist police forces in the response phase of the S.A.R.A. method. Assessing the options for community and police-based interventions for crime is done during this important step. While it is sometimes important for police to look at the actions and interventions of other communities with similar criminal problems, they are often required to think up new ways to combat crime within the context of their own communities and figure out how best to utilize the intervention resources available to them.
The final stage of the S.A.R.A. method is assessment. This step is vital not only for determining the effectiveness of the response plan implemented, but also for providing qualitative and quantitative data to aid in the evaluation of and the response to further criminal problems within the community. This step allows police to adapt their methods of response for changes within the community instead of simply responding in the same way to a crime regardless of their circumstances and resources.
Particularly for recurring crimes, police find that using the analysis part of S.A.R.A. in conjunction with other methods of analysis helps them to pinpoint the root of such problems. The crime triangle (POV, which is illustrated in Figure 1) can also be a tool to aid enforcement agencies in incident response. By identifying the Place, Offender and Victim clearly, an intervention can be staged to remove the offender from the triangle. This model is based on the assumption that a crime or problem occurs when an offender comes into contact with a victim in a particular place without appropriate supervision or control. Once the POV model for a problem has been identified, law enforcement agencies can impose the appropriate supervision to diffuse a situation in progress, or even sometimes prevent a crime from taking place. A place should be controlled by a manager responsible for keeping his building protected and calling in other parties for aid when needed. An offender can often be controlled by police, security, or other types of law enforcement, referred to as a handler. Finally, a victim should be looked after by a guardian to ensure his protection.
Our communities’ need for a closer working relationship between the people and law enforcement dictates the need for methods such as S.A.R.A.. Before the advent of the police cruiser, officers would patrol the neighborhood on foot, giving them the opportunity to talk to the other members of the community and provide them with a better understanding of community needs. As Toch (1991) explained, “by staying in their cars, patrol officers lost contact with residents of their beats who were neither offenders nor victims. Their knowledge of community problems became more and more limited” (2). Communities need to work together with their police force, not against them, and in knowing them and communicating with them face-to-face, this is more easily achieved.
The demand for community policing stems largely from larger social and economic issues, such as poverty, racial strife, overburdened social services, and a growing sense of neglect among the inner-city poor. It presumes effective crime control requires a partnership between police and the public. (Holman 162)
When citizens of a town only see the police on the occasion when an incident occurs, this leads to a disillusionment of the community towards their law enforcement agencies.
Even skeptics of COP, POP, and S.A.R.A. have come to see their value, particularly due to the less social nature of current police patrols. As Bobinsky realized, after an initial rejection of community-oriented methods of problem solving, “this “incident-oriented” policing model placed an impressive array of resources at officers’ disposal to locate offenders, but made little attempt to reduce actual crime numbers” (1994). This phenomenon is well illustrated by the Greek myth of the nine-headed hydra. Hercules would cut off one head only to have two more grow back in its place. To defeat the monster, Hercules had to enlist the aid of his nephew, with whom he was able to complete the task by cauterizing the hydra’s wounds and preventing regrowth. Similarly, through the use of S.A.R.A., officers in the field are able to work with the community to complete the steps of the model more effectively and eliminate the source of the crimes, not only the individual incidents as they occur. S.A.R.A. allows for law enforcement to be geared more towards pro-active measures, rather than reactive.
Officers of the law, both old and new need to be trained properly to implement the S.A.R.A. model with maximum effectiveness. An issue with training is that many people tend to resist change when they are accustomed to performing their duties a certain way. To find out who is the most qualified candidate for training one can use the S.A.R.A. method to determine which officers, or districts need further education in using this method to aid in their duties. Scan the officers, find out which ones have close ties to the community or have backgrounds in methodologies such as this. Analyze the candidates to determine their specific current needs and future needs. Respond by training the candidates in the appropriate methods and techniques. Finally, assess the results either by crime statistics, or community polling surveys.
In the absence of effective training (and supervision), it is easy for police to fall back on familiar ways of dealing with whatever problem is at hand. It is also easier not to make mistakes that way, which is important if there are few positive rewards for doing good community-oriented work. (Skogan 31)
Officers trained in using the S.A.R.A. method need the proper tools to fully be effective in utilizing the model. One such tool is the Geographic Information System (GIS). The GIS is a central database of geographic locations that can be used to pinpoint crime locations and buildings associated with crimes for trend analysis. A specific GIS system developed by the New York City Police Department is called CompStat. This tool is used to identify crime ridden areas accurately and allows for a more rapid response due to the availability of data firsthand. New York City developed Compstat to compromise between precincts and Headquarters in terms of dictating operations.
Precinct commanders are in a far better position than Headquarters executives to appreciate and meet the particular needs of their communities and to direct the efforts of the 200 to 400 officers they manage. They are also in a better position than beat officers to understand and harmonize the agency’s policies with the social dynamics operating within their geographic compass. (NYPD, 2007)
S.A.R.A. Analysis not only requires the proper tools, but also a full understanding of what characteristics of a criminal problem are most valuable to focus on. Since each step of the S.A.R.A. method builds on the previous step, it is vital for police to ensure that they are asking the right questions and gathering the right data at each phase. Officers need to determine if there are any current solutions to a problem and if so, why they have failed to work so far. Detailed answers to the questions: who, what, when, where and why are essential to develop at this step. The essence of S.A.R.A. is to focus on the root problem and asking these questions helps to narrow one’s focus. The details of the time, situation, location, and motive are crucial to the decisions of the criminal and thus equally important to the police dealing with the crime. For example, car thieves are more likely to avoid parking lots with strong lighting, closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and full-time attendants than ones without these forms of security (Ratcliffe).
Once a thorough analysis is completed it is time to implement an effective response. Responding to problems identified and analyzed during the first two steps of the S.A.R.A. method can yield both positive and negative reactions from the community. A good example of a conflicted reaction to a problem response is the use of video surveillance. Cameras installed in problem areas allow for the guardians to monitor the situation. Although this may prove handy to officers, many in the community view cameras as an intrusion into their personal lives. “Since innovative ideas may surface through unique viewpoints, it is at this point that having a broad spectrum of personalities in the work group is an asset” (cj.msu.edu). Oftentimes, having a variety of viewpoints within a S.A.R.A. workgroup can provide an insight for police as to what the community’s reaction to their actions might be, so they can adjust them accordingly.
In conclusion, S.A.R.A. acts as a very effective model for law enforcement agencies incorporating a problem and community oriented style of policing. Although it is certainly not a cure for all the ailments that society faces, it does allow for a straightforward and structured means of attacking a problem as its source. According to an abstract from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, findings from a study on the impact of policing on social disorder “show that two community policing strategies–door-to-door visits and storefront offices–were significantly associated with lower levels of social disorder” (njcjrs.gov). Though some methods of the data collection which is important to S.A.R.A., such as video surveillance, may meet with mixed reactions from members of the community, overall, this model aims to bring the police force and the community together in an effort to reduce crime.