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Implementing change: community-oriented policing and problem solving.

Concern over crime has become a national preoccupation, fueled by nightly media reports and political posturing. This trend belies the slight, but consistent, decline in crime rates recorded over the past 4 years.(1)

While the public's view of crime and actual crime statistics may seem contradictory, police administrators should consider the disparity more closely before assuming that the public's visible concern is largely unfounded. They need to consider the other factors that contribute to this consuming fear of crime.

A nationwide survey conducted in March 1994, revealed that 44 percent of the respondents reported areas within a mile of their homes where they fear walking alone at night. Six of every 10 limit where they go by themselves.(2)

Although violent crime and media accounts of violence spark much of this concern, public perceptions also play an important role. Neighborhood disorder affects the public's perception of safety as surely as crime does.

People express more fear of strangers loitering near their residences than they do of random physical violence. Undoubtedly, they fear people they view as sinister - panhandlers, drunks, addicts, rowdy teens, mentally imbalanced drifters, and the homeless. But, they also fear physical disorder - litter, abandoned buildings, graffiti, broken streetlights and windows, wrecked vehicles, and other indicators of neighborhood decline.(3)

The twin threats of violence and neighborhood disorder raise the public's fear of crime beyond the level that crime rates alone may seem to support. Over the past several years, these factors have led to a tremendous increase in calls for police service. Likewise, the rise in citizens' calls to the police has had a marked impact on the nature of policing itself.


Several studies over the past 3 decades have succinctly described the reality of policing under the professional paradigm. Officers devote less than 50 percent of their on-duty time to responding to calls for service. They spend the remainder on administrative tasks. Of the calls responded to by officers, over 80 percent are for noncriminal incidents.(4) Clearly, officers deal with disorder and the fear of crime more than they deal with actual crime. As a result, they find themselves continually applying short-term solutions to the same long-term problems.

Ultimately, the strengths and weaknesses of the professional model rest with its method for measuring success. Under this model, agencies do not gauge success by determining whether a problem has been resolved fully. Rather, they measure success by tracking such quantitative indicators as response times, arrest figures, and crime clearance rates.

This approach, while not without merit, assigns a great deal of weight to the accumulation of data. At the same time, it devotes too little effort to resolving problems long-term.

Granted, many incidents that the police confront require a one-time, short-term infusion of authority. But, as surveys and studies confirm, many calls for police service require a far more comprehensive response.


To provide a structure to address the long-term factors that produce crime and disorder, hundreds of American law enforcement agencies have adopted two separate but interrelated strategies - community-oriented policing and problem-oriented policing. To encompass the mutual ideals of these approaches, this article employs the term community-oriented policing and problem solving (COPPS).

COPPS is a proactive philosophy that promotes solving problems that are either criminal, affect the quality of life, or increase citizen fear of crime. It involves identifying, analyzing, and addressing community problems at their source.

Unfortunately, many individuals-both in and outside of policing-believe that the goals of the COPPS model can be achieved by merely putting officers on foot or bicycle patrol, or by opening neighborhood ministations. Such approaches misrepresent the true potential of community-oriented policing and problem solving and establish unrealistically simplistic expectations.


Moving an agency from the reactive, incident-driven mode to COPPS is no simple endeavor. Four principle components - leadership and management issues, organizational culture, field operations, and external relationships - must be rebuilt from the ground up to provide a strong basis for the COPPS model.

Leadership and Management Issues

Successfully implementing COPPS requires a change in the management approach of an agency. Whenever law enforcement agencies adopt new programs or strategies, employees commonly want to know why the change is taking place. Administrators should understand that this is a valid concern.

To address employees' concerns, it is important to develop a mission statement that embodies the agency's new operating principles and long-term objectives. To be useful, the mission statement must articulate the basic values and goals inherent in COPPS. Attention also must be given to policies and procedures, management styles, planning and program evaluation, and resources and finances.

Police Leadership

In Problem-oriented Policing, Herman Goldstein argues that good leaders "must have a set of values, a commitment to goals and governing principles."(5) Chief executives who attempt to guide their agencies out of the purely reactive mode must create a climate conducive to change. To do this they themselves must become viable change agents.

When implementing community-oriented policing and problem solving, chiefs should avoid the "bombshell" technique - simply announcing that COPPS is now the order of the day without developing a carefully designed plan of implementation. The chief's job begins by involving the entire agency to develop a clear vision and mission statement that is consistent with the principles of COPPS. These guiding tenets should recognize that the police do more than merely enforce laws. These principles should serve as the basis for establishing new values and goals.

Chief executives must remember that fully implementing the COPPS model takes years, not weeks or months. It requires careful and continuous planning to ensure that the organization's policies and procedures do not conflict with the basic principles of COPPS. Because the COPPS model places strong emphasis on street officers as primary problem solvers, chiefs also should carefully evaluate resource allocation to determine if any redistribution is necessary.

The larger the organization, the more time necessary to implement COPPS, especially if it is being implemented department-wide. This period of changeover may involve considerable turbulence. Chief executives should be prepared to face a reluctance to change from those comfortable with the status quo.

Mid-level Management

Mid-level police managers - lieutenants and captains - play a crucial role in the implementation of the COPPS model. Accordingly, they should be trained in the philosophy and methodology of the concept. Studies of the team policing programs of the 1970s found that many managers viewed that concept as a threat to their power. They subsequently "subverted and, in some cases, actively sabotaged" the effort.(6)

Mid-level managers need not be a hindrance to innovation. Indeed, many researchers who study law enforcement agencies identify middle managers as the locus of innovation. (7) If COPPS is to be implemented successfully, mid-level managers must provide administrative support and remove any barriers that first-line supervisors may confront.

First-line Supervisors

As first-line supervisors, sergeants wield a tremendous amount of influence on the attitudes and behavior of officers. COPPS requires that sergeants allow their officers additional autonomy and authority to solve problems. This component of the COPPS model can seem threatening to first-line supervisors who, in turn, can create an enormous block to implementation.

Supervisory training should define a sergeant's role as "facilitator" rather than "controller." Sergeants often must run interference for their patrol officers to give them the time required to engage in problem solving. First-line supervisors also can assist by developing new COPPS activity forms and officer evaluation criteria that complement the new philosophy.

Organizational Culture

Reactive crime-fighting strategies and organizational values represent strong barriers to COPPS. Therefore, before meaningful transition can occur, the very core of an organization's culture often must change. In this context, "culture" refers to a set of expectations and norms that guide employees' behavior.

Organizations base their culture largely on history, officer experiences, organizational structure, leadership style, and past methods of handling change. To ensure that community-oriented policing and problem solving becomes a part of the organizational culture, and not simply a fleeting or peripheral "program," an agency must link COPPS to how it recruits, selects, trains, evaluates, promotes, rewards, and disciplines employees.

Agencies must review their recruiting literature and testing/selection processes to ensure that the skills, knowledge, and abilities used to select recruits are consistent with the desired traits of a COPPS officer. The training that recruits receive once they are hired becomes critical. Therefore, COPPS training must be integrated into the academy's curriculum fairly early in the implementation process.

In addition, both sworn and civilian employees should be taught the COPPS philosophy to ensure common understanding. Personnel should receive practical training related to the problem-solving model and other crime prevention and analysis strategies. Personnel also need to be trained on effective ways to involve other government agencies, private businesses, public and private service organizations, and the community in general. Agencies should include this instruction in field training curricula and updated annual training.

COPPS also changes the way organizations evaluate their officers. Evaluation criteria need not focus solely on efficiency - as indicated by citation and arrest numbers. Under COPPS, agencies should recognize officers who maximize resources and exhibit initiative in solving seemingly intractable community problems. Administrators must remember that such activities often defy traditional numbers-oriented evaluation.

In fact, COPPS requires an evaluation system that measures whether attempted solutions successfully addressed community problems. Agencies must establish forms of assessment, such as community surveys and data analysis methodologies, that adequately gauge the effectiveness of individual problem-solving initiatives.(8)

In an organization devoted to the principles of COPPS, promotional exams should not focus solely on tactical orientation, nor should awards be restricted to recognizing only heroic deeds. Employees' knowledge about COPPS and their problem-solving performance must be reflected in an agency's promotional and reward systems.

Likewise, a department's disciplinary system is an important guide for employees' behavior. Agencies must uncover and swiftly deal with behavior that threatens their COPPS efforts.

Cultural resistance to implementing COPPS invariably encompasses officers' belief that responding to service calls leaves them insufficient time to engage in problem solving. COPPS training should explain that if officers do not engage in problem solving they will continue rushing from spot to spot like pinballs, achieving short-term results at best. Still, agencies can and should do a number of things to gamer more time for officers to engage in problem solving.

Field Operations

Under COPPS, field officers become the focus of problem-solving efforts; they identify problems, apply in-depth analysis of the underlying causes, employ creative and collaborative responses, and evaluate the results of their efforts. This philosophy often requires more time and effort from officers than incident-driven methodologies allow.

An agency's administration might obtain more time for officers by analyzing calls for service and officers' workload and by evaluating what activities officers perform and how they spend their uncommitted time. Agencies need to work toward taking more offense reports over the telephone or through mail-in reporting and consider the enactment of false alarm ordinances or other measures to reduce the number of unnecessary calls for police service. (9) Agencies also must seek ways to reduce the amount of time officers spend performing nonpolice functions.

Through better call management, supervisors can help by allowing officers to delay their responses to nonemergency calls. Supervisors in some agencies use cellular telephones to contact complainants directly and handle their problems, thus eliminating the need for an officer's response.

Problem solving also requires acquiring reliable data and information about substantive problems. Centralized and accessible crime analysis information should provide officers with reliable data on all calls for service, not merely Part I crimes. Identifying sites that yield repeat calls for service represents a vital component to establishing long-term response strategies.

Agencies often question whether to implement COPPS on a department-wide basis or through specialized units. Although specialized units may produce limited results more quickly, their long-range impact may prove detrimental to the organization if other personnel view COPPS as a temporary or specialized program. Consequently, there is a growing consensus that all personnel in an agency should be trained in and practice COPPS.

In addition, agencies must consider operational variables that impact the implementation of community-oriented policing and problem solving. Agencies that assign fixed shifts and beats generally enjoy a higher success rate. Long-term and/or permanent beat and shift assignments - the ultimate forms of decentralization - allow officers to learn more about people, places, issues, and problems within neighborhoods. Agencies also may need to examine and modify rank structure to accommodate COPPS and to ensure that communication is not filtered, doctored, or suppressed.(10)

External Relationships

While much can be debated about COPPS implementation, one thing is clear: COPPS requires changes in agencies' external relationships. The goal should be to establish new partnerships for sharing the information and resources necessary to solve neighborhood problems. As an integral component of this effort, law enforcement should foster cooperative working relationships with city agencies, businesses, service providers, and the community.

Because a deteriorating neighborhood might require cooperation among health, police, fire, zoning, and social service agencies, key officials in each organization must be included early in the implementation process. The homeless, the mentally ill, and the victims of domestic violence often account for a high volume of police service calls. By working together, the police and other agencies can put victims in the hands of skilled practitioners and on the road to reclaiming their lives.


Elected Officials

Soliciting and maintaining political support represents an essential element to implementing COPPS fully. Elected officials must provide sustenance and direction to any COPPS effort by allocating resources and developing strategic community-wide policies.

Unfortunately, political officials can be a difficult group for police administrators to influence: Their knowledge of policing traditionally is grounded in Uniform Crime Reports' statistics, response times, and case clearance rates. They rarely think of the police role beyond its law enforcement function.

The multiagency cooperation inherent in COPPS represents a new concept for many public officials. Elected officials also must understand that they cannot promise the community reduced response times and an officer's response to every type of call, or that drug-related crime, homelessness, and other social problems will be resolved within a finite time period. Both voters and elected officials should understand that to achieve long-term results, COPPS requires careful, thoughtful approaches with realistic timeframes.


To many officers, investigation represents the single most important function of a police organization. An inevitable by product of this view is that uniformed officers are accorded less status than detectives. Thus, many patrol officers aspire to enter the investigative ranks. However, a shift to COPPS requires a new and enhanced role for line officers.

For this reason, detectives-who may feel that COPPS work is for uniformed officers alone - must be incorporated into the COPPS strategy. They should not view COPPS as an exclusive responsibility of the patrol force.

Detectives can relay information to the patrol division, while patrol officers can pass on relevant tips to detectives. In short, under COPPS, detectives are not the only crime solvers in the organization, and patrol officers no longer limit their duties to report taking.


Is COPPS contrary to union interests? Does it conflict with contractual issues, such as shift staffing, work hours, and promotions? These questions pose serious barriers to many administrators, requiring careful thought and cooperation between labor and management before COPPS can be implemented.

If agencies exclude unions from the COPPS planning process, officers may well perceive its implementation as a public relations gimmick to serve management's interests. Therefore, managers should explain their rationale and concerns to union leaders so that both groups can collaborate in planning the agency's future.

The implementation of the COPPS model is as important to labor as it is to management. Both sides desire a quality work environment for employees. COPPS fosters that and much more. It affords officers opportunities to use their talents creatively and to take control of their work environment through problem solving. COPPS also recognizes their cognitive abilities and rewards them for making lasting improvements in the community.


In the mid-1980s, the Reno, Nevada, Police Department faced the challenges now confronting many law enforcement agencies. A lagging economy had forced administrators to make significant reductions in staffing and resources, while calls for service continued to rise dramatically.

As the department struggled to cope with these challenges, community support eroded. A survey taken in 1987 revealed that citizens viewed the police department as being uncaring and heavy-handed. Two municipal bond issues that would have replaced officers lost to attrition failed because of a lack of voter support.

Department administrators saw the need for broadbased change. In May 1987, the Reno Police Department adopted a department-wide community policing strategy it labeled Community-oriented Policing Plus (COP+). Administrators realized that as part of COP+, the department must engage the community and city agencies in a shared approach to problem solving if it hoped to address the problems of increased crime and disorder.

First, the department decentralized patrol into three geographic sections, each commanded by an officer who assumed 24-hour responsibility for a specific area. The sergeants and officers assigned to the areas receive more permanent beat assignments so that they could become familiar with residents and businesses and their respective problems.

Each area commander formed a neighborhood advisory group (NAG). Made up of area residents, the NAGs reflect the unique socioeconomic makeup and ethnic balance of each area and relate the specific crime concerns of the residents. Newsletters distributed prior to each quarterly meeting inform residents of a variety of department issues and programs, as well as crimes in their area. Today, neighborhood advisory group meetings provide citizens the opportunity to meet with officers, exchange information, and develop problem-solving strategies.

The department also established a quality assurance unit (considered the "plus" in COP+). Among other duties, this unit conducts biannual community surveys to identify citizens' concerns and evaluate the effectiveness of the department in resolving them. The survey results, which administrators use to make necessary operational or administrative policy adjustments, are presented to every department member, to the city council, and at community and NAG meetings.

To improve strained relations with the media, the department created a media advisory group. As part of this effort, the department appointed a public information officer to provide newscasters with a principal contact person in the agency.

In addition, the department's executive staff meets with members of the media twice a year to discuss policy issues and relations. The department also relaxed its press policy to encourage cooperation between officers and the media.

As community support grew for the department's efforts to solve problems through cooperation, residents began to take a more active part in problem solving. The department established neighborhood police stations in each of the three patrol areas. For the most part, these stations were funded through private community donations. Civilian report takers staff the stations to provide residents with a means to file police reports in their own neighborhoods. The stations also provide citizens a place to meet with officers to discuss neighborhood problems and to obtain information about a variety of community-based programs offered by the department.

City agencies and social service organizations also became vital to the police department's problem-solving efforts. Officers now routinely work with representatives from a variety of city agencies and offices, including planning, fire, streets, signs, and the city attorney to improve neighborhood conditions and eradicate specific problems.

The cooperative problem-solving approach led to the creation of several coalitions to address substantive community concerns. The gang alternative partnership (GAP) program brings together representatives from law enforcement, juvenile courts, probation, education, and citizens groups to establish gang enforcement policy and diversion programs.

A similar consortium of concerned stakeholders works together to help the homeless through the homeless evaluation liaison program (HELP). Comprised of police officers, university students, and volunteer residents, HELP identifies homeless persons and places them with a social service agency that can best assist them. HELP's efforts have significantly reduced homeless-related offenses and the male population of the county jail.

The efforts of the Reno Police Department to establish external problem-solving partnerships emerged as a critical component of its community policing strategy. While such an approach represents a significant departure for most law enforcement agencies, department leaders have found that the wide range of crime-related problems facing Reno can best be met through a broadbased community response.


Like any broadbased change to accepted practices, community-oriented policing and problem solving should be implemented carefully. Chief executives who commit to the COPPS approach face two critical considerations - overcoming organizational resistance to innovation and gauging and managing the pace of change once it is undertaken. Police executives should understand that COPPS is evolutionary; it occurs as a result of refining past practices, implementing new strategies, and at times, accepting small wins in lieu of major victories. Successful implementation requires planning, patience, and time.

Agencies that provide a strong foundation for the COPPS model and nurture its growth will bring order to the chaos and fear often associated with organizational change. More important, these agencies will forge new relationships with city agencies and community members to resolve problems, not just respond to incidents.


1 "Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report," Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, DC, released May 5, 1996.

2 George Gallup, Jr., "The Gallup Poll Monthly," The Gallup Poll, March 1993.

3 James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, "Broken Windows: Police and Neighborhood Safety," The Atlantic, March 1982, 29.

4 See E. I. Cumming, I. Cumming, and L. Edell, "Policeman as Philosopher, Guide and Friend," Social Problems, 12, 1965, 276-286; T. Bercal, "Calls for Police Assistance," American Behavioral Scientist, 13, 1970, 682; Albert Reiss, The Police and the Public (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1971); R. Lilly, "What Are the Police Now Doing?" Journal of Police Science and Administration, 6, 1978, 51-60.

5 Herman Goldstein, Problem-oriented Policing (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990), 153.

6 Lawrence W. Sherman, Team Policing: Seven Case Studies (Washington, DC: Police Foundation, 1973), 10.

7 Rosabeth Moss Kanter, "The Middle Manager as Innovator," Harvard Business Review, July-August 1982, 95-105.

8 For a discussion of evaluation processes in several sites, see Dennis P. Rosenbaum (ed.) The Challenge. of Community Policing: Testing the Promise (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 1994).

9 See John J. Moslow, "False Alarms: Cause for Alarm," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, November 1994, 1.

10 Malcom K. Sparrow, "Implementing Community Policing," National Institute of Justice, Research in Brief, 9, September 1988, 5.

Deputy Chief Ronald W. Glensor, Ph.D. serves with the Reno, Nevada, Police Department.

Dr. Ken Peak, Ph.D. is a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nevada in Reno.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Federal Bureau of Investigation
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Author:Peak, Ken
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Jul 1, 1996
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