We got a new chief about nine months ago, and he's turned our cop shop upside down. He'd only been here a week, and we started hearing about somebody named Sarah. We figured it was his old secretary or girlfriend or something. Well, that couldn't have been farther from the truth. Turns out it's SARA, which is some fancy slang for this new process he wants all of us to use. SARA stands for scan, analyze, respond and assess. Sounds harmless, right? Wrong.
Apparently, SARA is part of a problem-oriented policing practice the chief thinks will solve all of society's troubles. Of course, he has his own name for it: community-oriented policing and problem solving, or COPPS. Used to be we'd go on a call, handle it and clear. After all, there's usually something else worth doing. Like most departments, we don't have as many officers as we probably need, and sometimes we're hopping with calls. Used to be we'd get in and get out. Now, things are totally different. We're expected to look at almost every situation as a "problem" and think about how to solve it, even if it means doing things that have nothing to do with police work.
After almost five years working for a great department where we rock and roll and put crooks in jail, I feel like I've landed on a different planet. This is nuts. Now we have two officers on every squad who are the "resource" people. We're supposed to get them involved in areas where we see any type of pattern or ongoing problem. Well, these guys go out and get all sorts of people and agencies caught up in "solving" whatever the problem of the week is.
Example: Every town has drunks, right? You hook, book and sober them up, and then do it all over again. That's just the way it works. Not anymore. Now we have a list of "chronic inebriates," and when one of these guys gets arrested, we go through a bunch of extra effort to prosecute and formally dry them out with a probation tail designed to get them on the straight and narrow. Maybe it will work, but it just seems like everything is so much more involved now. The chief keeps talking about "looking at things through the SARA filter." What happened to street policing? Street Cop
Dear Street Cop:
Boy, oh boy. That chief of yours is a real nutcase, huh? I can't believe what you're telling me. He actually wants you to use SARA instead of just what did you write, "rock and roll and put crooks in jail"? The guy must be crazy.
You, my friend, are a dolt. I knew a question of this nature would eventually make it through my editor and land on my desk. Some people within our profession and outside of it will not like what I have to say about SARA or POP, or whatever the title du jour is, but I'm gonna lay it out straight as I see it. I encourage any ignorant folks like the person who wrote this letter to suspend their myopic ways and look at the big picture.
I've been around the block a time or two, and I've come to see problem-oriented policing (POP) as a big benefit to the police. Mind you, I didn't call it the end-all of policing, and I'm not crazy enough to believe POP brought down the record-high crime rates of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Too much evidence suggests otherwise. Consider two big cities that tried POP, San Diego and Los Angeles. San Diego was at the forefront of POP. They bought in early and implemented it throughout their department. These folks did a great job and were able to help a lot of people. Los Angeles, on the other hand, never really bought in. Out in LA, those coppers will tell you, "Hey, this is LA; things are different here. That sort of stuff just won't work."
This statement is, of course, just as ignorant as the letter I'm addressing. The problem is, both San Diego and Los Angeles have seen roughly the same drop in crime rate. I know this is only one example, but it's real and I don't have the space here to give you the other 7,000 examples I can think up off the top of my head. At this point, however, we must acknowledge the statistical equality of crime drop in cities with and without POP, and discount some of the wonder of POP.
So, how does POP help us? Easy it's what our bosses want. I'm not talking about the brass; I'm talking about the people! You know, the ones who pay our salary, buy our cars, send us to schools, etc. I've been saying this to close friends for a while: POP is great because it helps cops get the things cops want, including more pay, new cars, new toys, promotions, etc.
You see, POP brings departments and communities closer through meetings and good press coverage, and because cops have to get out of their police cars and go speak with people. This shows the community cops care and want to make things better, which should eventually translate into what we want from our cities and counties. Not to mention all the federal and state governments handing out grants for POP.
So, how does a knuckle-dragging graveyard patrol dog who likes to take crooks to jail go about becoming a shining pillar of POP? Example: No rock-and-roll cop likes to go out and take car burg reports. There's no upside, and you don't get to ruin some crook's weekend. But if you notice a surge in car burgs in a given area, you can do a couple things. You can bitch that the detectives aren't doing their job by finding the perp, or you can eliminate the incentive. In my town, a car burg of this nature means one thing: "I need some dope." Therefore, just find the dope retailers in the area and shut them down. Tell the supervisor you noticed the spike and will address it. Sarge will love you because they can tell the boss officers are identifying and addressing problems. Instead of a dime-bag of dope, you make a bust that nets an ounce or two and don't suffer any sort of existential crisis about conducting a POP project. And here's the best part: You were going to do this anyway. The only thing that changed was designating this as a "project." If you really want to get tricky, hit up the narcs about known dealers in the area and hit up probation and parole about their problem children in the area. Either of these groups might want to work on the problem, and suddenly you're a POP project coordinator.
Back to good old boy and his new chief. I understand you want to continue running the same calls and arresting the same drunks. Write another letter and explain how that is fun, interesting and rocking and rolling. Imagine how much actual police work you could do if you didn't have to arrest the same drunk every day. To ice your cake, look at each dried-out drunk as a productive citizen who will love the police department for saving their life. Even a dolt can see an extra hour of work on the front end can eliminate spending an hour every other day messing with the same useless problems. POP and SARA don't have to be a drag; cops can fight crime and gain the support of citizens at the same time.
Got a question or complaint?
Let Bullethead hear about it. He'll give you his opinion with both barrels.E-mail him at [email protected] or fax him at 619/699-6246.