Officer, Have a Problem? Check the Literature!

The following comes from the Problem-Oriented Policing Center (POP) and how police, working with community activists, effectively addressed the problem currently facing many cities today (even my hometown of Madison, Wisc.):

“Gun Violence Among Serious Young Offenders.”

For example, Madison has had an significant increase in the number of murders during the past decade.

Before this upswing, the city experienced only a couple of murders each year. Today, reports of gunshots are a nightly occurrence and I am sure raise the stress level of both city residents and police.

This question should be raised community-wide,

“What’s specifically going on? And how can we, as a community working together with our police get this under control?”

Prof. Herman Goldstein, who developed the concept of POP decades ago while teaching at the University of Wisconsin, did much of his early work with Madison police. He reminds us:

“Improvements in policing… will not come about by simply increasing the numbers of police and by augmenting and modernizing the equipment they use. We need to invest proportionately and more heavily in thinking—in an organized, systematic, and sustained way—about what it is that the police are called on to do—and how they should do it.”[1]

Madison is a smart town with some very brilliant, community-oriented, and creative residents who care about and are active in their neighborhood communities and in local government. They need to be brought on deck.

By THINKING this through and WORKING TOGETHER, the murder problem and the constant 9-1-1 calls each day reporting “shots fired,” an effective community response can be developed

Here’s what the problem currently looks like:

YEAR                  MURDERS     3-YR AVERAGE

2004-06                     9                       3

2007-09                   30                     10

2010-12                   17                       6

2013-15                    27                       9

2016                           9                     ___

2017 (to date)          9                    ___

For an informing interactive map of homicides in Madison and Dane County click HERE.

A vast body of research has demonstrated that the problem- oriented policing (POP) method works, it is effective in managing and controlling a wide range of crime and disorders.

This isn’t a new method — it has been around now for three decades. Departments that have never attempted to implement it should; and departments that have tried to implement it in the past should now do it again—but this time, do it correctly and work to remove the organizational impediments that prevent it from working in your department and city:

According to Goldstein, there are four major impediments continue to problem-oriented policing.

  • The absence of a long-term commitment on the part of police leaders.
  • The lack of analytical skills within a police agency.
  • The lack of a clear academic connection.
  • The current police subculture.[2]

Goldstein further tells us these four impediments have, so far, proved insurmountable: Fortunately, they can be overcome through sustained leadership, training, and public education.

Here’s an example of the collaborative work of police officers who have addressed a problem that should be quite familiar to Madisonians today — Gun Violence Among Serious Young Offenders: 

Using the Method of Problem-Oriented Policing

  1. Enlist community support. It is important for community members to think that police efforts to address youth gun violence are legitimate. Communities will not support any indiscriminate, highly aggressive crackdowns that put nonviolent youth at risk of being swept into the criminal justice system. Before implementing a pulling-levers strategy, police need to engage community members in an ongoing conversation about legitimate and illegitimate means to control crime. The community needs to be aware that most of the gun violence problem is concentrated among groups of serious young offenders, and that police will be tightly focusing their activities on those youth…
  2. Convene an interagency working group. Criminal justice agencies often work largely independent of each other, at cross-purposes, without coordination, and in an atmosphere of distrust and dislike. This is often also true of different units within  To effectively address youth gun violence, an interagency working group of line-level personnel with decision-making power must be convened. The group should include members from all relevant local, state, and federal criminal justice agencies. Serious young gun offenders are often involved in a wide range of crime, and often vulnerable to some form of criminal justice intervention. For example, by enforcing and manipulating the conditions of community release, probation and parole officers can be powerful partners in influencing the behavior of serious young gun offenders under their supervision…
  3. Place responsibility on the working group.In most cities, no one agency is responsible for developing and implementing an overall strategy for reducing youth gun violence. Most police agencies have units or groups responsible for responding to incidents, but not for preventing incidents. The working group needs to be charged with preventing incidents to keep its focus on the bottom line of reducing youth gun violence.
  4. Involve researchers. Researchers can be important assets to the working group by providing thorough and reliable data to refine the group’s understanding of the problem, testing prospective intervention ideas, and maintaining a focus on clear outcomes and performance evaluation. Researchers can also be helpful in producing basic accounts of the implementation processes and problem analysis findings that will be helpful to other jurisdictions.
  5. Develop an effective communication strategy. While enforcement actions are being conducted, it is important for working-group members to communicate directly with serious young gun offenders. It is crucial to demonstrate cause and effect to those subjected to a pulling-levers intervention. In essence, group members need to deliver a direct and explicit message to violent gangs and groups that violent behavior will no longer be tolerated, and that the group will use any legal means possible to stop the violence. The group also needs to convey this message to other gangs and groups not engaged in violence so they can understand what is happening to the violent gangs and groups, and why. The group can deliver the message in a variety of ways: by talking to gang members on the street, handing out fliers explaining the enforcement actions, and conducting forums with gang members in a public building such as a courthouse or community recreation center. Probation and parole officers can require gang members under their supervision to attend such forums. Social service providers and community members should also be involved, as they may be able to convince gang members that it is in their best interest to attend the forums.

[To read the full guide fro the POP Center HERE. You can search for other gun and violence related problems that have been addressed and solved while you are on their website.


[1] Herman Goldstein: On Further Developing Problem-Oriented Policing: The Most Critical Need, the Major Impediments, and a Proposal in Mainstreaming Problem-Oriented Policing, Crime Prevention Studies, Volume 15, edited by Johannes Knutsson, Criminal Justice Press, Monsey, New York, U.S.A. 2002.

[2] Ibid. On Further Developing Problem-Oriented Policing: The Most Critical Need, The Major Impediments, and a Proposal. Crime Prevention Studies, vol. 15. 2003.