The Police

B. The Crime Control Function

What are the major operations by which the police set out to control crime? The crime control function of the police relies on four primary tactics: (1) randomized and directed patrol (preventative patrol), (2) problem identification and solving, (3) response to calls for service by citizens, and (4) criminal investigation.

Preventive patrol is largely based on the assumption that it serves as a deterrent effect on crime. Although this assumption was questioned in the Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment, other studies have indicated that citizens’ attitudes and beliefs are impacted by seeing officers on motorized and foot patrols. Problem identification involves the identification of specific locations and times wherein crime is most likely to occur or that are otherwise deemed most problematic.

The effectiveness of rapid responses to calls has been examined over the years. The initial rationale behind a speedy response is that it will improve the likelihood that police will apprehend a suspect. Unfortunately, citizens often report crimes after the fact, and a few seconds shaved by the police responding at breakneck speeds to a call for service does not make much difference in the officer’s likelihood of affecting an arrest. Interestingly, whether or not the initial officer responding to a scene can identify a suspect may make a difference in whether the case is resolved, but the time differential is measured in minutes, not seconds.

Finally, the work of detectives and the criminal investigation process have been studied in a variety of ways. The RAND Corporation study provides an important benchmark for establishing what is known about the effectiveness of retrospective investigation of crimes (Greenwood & Petersilia, 1975). There are several important findings in this report that merit discussion. First, detectives spend very little of their time (less than 10%) on activities that directly lead to solving crime. A large proportion of the time they do spend on casework is often used on cases after they have been solved (e.g., preparing a case for court). Second, solving crimes has little to do with any special activities performed by investigators. Instead, the most important factor affecting case clearance (e.g., whether a suspect can be identified) is the behavior of the initial responding officer and members of the public. As noted above, clearance rates are related to whether either the initial responding officer (or a victim or witness on the scene) was able to identify a suspect. It is usually a civilian and not the officer who can make an identification, thereby reducing the need for officers to risk the safety of civilians on the streets by driving at high speeds to get to a call.

While patrol is an important aspect of policing, police departments and their officers perform functions other than crime fighting. Order maintenance, rather than law enforcement, may be a better approach in certain places and with certain people. As police officers are available 24/7, they are called on to provide emergency aid, information, and animal control and to make referrals to other human welfare agencies, among other responsibilities. The time spent on these services can be significant and can be seen as taking away from routine crime-fighting activities. Even some terrorist threats that require attention can be seen as taking away resources from immediate community-level crimes and problems.

Several issues that require time and effort are gangs and weapons. Although these concerns are neither new nor novel, the police response must change continually to be effective. Taking guns off the street and reducing gang violence must be goals of every police department. As new strategies are developed, new techniques by gang members are discovered.

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