When policing doesn't pay: Web Extra

Exclusive web extra for "When policing doesn't pay" from the September 2009 issue of Law Enforcement Technology.

     As new demands are made of police in the present budget-cutting mindset, police managers are forced to choose on which problems police can focus its services and resources. This issue of who should bear the costs of a community problem is addressed in "When policing doesn't pay," as well as ways law enforcement can economically analyze and solve the problem.

     Below, a law enforcement analyst explores when pushing back costs is appropriate and how an agency can succeed in arguing its side:

Shifting responsibility

     Municipalities are increasingly using civil law to compel private property owners to adopt business practices that reduce crime risks, says Michael Scott, director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing Inc. (POP Center). That contrasts with the conventional approach in which the police are expected to deal with recurring crime problems at particular properties by arresting offenders.

     For example, one area where police are having success pushing costs back on to the private sector is in dealing with apartment complex disputes. Law enforcement cannot and should not be the only one dealing with problems like drug dealing and noise complaints. Instead, more pressure should be placed on the apartment complex owners and managers to supervise the places better so the police don't need to be called. The same can be said for places like bars and shopping malls.

Effective crime prevention

     One issue that's always raised is the effectiveness of crime prevention, says Scott, a clinical associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School. In analyzing a particular problem to help choose the most appropriate set of responses, each POP Center guide, or "POP Guide," lists questions agencies should ask. The answers to those kinds of questions essentially help determine who's best-equipped to address the problem.

     In the 1980s, police urged convenience stores to prevent robbery by requiring that a second clerk work late-night hours. The convenience store industry resisted and the battle ended up in federal court. In the end, Scott says the police prevailed, in part, because they were able to demonstrate that the research on crime prevention effectiveness was sound.

     In another example, police on the East Coast have been at odds with banks that have experienced a significant increase in robberies. The police are telling the banks that there's a lot more the banks could and should be doing with bank design and in practices to prevent robberies. While police are pushing hard to implement change, the banks are pushing back. One bank that's been robbed frequently refuses to install bandit barriers, the bullet-proof screens that separate customers from tellers. The bank claims research has not proven bandit barriers are effective. (And, in fact, a POP Guide says bandit barriers have not been proven to be completely effective and carry risk of even greater harm.)