In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Community and Problem-Oriented Policing

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Broken Windows

Criminology Community and Problem-Oriented Policing
Jack Greene
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0071


Ideas associated with community and problem-oriented policing came about in the late 1980s and early 1990s partly in reaction to concerns about rises in crime, partly in recognition that older police strategies were not working particularly well, partly as a means of reconnecting the police to urban communities, most particularly minority and under-privileged communities, and partly to increase the transparency and accountability of policing to its many publics. For a number of years prior to the late 1980s policing in the United States and other Western countries was “experimenting” with police models that focused police attention on local communities and their crime, disorder, and fear problems. Several of these “experiments” were short lived, but collectively ideas associated with neighborhood and team policing exerted influence on how the police were to provide safety and security to urban communities, while at the same time maintaining community support and confidence. At the same time criminology, building on earlier work, focused more attention on the role of communities in crime, and what has become known as situational crime prevention. The convergence of a police neighborhood focus with academic theories emphasizing place as a major determinant of criminality represented a major shift for policing worldwide. From these early roots community and problem-oriented policing rose in police thought and practice and have spread as both the rationale for policing (community focus) as well as the preferred method of police intervention (problem solving). The following series of references is partitioned in five major ways. First, there are references on the intellectual development of community and problem-oriented policing as they evolved and have continued to the present. Second, are references that provide some assessment of community and problem-oriented policing interventions, although it has been demonstrated that many of these efforts lacked scientific rigor. Third, “Hot Spots” policing, as a variant of problem-oriented policing, has gained considerable intellectual, program, and evaluation attention, so a separate section is devoted to this topic. Fourth, references are provided that focus on the institutional, organizational, and police work changes that are often associated with implementing community and problem-oriented policing. Fifth, references are provided that focus on the future of community and problem-oriented policing and international efforts emphasizing the larger social attachments of the police, as well as their role for safety and security in modern society.

General Overviews

Community and problem-oriented policing have deep historical roots and many intellectual heritages. What has perhaps impacted policing strategies most is the shift in criminological thinking from individuals as the sources of crime problems to considerations of crime as concentrated in different neighborhoods. Additionally, where older theories of criminality often focused on psychological abnormalities or social deprivation, the emergence of a literature emphasizing reasoning criminals and situational crime prevention also provides a foundation for both community and problem-oriented policing, often focusing on urban disadvantage and social disorganization as important forces shaping individuals’ behaviors. Early works of the Chicago School of Sociology began to focus on urban dynamics and the patterning of social behaviors in cities. The early work Park, et al. 1925 provides a rationale and set of methods to examine urban areas from an ecological perspective. Such an approach guides the work of Shaw and McKay, who examined the linkage between urban communities and delinquency (Shaw and McKay 1969). Such studies fell into some disregard throughout the 1960s and 1970s but were revitalized in a broader empirical and conceptual way, in Sampson and Groves 1989 and Bursik and Grasmick 1998, rekindling ideas about social disorganization and crime. These ideas were applied to both crime and aspects of policing by Skogan 1990 and the “criminology of place” reinforced in Weisburd 1997, where public policy was to also include the social and geographic context of crime in communities. Two works, Cornish and Clarke 1986 and Felson 1998, call attention to criminality as stemming from choices made by criminals and ways to influence those choices by increasing guardianship for places and reducing opportunities for crime.

  • Bursik, Robert. J., Jr., and Harold G. Grasmick. 1998. Neighborhoods and crime: The dimensions of effective community control. New York: Lexington Books.

    Using an empirical approach, this research builds on earlier models of neighborhood social disorganization by examining how community networks attempt to create and then maintain neighborhood crime prevention programs. This work also includes a review of the literature on crime and communities, as well as a discussion of the policy implications of this formulation.

  • Cornish, Derek B., and Ronald V. Clarke, eds. 1986. The reasoning criminal: Rational choice perspectives on offending. New York: Springer-Verlag.

    This collection of papers offers an alternative way of thinking about criminal behavior—a rational choice model of criminal offending, emphasizing offender decision making and adaptive choice in committing crime. How criminals choose their victims and locations are examined and the importance of this theoretical perspective as an alternative to those that emphasize social or psychological mal-adaptation is emphasized.

  • Felson, Marcus. 1998 Crime and everyday life. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge.

    Building on earlier work, the author uses the idea of routine activities—those behaviors that organize everyday life—as greatly influencing criminal choices to commit crime in places. Motivated offenders consider the availability of suitable targets and the absence of capable guardians in making their choices to commit crimes in particular locations.

  • Park, Robert E., Ernest Burgess, and Roderick McKenzie. 1925. The city: Suggestions for the study of human behavior in the urban environment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    A central work outlining the urban social ecological approach to the study of urban life, including crime and social disorder. The central focus was to better describe the spatial organization of urban areas combining social, political, cultural, and other data to understand urban social behavior and to map areas of the city to understand differences in urban neighborhoods.

  • Sampson, Robert J., and W. Byron Groves. 1989. Community structure and crime: Testing social-disorganization theory. American Journal of Sociology 94.4 (January): 774–802.

    DOI: 10.1086/229068

    This research tests Shaw and McKay’s community social disorganization theory—the inability of communities to maintain effective social control—by building a community-level theory that examines the antecedents of community social disorganization and their effects on crime and delinquency rates. Analyzing data from the British Crime Survey from 1982 and 1984, the results support the hypothesis offered.

  • Shaw, Clifford R., and Henry D. McKay. 1969. Juvenile delinquency and urban areas. Chicago: the University of Chicago Press.

    A foundational study examining the link between community social disorganization and rates of juvenile delinquency. These studies suggested that crime and delinquency were responses to the social, cultural, and structural characteristics of the communities and the inability of these communities to act collectively in shaping the public behaviors of youth.

  • Skogan, Wesley G. 1990. Disorder and decline: Crime and the spiral of decay in American neighborhoods. New York: Free Press.

    This work examines the relationship between neighborhood decline, social disorder, and crime as well as experimental efforts in several American cities to interrupt the cycle of decline and social disorder. The research supports the idea that social disorder erodes the level of control that neighborhoods can exercise, leading to increases in both fear of crime and its occurrence.

  • Weisburd, David. 1997. Reorienting crime prevention research and policy: From the causes of criminality to the context of crime. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

    This report, focused on situational crime prevention research and policy, compares traditional crime prevention approaches to those of situational, or place-based, crime prevention efforts. The report considers the strengths of each approach, but emphasizes the need for a considered review of the situational approach where existing research has demonstrated its impact as a prevention strategy and as a means for reformulating thought about crime.

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