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Police and Community Problem Solving in Chicago

NCJ Number
Wesley G. Skogan; Lynn Steiner; Jason Bennis
Date Published
April 2003
4 pages
This evaluation summary presents findings from the 2002 study of Chicago's Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS), with attention to problemsolving as one of the core elements of CAPS.
A "problem" is defined as a group of related incidents or situations that concern a significant portion of those who live or work in a particular area. "Problems" are characterized by their persistence, as they are unlikely to be resolved without significant intervention. The CAPS evaluation examined how Chicago police addressed neighborhood problems. A sample of 68 problem sites was drawn from a database of all of the beat problems that had been officially identified and ranked by police. The study focused on the problems that were most often identified as local priorities, namely, drugs, gangs, property crime, and social disorder. Interviews, field observations, and archival data were examined to reconstruct what actions police and residents took at each site; the effectiveness of their problem solving efforts was assessed. Most police problem solving was traditional. The most common strategy was high-visibility patrol. In 59 percent of the beats targeted, police tried to increase arrests or issue more citations. Aggressive stops were used in 38 percent of the sites. Nontraditional policing strategies were used fairly often, particularly for property crime. Prevention awareness programs were operated by police officers, and police worked with businesses to prevent property crime. The success of problem solving efforts was measured in two ways. The interviews with neighborhood residents and police included questions about the problems and what had happened since they were identified as priorities. Data were also used from the police department's 911 center and crime reports filed by officers. Using both kinds of data, selected beats were compared with similar comparison areas to determine whether trends differed. Overall, recorded crime was down in 52 percent of the study beats, and 911 calls were down in only 8 percent. Given that the problems targeted were chronic crime and disorder problems, a 44-52 percent success rate was a positive result when measured against trends in comparable areas.