1 Introduction


Who is this guide for?

This guide has been produced to assist practitioners in understanding the philosophy of Problem Orientated Policing (POP) and applying it to identified problems. It is aimed at readers with little or basic knowledge of problem solving. 1.2 The case for problem solving

Traditionally the police and other agencies involved in crime reduction have handled incidents as separate and unique occurrences. Crimes have been regarded as episodes to be detected and if they result in a conviction the case is thought to be solved, even though the offender remains in their location and continues committing crime.

A smarter approach addresses the underlying causes of the problem through analysis and joint agency approaches, to deliver sustainable solutions long after the intervention is made. The emphasis on problem solving as an effective crime and disorder reduction strategy stems from pioneering work on problem orientated policing done by Herman Goldstein, Professor of law at University of Wisconsin. Police practitioners working in partnership with researchers and community members demonstrated that crime and disorder problems could be significantly reduced by implementing tailored responses directly linked to the findings of comprehensive problem analysis. The problem solving approach has been used in the UK since the late 1990’s to address an endless variety of problems. Research has shown that a relatively small number of locations and offenders are involved in a relatively large amount of crime. Similarly, a small number of victims account for a relatively large amount of victimisation.

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There are a number of reasons why we should adopt the problem solving philosophy:

It is a style of policing that many communities in the UK want, in that it places great emphasis upon resolving community problems, which engages the public and partners alike.

It is consistent with Government policy (Local Strategic Partnerships) and legislation (Crime & Disorder Act) that required the police, local government and other partners to improve community safety together. The Government insisted that 2002 Crime & Disorder strategies were based upon a professional scanning and analysis (the audit), together with evidence led responses and assessment criteria. Problem solving philosophy also supports government policy in relation to social cohesion and civil renewal.

If effectively implemented it offers a viable method of reducing crime and disorder and demand for service

It provides a consistent framework for more effective policing, in that policing issues can be properly identified, analysed, responded to and evaluated

It provides more cost effective policing in that resources can be properly targeted and good practice utilised.


The SARA process – A problem solving model

Although there are a number of problem solving models (i.e. Proctor & the 5 I’s), the SARA model is perhaps the most widely used, and the model on which this paper concentrates. There are four stages to the model: -

S - scanning

A - analysis

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R - response

A - assessment

Although the SARA process is not the only approach to problem solving it is widely recognised as a systematic and simplistic process, which captures every eventuality. This guide provides an explanation of the four components of SARA and how it can be used:


Scanning – What is the problem?

A problem can be anything, including a cluster of similar or recurring incidents, a community concern, a place, person or special event or time. It could also be a combination of these. The first step of the SARA process is to identify the problem in a specific manner. This can be done in many ways, for example: -

Analysis of calls for service

Crime & incident data analysis – looking specifically for repeat offences

Information & data received via partner agencies

Community forums

Analysis of media coverage

Reviewing public complaints and letters

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Similarly the National Intelligence Model (NIM) identifies other means to identify the problem: -

Analysis of PNC / NCIS / NAFIS and scenes of crimes records

The primary skill of problem solving is to look at or scan all of these sources in order to identify and prioritise the most serious problems. The NIM provides us with a control strategy. Clearly priorities involve the presence of any life threatening conditions or possibility of injury. Other factors to take into consideration are the impact of the problem on the community and the impact of not addressing it, the significance of the problem from a crime and disorder perspective and any potential human rights implications. Once problems have been identified, the next stage is analysis. 2.2 Analysis – What causes the problem?

The police have historically been used to thinking about problems in terms of the offenders involved, almost to the exclusion of other factors. Problem orientated policing requires that a broader range of solutions be explored, which requires analysis of the victims and locations of offences as well as the offender. Comprehensive analysis of problems is critical around all three issues.

The first step in analysis is to determine what information is needed. This should be an open, persistent and unbiased process. When analysing problems, certain simple questions should be asked: -

Can we explain the emerging themes?

Do we know how or why a problem has occurred?

Do we know of any past attempts to solve it?

Did those attempts succeed and if not, why not?

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In analysing the victim / offender / location principle the problem analysis triangle (PAT) can be used to make the link between the three elements. The triangle focuses on the features or characteristics of the victim, offender or location and the level each plays in creating or sustaining the problem. The concept argues that if any of the three issues is effectively taken away, the problem is reduced. Similarly a combination of offenders, victims and locations are all contributory factors to crimes occurring,

fen Of

Vic tim

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Figure 1 : the Problem Analysis Triangle

Victim: As mentioned earlier, recent research has shown that a small number of victims account for a large amount of crime incidents. The 1992 British Crime Survey found that 4% of the population, suffered 44% of all crime. In addition, research in England has shown that victims of burglary, domestic violence and other crimes are likely to be re-victimised, often within a month or two. Effective interventions targeted at repeat victims can have a significant impact on reducing crime.

For example, a residential study in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire indicated that victims of domestic burglary were four times more likely to be targeted again than non-victims and that most repeat burglaries occurred within six weeks. Consequently the local police developed a three tiered response to repeat burglary victims, based on the number of times their homes had been burgled. Residential burglary was reduced by 20 percent as a result.

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Offender: In the past much emphasis has been placed on identifying and apprehending offenders. Whilst this can sometimes reduce a specific crime problem, the reduction is often temporary as new offenders replace the original offenders. What is required is a fresh approach to the offender side of the triangle? Why are offenders attracted to certain victims and places, what do they gain by offending and what could be done to prevent or reduce their rates of offending?

For example, The Tower Project in Blackpool, Lancashire. The project was introduced when research showed the rate of criminality of drug dependant offenders had increased, supported by evidence of a surge in the use of crack cocaine and heroin in the area. The project aims were to reduce the offending behaviour of a targeted group of persistent drug related offenders by imposing an assertive and intensive supervision model that combines drug treatment and lifestyle support with police disruption and targeting tactics.

Location: Like victims, certain locations account for a significant amount of all criminal activity. Analysis of these locations may indicate why they are so conducive to particular incidents or crime and point to ways in which they can be altered. By improving security and design measures, long term, sustainable solutions can be found.

For example, a town in Merseyside was encountering a problem with youths causing annoyance in a park after dark. The traditional approach of police attendance to move the youths on was not addressing the issue and was a drain on police resources. By involving other agencies, youth facilities were improved which diverted them from this area.

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2.3 Responses - What needs to be done? The third stage of the SARA model focuses on developing and implementing effective responses to the problem – the ultimate challenge. Solutions must be tailored to specific causes. In developing tailored responses, problem solvers should review their findings around the problem analysis triangle.

Some, if not most, of the effective responses to problems arise when working in partnership with other agencies. By thinking beyond our normal boundaries and capitalising on what others have to offer we can significantly impact on identified issues and problems. There is a requirement for innovative thought and a steer away from the comfort zone of traditional approaches.

There are three common key features to all effective responses:

A response focused on the point at which intervention might be expected to have the longest term and widest impact

A response which involves some degree of partnership working

A response which is sustainable, if not necessarily permanent


Situational Crime Prevention

This approach was developed by Ron Clarke in the early 1980’s and is based on convincing offenders that committing a particular crime in a particular place is not worthwhile. The table over page highlights 5 opportunity-reducing techniques that have been subdivided into alternative tactics to show the flexibility of this approach.

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1. Increase the effort of crime Harden targets - Screens for bus drivers and other staff dealing with money

- Strengthen targets e.g. ticket machines or phone booths

- Introduction of steering wheel locks

Control access to targets

- Entry phones on apartments

- Alley gates

- Electronic tags on goods

- Ticket barriers at train stations

Deflect offenders from targets

- Keeping football fans segregated

- Reducing congestion

- Street design

Control crime facilitators


Toughened glass

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Photos on credit cards

2. Increase the perceived risks of crime

Screen entrances and exits

- Electronic ticket barriers

Formal surveillance


- Security guards

- Alarms

Surveillance by employees

- Training employees

- Rewarding vigilance

Natural surveillance

- Street lighting

- Defensible space architecture

3. Reduce anticipated reward Remove targets - Cash free travel

- Phone cards

- Woman’s refuges

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- Removable car phones

Identify property

- Property marking

Reduce temptation

- Rapid repair of vandalism

Deny benefits

- Cleaning graffiti

- Ink tags

Disrupt markets

- Controls on advertisements

- Checks on car boot sales/pawn shops

4. Remove excuses for crime Set rules - Codes of conduct

- Rental agreements

Alert conscience

- Signs e.g. consequences of staff assault

Assist compliance

- Litter bins

- Public lavatories

- Make it easy to pay for goods

Control drugs and alcohol

- Banning drinking in public places

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- Promotion of sensible drinking practices

5. Reduce provocation

Reduce frustration

- Queuing systems

- Good customer service

Avoid disputes

- Separation of football fans

Reduce temptation

- Fixed taxi fares

- Controls on violent pornography

- Banning paedophiles working with children

Neutralise peer pressure

- Disperse trouble making children in schools

Discourage imitation

- Rapid repair of vandalism

Table 1: Adapted from Clarke, 1997 and Clarke and Eck, 2003



Section 17 Crime & Disorder Act 1998 “It shall be the duty of each authority to exercise its various functions with due regard to the likely effect of the exercise of those functions on, and the need to do all that it reasonable can to prevent crime and disorder in its area.”

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Partnership working is critical to problem solving. As a minimum requirement, authorities are obliged to consider crime and disorder implications whenever policies are approved. The police alone cannot substantially reduce crime and disorder levels and other stakeholders need to be identified and held accountable. Each stakeholder will bring with them, different knowledge and a different option to impact on the problem. They can be from public or private organisations and from within the community. Some suggested partners may include:

Local Authority & Social Services

Health Authority

Victim Support Organisations

Hard to reach groups / organisations

Home Watch Groups


Housing Associations & Registered social landlords


Fire & Ambulance Service

Business Watch Groups

National organisations

Crime & Disorder Reduction Partnerships

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Community Leaders / Groups

Working in partnership with others may be difficult and frustrating to all involved. Stakeholders need to be involved and valued otherwise commitment will diminish. Whilst the police and local authority will always hold primary roles they do not necessarily always need to take the lead role. 2.5 Assessment – What has been the impact of the response?

A thorough assessment of the interventions employed is necessary to evaluate effectiveness. A reduction in calls for service or reported crimes will not always indicate success. For example, if the public confidence in the police rises as a result of a problem solving initiative, they may feel more comfortable making complaints, hence a successful outcome might actually be a rise in reported crime. If this was an outcome, both the police and partners must look carefully at the results and assess if these were intended outcomes of the initiative.

Assessing the impact of a problem solving effort requires a framework, such as that developed by Eke and Spelman, which identifies five different levels or types of positive impact on problems. They are:

1. Total elimination of the problem

2. Fewer incidents

3. Less serious or harmful incidents

4. Better handling of the incidents/an improved response to the problem

5. Identifying the agency most able to address the problem

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Other variables, which will measure impact, are:

Reduced instances of repeat victimisation

Decreases in related crime or incidents

Increased usage of an area / increased property values

Fewer abandoned cars

Less truancy

Less loitering

Reduction in fear of crime & increased public satisfaction

After both the analysis and assessment stages of the model, there is an option to change or revise measures selected. The SARA process cannot be viewed as a linear process but as a cycle. The ability to assess, review and change is essential.


Successful implementation

A synopsis of implementation failure - Kirby (2002) summarised a number of issues that have had a significant impact on the success of problem solving efforts. Implementation failure (Crawford 1998) is a well-documented concept within the field of community safety. A focus on ‘what works’ has provided a plethora of evidence to show that good ideas need to be supplemented by sound practice if crime reduction programmes are to succeed. For instance, the programme may fail due to the theory being impracticable in a particular environment or because resources may

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not be in place to implement the initiative as envisaged. The point is that implementation or programme failure often materialises through a deficiency in preparing the infrastructure that supports the approach.

A considerable number of reviews have consistently shown that the following criteria produce the best chance of success in terms of a sustainable solution. They should not be underestimated and are:

The initiative is community focused

The initiative has clear objectives from the outset, based upon the SMART principle

The initiative sets evaluation criteria before it commences

There is an forward strategy

Initiatives are appropriately resourced

The initiative is innovative & tailored to the setting

Likewise the presence of effective tasking and co-ordination processes and structures are also felt to be crucial to the operation of problem solving. The NIM outlines in great detail a model for tasking and co-ordination at all levels in the organisation. If managed properly it becomes a means of driving and managing problem solving across partnerships.

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The NIM aims to bring ‘integrated intelligence’ within reach, a process driven model it specifies the links between reactive, proactive and patrol work and the links between local, regional, and national priorities. Kirby & McPherson (2004) and the NIM practitioners guidance provide further information as to the read across between the two models, however in essence, the model has three levels of impact, each primarily separate, but overlapping.

Level 1 – Local Issues -crime, criminals, disorder, nuisance, anti-social behaviour and other problems affecting a Basic Command Unit (BCU)

Level 2 – Cross Border Issues- crime, criminals, disorder or other problems which impact across BCU and Force boundaries, including criminal networks involved in serious or organised crime at a Force or Regional level.

Level 3 – National & International serious and organised crime – requiring response by dedicated units and prevention at a national level.

There is a danger that problem solving will be seen as a different process to the NIM. This is not the case. In fact the processes overlap and should be viewed as complementary. The problem solving approach supports the NIM, which through Tasking & Co-ordinating drives the activities of the Force.

The NIM builds on existing processes to capture good practice and ensure a corporate approach to intelligence processes and products. The SARA model, which is an integral part of problem solving, sits easily alongside the intelligence cycle, because in principle it is the same thing. The scanning, analysis, response and assessment stages of POP sit easily alongside the collection, evaluation, collation, analysis, recommendations and review of the NIM process.

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Control Strategy


Analytical Products




Results Analysis/ Operational Assessment


The NIM and Anti-social behaviour

There has been concern voiced about the capacity of the NIM to accommodate lowlevel antisocial behaviour. Anti-social behaviour is a priority in each community safety strategy and it is the intention of the NIM that the model can encapsulate all levels of policing activity. This means even if anti-social behaviour is not set within the level 2 control strategy, this or similar issues can be set within the level 1 (BCU) control strategy. As such there is nothing to prevent these issues being addressed within strategic or tactical assessments and problem or target profiles being commissioned to outline activity in this area.


Other models for problem solving – (5I’s)

Paul Eckblom (Home Office) has recently proposed the 5I’s, a development of SARA, which aims to capture, organise and transfer knowledge of good practice:

Intelligence – gathering and analysing information on crime problems and their consequences, and diagnosing their causes.

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Intervention – considering the full range of possible interventions that could be applied to block, disrupt or weaken those causes and manipulate the risk and protective factors.

Implementation – converting potential interventions into practical methods, putting them into effect in ways that are appropriate for the local context, and monitoring the actions undertaken.

Involvement – mobilising other agencies, companies and individuals to play their part in implementing the intervention.

Impact and process evaluation – assessment, feedback and adjustment.



In producing this guide assistance has been provided by several organisations and thanks are owed to:

National Crime & Operations faculty at Centrex

Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science

ACPO Working group source material for the main body of the text includes the NCOF problem-solving guide, Becoming a Problem Solving Crime Analyst from the Jill Dando Institute, Problem Orientated Policing from Lancashire Police and the Merseyside Problem Solving Document.

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