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When it comes to good police work, perhaps no skill is more imperative than problem resolution. As a police officer, much of the work consists of solving conflicts between people, friends, family, acquaintances, businesses, and more. There are various ways to “problem solve,” but one of the most effective is by using the SARA model.
The SARA model stands for Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment. It is one of the most highly effective tools to use in policing, which can help deter crime, find solutions to crime, and help law enforcement provide the most effective response.
Origins of the SARA Model
For years, researchers, law enforcement, and community members have wondered how to keep crime down in neighborhoods, deter it from continuing to pose a threat to the safety of a neighborhood and its community members, and find the best solutions to stop crime in its tracks.
Policing has evolved over the years to encompass an approach that is geared toward helping prevent crime instead of responding to its effects and thinking of these as solo ventures. In trying to find a proactive approach to deterring crime, a study was conducted with the help of the National Institute of Justice in 1987.
In this study, two members of the Police Executive Research Forum, John E. Eck and William Spelman proposed a new model of problem-solving and policing that could help prevent crime by focusing on underlying community problems, identifying solutions for that problem, and constant involvement in the community.
Not only did Spelman and Eck propose a new type of policing, known as problem-oriented policing, in their study, but they also identified the SARA model.
What Does the SARA Model Encompass?
The SARA model of policing is comprised of four parts, including scanning, analysis, response, and assessment.
The scanning phase is perhaps the most critical part of the SARA model. In this phase, law enforcement officers and other community members keep an active lookout for existing problems in their community. During this phase, police officers use community input and data to:
- Identify problems
- Prioritize problems
- Select problems that must be addressed immediately
Scanning for problems can involve looking for rising crime rates, and identifying which crimes pose the biggest threat to a community (is it burglary, prostitution, domestic violence, or other issues?)
The analysis stage involves finding the root cause of a problem. For instance, if the root problem is rising crime rates among teens, is that due to a lack of a school to punish truancy or having a truancy officer that can keep track of children?
The analysis phase also involves finding the best solutions for problem solving. When problem solving and brainstorming ideas, it’s important for police officers, law enforcement personnel, and politicians to figure out some short-term solutions. For instance, the issue above can be solved by hiring a truancy officer, but the lack of stable homes is a long-term issue that will take time to address. Analysis needs to be in-depth to produce effective responses and create the best problem solving approach.
Once problem solving efforts are underway, it’s time for police agencies to find ways to implement the response swiftly with crime prevention in mind. Some of the ways a law enforcement agency might initiate the response phase include though:
- Enforcement: It’s quite easy to enforce the law when you have police on board that are willing to go the extra mile in implementing new policies and enforcing once overlooked laws. Government agencies, such as local and state governments, can also actively participate during the enforcement stage by forming new policies and making sure recurring problems are addressed through policy changes. Even changes in policing tactics, such as arresting the worst or repeat offenders and giving them stricter sentencing, can also be part of enforcement.
- Engineering: New lighting, fixing dilapidated buildings, and even cutting overgrown shrubs and bushes are all vital to the engineering portion of the SARA model. The engineering portion is made with the goal of crime prevention through simple, tangible means. For instance, adding a street light onto a bus stop where robberies have been reported in addition to security cameras is an excellent way of aiding in crime reduction for this specific problem.
- Education: Most importantly, it’s important to educate community members on ways they too can be a part of the SARA model and help in crime prevention. It isn’t necessary to take law enforcement classes for someone in the community to make a difference. Community members can form watchdog organizations, film crimes on social media, and call crimes in when they occur. This can also help deter crime and change a neighborhood’s perceptions of crime, mainly making it clear that it will not be tolerated any longer.
During the assessment phase, law enforcement agencies can work to examine how well their policing practices worked, and find ways to help them understand what they could do differently. If they weren’t able to implement certain problem-solving strategies or tackle the underlying cause, what are some ways they can help now, in the present moment? These are questions that should be asked by the department, police officers, and even community members during the assessment stage.
What is Problem Oriented Policing?
Problem oriented policing is also known as POP. As the SARA model shows, POP is an effective way of:
- Reducing crime
- Targeting the underlying root cause of a specific problem
- Helping build and improve community relations
Studies have also shown that POP is effective. For instance, by implementing POP and the SARA model, William Spelman and John Eck reported in their research paper a 35% crime reduction rate in burglaries, all thanks to community development in a certain suburb of Newport News, Virginia. This is just one example of the power behind problem oriented policing.
What is Community Policing?
The SARA model falls under the concept of community policing, which has its roots during the civil rights era. It was during this time that more and more community members were exposed to the injustices of racism, particularly at the hands of police officers.
During this time, community members took it upon themselves to implement community policing strategies, coming together with schools, churches, businesses, and neighborhoods to stop and deter crime.
Community policing remains one of the biggest ways to encourage the continued effectiveness of the SARA Model.
Being the Best Officer Using the SARA Model
The SARA model is nothing but an acronym if police officers don’t know how to use it properly. Some things to keep in mind when using the SARA model are:
- Be an active listener. This is especially useful during the “Scanning” phase of the SARA model. By being an active listener, you can pay close attention to the subtle differences in the problems community members face. Being an active listener allows you to understand the roles different problems play in a neighborhood and their impact, as well as continue to be informed of current problems that some community members might be hesitant to bring up.
- Have a purpose. The SARA model is more than just about crime prevention, it’s about using the power of problem oriented policing and community policing together to truly change a neighborhood from the inside and out.
- Be friendly. It sounds simple, but being friendly is one of the best ways you can ensure community members trust you enough to speak with you. By being open, people-oriented, and willing to listen to others, you guarantee community members will continue to come to you time and time again to report issues.
- Play a role in policy change. From voting to lobbying and signing petitions, these are all excellent ways to encourage policy changes that are crucial for the continued effectiveness of the SARA model.
- Don’t brush off concerns. Even if you might not see the problem, remember that the concerns of community members should be taken seriously. Whether it’s something as simple as hearing children constantly cry in a home, to feeling like there is not enough support from the city, these are all valid concerns that point to a specific problem that you can help address or at least guide on.
Policing has come a long way from what it once used to be. Whereas police officers once viewed crime as a single event, it is now clear through problem oriented policing, research, data, and community members that there is always a bigger picture to the problem. To find the bigger picture, use the SARA model for policing. To find a solution to crime and the bigger root cause of the problem, work together with community members, don’t focus on a specific objective, and instead focus on broad goals that involve problem solving efforts that create permanent solutions.