Policing vs Law Enforcement: Part 3

August 19, 2011

Effective Policing

Previous installments of this series have discussed the foundational concept that there are few, if any, problems that we will be able to arrest our way out of.  This reality creates a limiting paradigm if we choose to identify or label ourselves as law enforcement.  We set ourselves up for failure.  We have to move beyond enforcement as the only tool in our toolbox and identify other strategies. In the last installment we identified prevention as a useful strategy.  In this installment we will examine the basis of disruption as a viable strategy.

One of my college students asked me what the difference  was between prevention and disruption.  One significant difference is the timeline.  In the case of prevention the problem never occurs because you have anticipated and denied the ability for someone to create the problem.  Prevention is always best, although difficult to quantify.  Disruption occurs after a problem or crime has manifested itself.  We then decide if disruption is the most viable and effective way to deal with an issue, keeping in mind our inability to arrest our way out of every problem.

Effective disruption requires an analysis of your opponent for weakness.  What is their center of gravity?  What do they absolutely have to have to successfully engage in the conduct that is causing you a problem?  How can you deny them their center of gravity?  This analysis is unique to every problem you will face.

Analysis includes looking at the intersection of suspect, victim and opportunity.  Take the case of a gate house.  You could get your undercover buys and search warrant.   Serve the warrant, make some arrests and then repeat when the same offenders or their heirs open for business the next day.  As an alternative you could analyze the market.  To be a successful dealer you need product and customers.  Deny the dealer either and you don’t have a problem.  History and common sense have instructed that it is unlikely that you will be able to deny the dealer product; at least for any substantial amount of time.  That leaves customers.  How might you deny the suspect customers?

Customers choose their dealers for many of the same reasons that we choose the stores that we shop at.  Convenience is one key consideration.  Can you make it less convenient for a customer to frequent a chosen market?  Things like altering traffic patterns or traffic checkpoints certainly make it more inconvenient to access a market.  Many drug customers favor the ability to purchase with anonymity.  Can you do something to deny them anonymity?  Have concerned neighbors record plates and send letters to the registered owners of vehicles observed in areas of high drug activity? Include some crime prevention tips :)?  Not accusatory but enough to let them know that you know.  Cameras on the corner?  How about the random foot or directed patrol?  Nothing like the marked patrol car parked in front of your drug house to send you looking elsewhere to buy.  We know that we don’t have to be there all the time.  Just enough to educate the customer and dealer that there is a possibility.  Just enough to let them know that we know.  How about a knock and talk?

The very best part of this is that you can do it as a patrol cop and take care of your area of responsibility.  You don’t need to be held hostage by the vice squad pros who may or may not have the time and resources to get to your problem.  Also, you solve the issue – at least for that location.  No one is impressed by arrests when the landscape remains the same the day after.

If you can’t prevent a crime then disrupting one is certainly the next best thing – requiring less effort and often decidedly more effective than enforcement.  You even get to devise and implement your own plan.  It goes without saying that bosses would be wise to encourage their folks to employ disruption.

As always, THANK YOU for your service and BE SAFE!

Please share effective and ethical ways that you have found to disrupt crime.


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