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7 steps police leaders can take today to prevent crime tomorrow

The role of proactive policing training, whether crime prevention or community engagement, is often given minimal attention


We should expect that crime is imminent, recognize and evaluate the risk factors, and take steps to address those factors.

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In 1829, Sir Robert Peel, long accepted as the father of modern policing, espoused the idea that the basic mission of the police is to prevent crime and disorder. He also stated that the test of success was not evidence of police action, but the absence of crime and disorder. [1]

Peel’s principles of policing are just as valuable today. Even in his time, the need for citizen recognition of the legitimacy of the police – Peel called it public approval – was important. He also recognized that the use of force by the police diminished cooperation and that public favor was obtained by impartiality.

These principles are still needed today if police are to be successful.

Defining crime prevention

The National Crime Prevention Institute (NCPI) defines crime prevention as “the anticipation, recognition and appraisal of a crime risk and the initiation of some action to remove or reduce it.”

Over the past four decades, methods of preventing crime have evolved but always held true to NCPI’s definition. To simplify: we should expect that crime is imminent, recognize and evaluate the risk factors, and take steps to address those factors.

While programs are the tools of prevention, we must understand the motivation of the criminal, the type of criminal activity and methods used to perpetrate crime to develop prevention programming. This is the “recognition and appraisal” of the risk factors. The programming itself fulfills the rest of the NCPI definition.

In essence, there are three types of prevention approaches:

  • Awareness or educational campaigns
  • Community involvement programs
  • Programs addressing the environment. [2]

Each requires some involvement by the community. For example, awareness or educational campaigns require citizens to take an action such as lock their doors. A community involvement program may require observation, patrolling, or collaborative problem-solving. Environmental approaches may require the removal of landscaping and the addition of security devices.

Here are seven steps police leaders can take to implement these approaches:

1. Shore up community trust and participation

Little can be done without public approval. Approval leads to participation. Today this is often referred to as “community engagement.” It is a major mistake to try to do everything for the community rather than working with them to address issues. Trust begins with relationships, and relationships begin with understanding one another while working together on common causes.

2. Embrace crime prevention as job one

Traditional policing focuses upon efficiency rather than effectiveness. Most state statutes originally defined the duties of law enforcement giving prominence to prevention.

These statutes provide proof of a bygone importance given crime prevention. For example, Minnesota statutes state that law enforcement is charged with the prevention and detection of crime and the enforcement of the general criminal laws of the state. [3] Washington state defines an officer as also including “an employee … authorized by law to engage in or supervise the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of, or the incarceration of any person.” [4] Virginia statutes state that police are “responsible for the prevention and detection of crime” and so on. [5]

In embracing prevention, executives must recognize that what gets measured illustrates what is important to officers. Including measures for crime prevention activities in performance appraisals will send a strong message that prevention is a top priority.

3. Blow your own horn!

The philosophy agency-wide must be proactive rather than reactive. A single unit will have limited success. The proactive focus should be reinforced in news releases and demonstrated through periodic in-person visits at awareness or educational programs by all staff levels.

The department must use the technology available today to blanket the community with positive information and collaborative programs offered by the agency to work with the community. These should be prominent on social media, websites and in any local media that will cooperate. When community partnerships show success, community leaders and department representatives should share the news and credit.

4. Create leaders, not followers

This is perhaps one of the most difficult steps to achieve, primarily because of management insecurity. The managers and supervisors must adopt a mentor mindset. Through mentoring and coaching, staff become more capable of leading or making sound decisions, rather than asking permission. Certainly, some decisions must be made at higher levels only, but the more decisions are pushed down the more effective they are to community needs. Decision-making is a large part of problem-solving.

5. Solve problems not just crimes

Underlying every crime is a problem. Problems law enforcement should address are any that can cause harm or disorder, and which the community believes that the police should address. These may not be crimes but issues the community sees as important, such as fear of attack in a neighborhood. Sometimes the problem is not based upon facts but is very real to the community.

Leaders must recognize the importance of having staff capable of analyzing data. Crime analysis staff, with a function beyond administrative reporting, is essential to problem-solving.

Additionally, staff must be allowed time to work collaboratively with the community to address issues.

6. Provide needed training

Leaders must ensure that all staff, regardless of level, are trained in problem-solving, use of community and government resources in proactive policing, and in focusing on prevention first. Training from the top down is important to avoid command and supervision from feeling insecure. Just as policies must first be understood by supervision and management so must training be delivered to them, so that they can support the transition.

The role of proactive policing training, whether crime prevention or community engagement is often given minimal attention. This must change.

Proper proactive policing training enhances safety. Officers trained to conduct proper security assessments may lessen the probable targeting of a facility and provide officers with a safer response environment. This approach is evidence-based, proven to reduce crime and saves the locality and businesses expensive consultant fees, but it must be learned through proper training.

7. Learn from history, and do not repeat it!

Time and time again the law enforcement profession has experienced low crime rates and an excellent image in the public eye but allowed financial issues, politics and technology to reverse the trend and return to the “efficiency” model. This has led to a loss of community relationships and poor police image.

Law enforcement leader inaction or surrendering their duties to political leaders have always ended poorly for the police, the agency image and the executive. In recent years executives have allowed elected officials with no experience to bully them during riots and demonstrations, making decisions they knew were wrong. With proper community connections, the executive will be able to avoid making this mistake thus preventing violent unrest, or at least mitigate it.


Crime prevention simply recognizes risks and addresses them before a crime occurs. It requires community involvement, relationships and training. The measure is the absence of crime!

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1. Mayhall PD, Barker T, Hunter RD. Police Community Relations and the Administration of Justice (4th ed.) Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1995.

2. Arrington R. Crime Prevention-The Law Enforcement Officer’s Practical Guide. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2007.

3. §626.84 Minnesota Statutes

4. §10.108.020 Revised Code of Washington.

5. § 15.2-1704 Code of Virginia.

Richard “Rick” Arrington is a retired police lieutenant, author and subject matter expert on crime prevention and community policing. He operates the Crime Prevention Center for Training and Services, LLC and provides training to law enforcement on proactive policing throughout the United States. He serves on the International Association of Chiefs of Police Crime Prevention Committee and other national law enforcement advisory boards.