Running with a cop to chase away crime
How a SARA approach to crime response combined with community outreach netted positive results
When supervisors and leaders retire, they take with them decades of accumulated skills, experience and patterns of thinking about how things get done – also known as “institutional knowledge” – that may not be passed along. To collect that information, Police1 has created the Institutional Knowledge Project to create a repository of lessons learned around the management of people, policy, training, supervision and discipline that can be applied by future generations of police supervisors and leaders when handling similar situations.
This submission is from Joel F. Shults, Ed.D., who retired as Chief of Police in Colorado.
By James Dudley
As captain of the Park District located along a 1,000-acre park in a metropolitan city, I was approached at a monthly community meeting by a group of more than 30 people, mostly women, to ask for help with sexual assaults in the park.
I was aware of two or three assaults over the same number of months in a nearby section of the park that was a popular place for runners to exercise before and after normal work hours.
How did you handle the situation?
I took the information from a couple of the leaders of the group and promised to meet with them during the week.
I used the SARA method of problem-solving (Scanning, Analyze, Respond and Assess) to help create a framework. I then ran the location through our crime mapping system, reviewed the last months of reports and looked at calls for service through our computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. I looked to see if there was a problem we should have already addressed.
By the time I met with the organizers, two women leaders of a local women's running club, I had some information to help address their concerns.
Together we reviewed several issues:
- We put together a list of reports that seemed to track the incidents. Some were anecdotal and not reported to the police. That identified a reporting issue that we addressed through social media and the runners club.
- The pattern of the victimization profile became clear immediately: Solitary runners in early morning dawn or evening dusk or darkness. The number of runners assaulted was estimated at six or more over a two-month period. Most wore earbuds to music players.
- We addressed the environmental factors, including overgrown “ambush” areas and broken lights along the popular path. This required bringing in the City Parks and Recreation Department and Street Lighting Department. We used Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) tenets to explain our strategies to the runners club and park representatives.
- We set up periodic surveillance and decoys without success since there was no discernable pattern of the attacks. Bicycle officers added the area to their daily route and filled out field identification cards when they encountered illegal campsites or suspicious individuals in the area.
- Although no arrests were made, we added publicity to the issue by sponsoring a monthly “Run with a Cop” event where the captain and others ran a 5k through the area with anyone who came to the event. Our non-profit crime prevention group solicited donations for t-shirts, oranges and bottled water to supply the runners.
Looking back, was there anything would you have done differently?
Initially, the situation was put on the sector car reading clip and it was read during roll calls. Looking back, I would have assigned it to one officer to shepherd through with regular checks of reports and calls for service.
The running events were popular and well-received by the community but once I transferred to another station, the incoming captain discontinued the event as being too time-consuming.
I should have built the program into the annual report and funded it to keep it going. It was a great community event to show cops as protectors who were willing to not only "talk the talk" but also to “run the run.”
What lesson did you identify from this situation?
If the community brings a valid complaint or issue to the department, there can be several ways to address the concern rather than the traditional “catch the bad guy” focus. Even without catching the culprit(s), we did just as much good, or even more, by addressing it and partnering with the community.
James Dudley is a 32-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department where he retired as deputy chief of the Patrol Bureau. He is currently a member of the Criminal Justice faculty at San Francisco State University, consults on organizational assessments for LE agencies and hosts the Policing Matters podcast for Police1.