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CompStat Policing in San Francisco
The San Francisco Police Department uses CompStat as a means to track and redeploy resources in our efforts to significantly reducing violent crimes.
CompStat, short for computer statistics, has an established and proven track record in reducing crimes and improving the overall operating systems of several major metropolitan police departments including New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Newark. These departments, as well as the SFPD, have custom tailored the CompStat process to fit the needs of our community needs; however, the core elements of remain the same. These elements provide a basic road map for getting police officers back in the business of actually proactively fighting crime rather than just reacting to it.
A vital component of the CompStat philosophy is its emphasis on holding police leadership directly accountable for combating the crime in their assigned area. The SFPD holds monthly meetings with the Captains of the District Stations, which are open to the public. The discussion centers on trends, issues, and concerns that have arose in their jurisdictions, as well as what strategies, or “best practices,” have been working. The Captains are given the authority to deploy resources where they are needed most in an effort to achieve results toward our mission – to be the safest major city in America.
The elements of CompStat consist of four distinct principles:
Accurate and Timely Intelligence
Accurate and timely intelligence and/or information are absolutely essential in effectively responding to any problem or crisis. Since today's policing techniques nearly always consist of vast amounts of information, it is necessary to provide a vehicle where essential information can easily and effectively be shared with all levels of the organization. Often times, detectives have information on suspects or crime trends and patterns, but the actual field patrol officers who may be in contact with potential suspects have no idea of what information detective personnel possess or need to clear a case. Just as important, this principle also provides for an early warning system to identify emerging crime trends and patterns.
In today's environment of ever shrinking resources, being able to apply the necessary resources to an identified problem area is crucial in successfully reducing crime. Historically, marked police vehicles have randomly been deployed in hopes of deterring potential criminals who see the black and white police vehicles on patrol. This principle suggests that the intelligence/information be used as a radar screen to direct police resources to the exact problem area.
Traditional policing tactics have always dictated that most problems may be solved at a superficial level. In other words, take care of the suspect and don't worry about the social or environmental situation that may be adding to or creating the problem. CompStat tactics encourage "thinking outside the box" and mandate that every resource, both internal and external, is considered in responding to a problem. CompStat tactics also provide for a sense of urgency in responding to problems. The old attitude of public entities responding at slow speed is no longer acceptable. Every case or call for service is handled as the traditional "Big Case" and is thoroughly and rapidly investigated in a systematic manner.
For decades, police departments have been driven by calls for service and responded with their limited resources in a reactive manner. With CompStat, the police department is now armed with vital intelligence regarding emerging crime trends or patterns which allows for a strategic police response. The strategic response can be in many forms; both traditional uniformed or plainclothes officer as well as non-traditional decoys and sting operations.
Relentless Follow-up and Assessment
An essential element in any crucial operation is the need to critically assess past tactics and review what was successfully employed and what just didn't work. One of the main differences between private enterprise and the public sector is the bottom line of positive returns. The public sector and police departments have rarely been evaluated on their results. On the other hand, if a business implements an unsuccessful strategy or provides an unacceptable level of customer service, it isn't long before bankruptcy is filed. The bottom line with CompStat is results. Everything the police department does no matter whether administrative, operational, or investigative in nature, is evaluated by the results achieved. Static operations that do not provide for successful results are immediately assessed for their value and necessity to the overall operation of the department.
The CompStat Unit works to provide the statistical data and management information needed for monthly CompStat information sharing meetings. The review of the data presented and the performance of the command officers responsible for the existing crime issues assists those same officers in future decision making when creating new crime reduction strategies, allocating resources and deploying personnel in their assigned areas. Proven and successful strategies are identified and offered to other commands to assist them in addressing similar or overlapping crime problems in other areas of the City. The continuous CompStat cycle of reviewing, strategizing, taking action and being held accountable for results has streamlined the Department's crime fighting abilities and increased its effectiveness in responding quickly to crime problems.