"I have always wondered why, if most of the crimes are committed by a handful of habitual criminals, then why don't the police on every shift just use surveillance techniques to monitor these few perpetrators? We need to conserve our scarce municipal resources and policing costs seem to be a large factor in the city's budget. If we spent the resources following these few individuals it seems to me we would save a lot of time and money."
Bill, I am worried that some readers might think I submitted this question under an assumed name because it really hits the bull's eye of how the Coquitlam RCMP "does" policing in our jurisdiction and why we do it the way we do.
The phenomenon you refer to is called the Pareto Principle or the 80-20 rule, and the basic premise is that, for many events, roughly 80 per cent of the effects can be attributed to 20 per cent of the causes. Applying that principle to local crime and safety issues has fundamentally changed the way Coquitlam RCMP operates.
First, allow me to indulge in a little local history. Before 2005, the Coquitlam RCMP's approach to policing (which was practised in most other jurisdictions as well) was primarily reactive.
Basically, our members spent their time running from one call to another and conducting follow-up investigations. There was a lot of excellent work being done by my colleagues but the approach wasn't what you would call strategic and, despite all the effort expended, we were having no real impact reducing criminal activity over the long term - property crime in particular remained a problem.
In 2005 our service model changed, thanks to a combination of research from other jurisdictions indicating that strategic policing had a greater impact on public safety than reactive policing, and some innovative senior police executives at RCMP headquarters and Coquitlam RCMP (including our current OIC or Officer in Charge, Supt. Claude Wilcott) who were willing to test some of those promising approaches locally.
That was how our local Crime Reduction Strategy (CRS) came to be. Actually, it was a much more challenging implementation process than that paragraph indicates but it has been well worth it (more on that later).
Now, back to your question. The bedrock of the CRS is the 80: 20 rule. Rather than waiting for calls to come in then rushing to respond, we work as an integrated team of crime analysts, first responders and investigators to identify and target the "20" with the long term objective of reducing the "80."
In a nutshell, it goes like this. Every year our crime analysts review all of our police files to find out which offenders have been the most criminally active, who they are known to associate with and which crime types they are most involved in.
From there we create two lists - one of "prolific offenders" who become targets for a range of tactics aimed at curtailing their criminal activity and the other of "signal crimes," which we use to monitor our progress.
The key to the success of our CRS is developing intelligence about prolific offenders. Knowing who they are, what they do and what relationships and lifestyle factors keep them criminally active has made us extremely effective at tracking and targeting the people and their activities.
Put another way, we are reducing the offences by focusing on the offenders. And what we've learned in the seven years since piloting the CRS is that strategic policing works.
In 2007, the first full year of data post-implementation showed that we had achieved region-leading reductions in all four of our signal crimes, including an almost 30per-cent reduction in thefts from vehicles over the course of a single year.
An E Division research project the next year showed that our achievements were significant even when compared with the nationwide trend of falling rates of property crime.
Our success was, and is, largely based on rigorous analysis of information (which is why I'm often heard encouraging citizens to report crime), close teamwork within our detachment and strong partnerships with neighbouring police organizations as well as local governments, businesses and community groups to find effective, long-term resolutions to local crime and disorder issues.
Bill, you asked why the police don't just use surveillance techniques on every shift to monitor these few perpetrators as a way of conserving resources. I remember seeing moustache-clad cops sitting in a car "doing surveillance" on TV. The portrayal could hardly be further from the truth.
In reality, surveillance is one of the most resource-intensive tools available to police. It requires a lot of equipment, and a sizable team with the experience and training required to make sure the project's results are useful for investigators and admissible in court. It also requires a lot of time.
If trying to be responsible and accountable in the cost of policing is the intention, then doing surveillance on all prolific offenders on every shift would not be the answer.
My colleagues and I pride ourselves on developing operational plans that apply the most effective tools and tactics to make the biggest possible impact on public safety, including making sure there are always cops available to respond to service calls from citizens in need. Because we know that while the 80-20 rule applies to crime and safety, we also have to take care of the leftover 20-80.
Bill, I hope you have gained a better understanding of what we do after reading this. If you have more questions, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
. Cpl. Jamie Chung is the media relations officer for the Coquitlam RCMP. Questions for the Cop Talk column, which runs monthly, can be submitted to editorial@thenownews. com. The contents of this column are based on Cpl. Chung's professional opinion, training and experience and are not intended to reflect official RCMP policy or other legislation.