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Chapter 3: Problem scanning


This chapter makes the case for a thorough problem scan of the crime problems in an area. By using the analogy of a pilot approaching an airfield, it explains the level of perspective needed by a local area police commander. It discusses the value of a harm-focused approach given the wide range of incidents that are a draw on police time and energy. A box outlines a checklist of topics that a commander should consider in a problem scan. It shows that a problem scan can involve problems that are not just about crime but also vulnerable populations, internal police issues, traffic and wicked problems. The CHEERS framework for problem identification is reviewed, and the chapter discussed chronic problems, crime spikes, and crime panics. Seasonality and regression to the mean are explained to help police leaders understand these issues in their command. An example problem scan and a bullet point summary complete the chapter. 

Headings and sub-headings

The view from pattern altitude
The problem scan
The CHEERS framework
Chronics, spikes and panics
An example problem scan
Chapter summary

Additional links

Harm-focused policing has been defined as follows: ‘Harm-focused policing aims to inform policing priorities by weighing the harms of criminality together with data from beyond crime and disorder, in order to focus police resources in furtherance of both crime and harm reduction’. [Source: Ratcliffe, J. H. (2015). Harm-focused policing. Ideas in American Policing series (issue 19). Washington DC: Police Foundation (page 3)]. In the UK numerous students at the Cambridge Institute of Criminology have used the Cambridge Crime Harm Index. There are now a number of crime harm indices around the world, including in California and in New Zealand. See also my other page in this topic here

The CHEERS framework was developed by John Eck and Ron Clarke in their guide for crime analysts. While you may not be a crime analyst, there is significant value is being able to use the CHEERS framework to disaggregate complicated webs of crime problems into their unique pieces, each of which can be tackled in turn. 

Before working in New Zealand, vignette author Neil Trainor was the first British detective to be trained in geographic profiling. This innovative approach to investigations uses the crime pattern behaviors explained in Chapter 5 of Reducing Crime to understand and investigate serial offenders. 

Understanding the role that crime seasonality plays in crime spikes is important so as to avoid crime panics. The Bureau of Justice Statistics examined crime seasonality and concluded that winter burglary rates were more than 10 percent lower in winter than in summer, and that aggravated assault was also lower in winter. This pattern didn't hold for robberies however. 

Vignette author Corey Allen's personal experiences fueled his TEDx talk on policing with empathy

Vignette authors

Corey Allen

Inspector Allen joined the Police in 1986 and is currently the manager Operational Training Services, responsible for the development and delivery of all weapons and skills training for the Queensland Police Service. He was the longest serving Officer in Charge of Queensland’s largest station - Brisbane City Division and has performed duties as OIC of other suburban stations, as Operations Tactician, and as Team Leader in Public Safety Response Team and the Tactical Crime Squad.  In 2011 Corey travelled the world on a Churchill Fellowship studying police engagement of young homeless.  In October 2013 Corey was awarded Alumnus of the Year for Griffith University School of Criminology, Arts Education and Law. Career highlights include being a finalist in the Australian of the Year Awards and receipt of five National Crime and Violence Prevention awards for innovative projects that significantly improved community safety and wellbeing.

You can follow Corey Allen on twitter at @coreyallen66

Neil Trainor

Neil Trainor has over 36 years of policing experience having joined the UK Police Service in 1982. Between 1996 and 2011 he worked for the UK National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) with responsibility for providing operational support to serious violent crime (specifically stranger sexually motivated murder, rape and abduction) and has been involved in many hundreds of high profile major crime investigations in the UK, USA, Canada and various countries in Europe. During this time he qualified as a Geographic Profiler and as the UK’s Professional Lead for Geographic Profiling he was responsible for deployment of operational support, advice, training and professional development of the discipline. He has provided geographic profiling services/training for various UK and European police forces and for agencies in Canada, USA, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Iceland and Australia. He has been employed as a Senior Intelligence Analyst with New Zealand Police since 2011.

Chapter-related review questions

Chapter 3: A type of policing that "weighs the social harms of criminality and disorder with data from beyond crime and antisocial behavior, in order to focus police priorities and resources in furtherance of both crime and harm reduction" is called?
A.    Community policing
B.    Harm-focused policing
C.    Offender-focus policing
D.    Zero tolerance policing
Chapter 3: A concept that "emphasizes the nature of police interactions and how police treat the public during everyday encounters and normal police work" is called?
A.    Procedural justice
B.    Transactional leadership
C.    Managerial accountability
D.    Community policing
Chapter 3: "Challenging social problems that are ill-formulated and may involve many decision-makers with conflicting values" is a description of what?
A.    Social malaise
B.    Simple issues
C.    Wicked problems
D.    Intractable issues
Chapter 3: CHEERS elements can be used to define a problem. The C stands for what?
A.    Community
B.    Careful
C.    Callous
D.    Co-offending
Chapter 3: CHEERS elements can be used to define a problem. The H stands for what?
A.    Hazardous
B.    Hateful
C.    Helpful
D.    Harmful
Chapter 3: CHEERS elements can be used to define a problem. One of the E's stands for what?
A.    Exciting
B.    Expectation
C.    Even
D.    Extreme
Chapter 3: CHEERS elements can be used to define a problem. The R stands for what?
A.    Recidivist
B.    Reactive
C.    Recurring
D.    Response
Chapter 3: CHEERS elements can be used to define a problem. The S stands for what?
A.    Similarity
B.    Simple
C.    Significant
D.    Special
Chapter 3: What type of problem is described as "Ongoing sagas that have existed for months or years"?
A.    Chronic
B.    Spike
C.    Panic
D.    None of these
Chapter 3: What type of problem is described as "A recent and substantial increase in a problem"?
A.    Chronic
B.    Spike
C.    Panic
D.    None of these
Chapter 3: What type of problem is described as "May be generated by political or media attention"?
A.    Chronic
B.    Spike
C.    Panic
D.    None of these
Chapter 3: Which of these types of problems are often judged to be unsolvable?
A.    Chronic
B.    Spike
C.    Panic
D.    All of the above
Chapter 3: Areas with multigenerational crime families is given as an example of what type of problem?
A.    Chronic
B.    Spike
C.    Panic
D.    All of the above
Chapter 3: What is the term given for when chronic issues are relegated in favor of emerging crime problems that are actually less harmful?
A.    Chronic fixation
B.    Underperformance
C.    Emergent theory
D.    Crime spike bias
Chapter 3: What is the term given for the regular change in crime rates for some offenses that can be attributed to changes in weather and hours of daylight?
A.    Temporal instability
B.    Random fluctuation
C.    Seasonality
D.    Weather-created crime
Chapter 3: In the UK, crimes that disproportionately affect the public’s belief or behavior regarding their perception of risk are called?
A.    Vital crimes
B.    Signal crimes
C.    Random crimes
D.    Disproportionate crimes
Chapter 3: The press sometimes use words like 'evil' and 'horror' in relation to what type of crime problem?
A.    Chronic
B.    Spike
C.    Panic
D.    All of the above
Chapter 3: There is a term for the normal fluctuation of a variable, such as the count of crime. After a crime spike, crime can often return to its normal level without interference. What is this called?
A.    Regression to the mean
B.    Variance return
C.    Random choice
D.    Standard deviation

Select another chapter: Chp 1  |  Chp 2  |  Chp 3  |  Chp 4  |  Chp 5  |  Chp 6  |  Chp 7  |  Chp 8  |  Chp 9  |  Chp 10  |  Chp 11

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