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Changing Environment for Policing, 1985-2008

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2010
16 pages

This paper examines the differences in the environment for policing between the time period of 1985 - 2008.


In the 1980s, policing in the United States was under siege for two reasons: (1) crime had been rising from the early 1960s, and (2) research had shown that the traditional strategies of the police were ineffective at coping with it. In 1960, the serious crime rate was 1,887 per 100,000 people. In 1985, it was 5,224, almost a threefold increase. In January 2008, crime in the United States had declined dramatically since 1990. The serious crime rate (Part I crimes) had fallen to 3,808 per 100,000 people by 2006, a decline of 34 percent. The strongest evidence for police effectiveness was some form of problem solving, especially when focused on "hot spot" locations accounting for a high volume of repeat calls for police service. Twenty years later, not only are changes occurring in the environment that may affect the structure of policing but police themselves are in the process of changing the way they work. The driving factors are (1) the threat of terrorism, (2) intelligence-led policing, and (3) DNA analysis. Twenty years ago, policing was in the throes of what is now regarded as a revolution in its operating approach. Policing today faces much less obvious challenges. Current strategies and technologies seem to be sufficient to deal with foreseeable threats to public safety, with the possible exception of terrorism. If the above is so, then policing will develop in an evolutionary way, fine-tuning operational techniques according to experience. However, if changes in the environment are reshaping the structure and hence the governance of policing, and adaptations within the police are weakening the connection between police and public, then we may be entering a period of evolutionary discontinuity. References

Date Published: September 1, 2010