Blue Line


March 6, 2014  By Tom Wetzel

by Tom Wetzel

I remember years ago as a rookie riding with a veteran sergeant. We drove by a clothing store and he decided to stop by.

The merchandise was on hangers which were all in one direction, he pointed out to the ladies working there, making it easy for a thief to quickly grab a large amount of clothing. He showed them how switching the direction of some of the clothes hangers would make it more difficult to quickly remove a bunch of clothes. What I had just watched was a good example of community policing.

What this supervisor had shown me was how to work with our customers to make crime more difficult to commit through a friendly interaction. He had conveyed to these ladies the value of target hardening. If they took his advice, they may have discouraged thieves from trying to make quick snatch and grabs at that store. Making the commission of a crime more difficult or preventing it from happening altogether is what target hardening is all about.

Developing and promoting target hardening tactics are an important component of any agency’s community policing efforts. During tours of duty, officers have opportunities to recognize areas of concern and act on them by working with their customers to develop strategies to prevent crime. Whether it is a business, religious institution, school or home, there are likely to be variables within each that can be adjusted or changed to help deter crime at that location.

Depending on the location and present concerns, these tactics can be something as simple as changing the direction of clothing hangers, as the veteran sergeant suggested, to putting up concrete barriers in certain spots to prevent vehicle access. Target hardening ideas can be developed through daily observations of locations, the people who frequent them and looking at crime patterns in that area.

Officers can work at advanced study of prevention and analysis to forecast possible trends and develop preventive action. Home or business surveys in which an officer evaluates the location’s makeup and surroundings and then provides a written survey with suggestions is a good service that an agency can provide.

What is also useful in promoting these efforts is that it allows officers to enhance their patrol activities through looking for ways to make crime more difficult – and then getting out of their cruisers to communicate these suggestions. All too often, too many citizens’ only contacts with officers may be viewed as negative, such as getting a ticket. When they have a chance to speak with a concerned cop about how to help keep them safer, it can develop trust – a vital component for the successful development of a symbiotic relationship with the served and the server.

Citizen contacts are an important two way street as officers also learn things. When people get to meet officers and communicate concerns or just have a short pleasant conversation, it is likely to be viewed as a positive interaction. This is especially important if a person has an existing view, developed through negative media coverage or their own bias, of police.

Recognizing opportunities to prevent crime at a location, developing tactics to make it more difficult to commit it there and then communicating these ideas to those affected should be an important component of an agency’s community policing efforts. They can range from basic observations and communication by a patrol officer to comprehensive programs the agency develops to reach a large audience.

These efforts can help officers and their departments promote positive interactions with the public and help reduce crime and keep neighborhoods safer. An agency’s encouragement of target hardening strategies can help in their important mission of protecting and serving.

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