SARA, THE MODEL (police)


The SARA model is the most familiar process for doing problem-oriented policing (POP). The acronym SARA stands for scanning, analysis, response, and assessment. The model was first published in the evaluation report on problem solving in the Newport News (Virginia) Police Department in 1987. It is usually attributed to John Eck, one of the authors of the Newport News report.

The four steps are straightforward. Scanning involves looking at data, talking to people, and observing the community in order to identify potential problems. Analysis involves studying potential problems to determine if they deserve concerted attention and, if so, trying to develop accurate descriptions and explanations of them. Response involves searching for a wide range of solutions and then choosing and implementing the ones with the most promise. Assessment involves collecting data after the response to determine if the problem has been eliminated or at least reduced. If success has not been achieved, then further analysis and a different set of responses may be needed.

The SARA model has attained celebrity status within policing for several reasons. Perhaps most important, it is an easily remembered acronym. Also, it entails just four steps—most people can remember them. Of course, it was important that POP became a popular, appealing, and effective police strategy beginning in the 1980s. Moreover, problem solving using the SARA model was incorporated into community policing in the early 1990s. From that point forward, training, publications, and even federal grant programs incorporating SARA became commonplace.

Two shortcomings of the SARA model have been noted. First, SARA implies that problem solving is, or should follow, a linear process. The model seems to suggest that first you do scanning, then you do analysis, then you do response, then you do assessment, and then you are done. In practice, though, problem solvers seem to engage in a lot more back-and-forth activity. For example, they may be responding to a problem when they learn something new about it, which makes them realize that it is really a different problem than they originally thought. Another common experience is that some problems require immediate response as soon as they are recognized. In this situation, officers may engage in response at the same time that they are trying to verify the real status of a perceived problem (scanning) and while they are also trying to figure out what is causing the problem (analysis).

Another complaint about SARA is that it does not formally incorporate the community. As outlined, the SARA model can be carried out entirely by the police. If so, however, the risk is that only problems considered important by the police will get attention, only police data will be used to analyze the problems, only police-led responses will be employed, and assessment will declare victory or defeat solely on the basis of police criteria. Because of these concerns, when problem solving is incorporated within community policing, it is usually termed collaborative problem solving, in order to emphasize the importance of community involvement in each step of the SARA process.

A concept that was developed to help enhance the SARA model is the problem analysis triangle. The three sides of the triangle are victims, offenders, and locations. When analyzing specific problems, officers are encouraged to focus on victims (who are they, what harms do they suffer, why are they victimized but others are not?), offenders (who are they, why do they choose to commit these offenses?), and locations (where do the problems occur, why do they occur in some places and not others?). Carefully focusing on these factors makes sense because crime and other police problems usually are not randomly distributed. Rather, crimes and many other problems are concentrated among a relatively small number of offenders, victims, and locations.

Another feature of the problem analysis triangle aids problem solvers at the response stage. Once problems have been analyzed and attention turns to responses, it is helpful to consider whether there are guardians of victims (for example, parents), handlers of offenders (for example, teachers or employers), or managers of locations (for example, landlords) who can be convinced to exercise authority and oversight in such a way that the problem might be reduced. Thinking about the roles that might be played by guardians, handlers, and managers helps problem solvers identify additional responses, especially ones that are not completely police dependent.

The SARA model is not the only process for carrying out problem-oriented policing or problem solving. Herman Goldstein, the inventor of POP, used the terms ”identifying problems,” ”analyzing problems,” ”the search for alternatives,” and ”measuring the effectiveness of alternative responses”—clearly the same meaning as SARA, but slightly different terminology.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police adopted the CAPRA acronym, which stands for clients, acquire/analyze information, partnerships, responses, and assessment of action taken. This model keeps most of the basic problem-solving process but incorporates a focus on clients (the citizens whose problems need to be addressed) and partnerships (working together with the community to solve problems).

Two problem-solving processes have been developed in the United Kingdom. One adopted by the Home Office, called the Five I’s (or 5 I’s), entails intelligence, interventions, implementation, involvement, and impact. The other, developed by the London Metropolitan Police and enhanced by the company Sixth Sense, uses a longer process that includes the following steps:

1. Identify. Where is the demand coming from?

2. Demand. What do they want?

3. Problem. Prepare an overview of the perceived problem.

4. Aim. What is the aim in general?

5. Problem. Define the problem.

6. Aim. What is your aim?

7. Research.

8. Analysis.

9. Options. Think creatively.

10. Responses. Negotiate and initiate action plan.

11. Evaluation. Was the aim met?

12. Review. What went well?

13. Success. Acknowledge and share good practice.

The value of this more detailed elaboration of the process is that it helps remind problem solvers of specific steps and considerations that can make problem solving more effective.

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