Enhancing SARA: a new approach in an increasingly complex world
© The Author(s) 2018
Received: 18 September 2017
Accepted: 19 February 2018
Published: 1 March 2018
The research note describes how an enhancement to the SARA (Scan, Analyse, Respond and Assess) problem-solving methodology has been developed by Transport for London for use in dealing with crime and antisocial behaviour, road danger reduction and reliability problems on the transport system in the Capital. The revised methodology highlights the importance of prioritisation, effective allocation of intervention resources and more systematic learning from evaluation.
Problem oriented policing (POP), commonly referred to as problem-solving in the UK, was first described by Goldstein (1979, 1990) and operationalised by Eck and Spelman (1987) using the SARA model. SARA is the acronym for Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment. It is essentially a rational method to systematically identify and analyse problems, develop specific responses to individual problems and subsequently assess whether the response has been successful (Weisburd et al. 2008).
A number of police agencies around the world use this approach, although its implementation has been patchy, has often not been sustained and is particularly vulnerable to changes in the commitment of senior staff and lack of organisational support (Scott and Kirby 2012). This short contribution outlines the way in which SARA has been used and further developed by Transport for London (TfL, the strategic transport authority for London) and its policing partners—the Metropolitan Police Service, British Transport Police and City of London Police. Led by TfL, they have been using POP techniques to deal with crime and disorder issues on the network, with some success. TfL’s problem-solving projects have been shortlisted on three occasions for the Goldstein Award, an international award that recognises excellence in POP initiatives, winning twice in 2006 and 2011 (see Goldstein Award Winners 1993–2010).
Crime levels on the transport system are derived from a regular and consistent data extract from the Metropolitan Police Service and British Transport Police crime recording systems. In 2006, crime levels on the bus network were causing concern. This was largely driven by a sudden rise in youth crime with a 72 per cent increase from 2005 to 2006: The level rose from around 290 crimes involving one or more suspects aged under 16 years per month in 2005 to around 500 crimes per month in 2006.
A need for change
broadening of SARA beyond a predominant crime focus to address road danger reduction and road reliability problems;
increasing strategic complexity in the community safety and policing arena for example, the increased focus on safeguarding and vulnerability;
the increasing pace of both social and technological change, for example, sexual crimes such as ‘upskirting’ and ‘airdropping of indecent images’ (see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/london-tube-sexual-assault-underground-transportation-harassment-a8080756.html);
financial challenges and resource constraints yet growing demands for policing and enforcement action to deal with issues;
greater focus on a range of non-enforcement interventions as part of problem solving responses;
a small upturn in some crime types including passenger aggression and low-level violence when the network is at peak capacity;
increasing focus on evidence-led policing and enforcement, and;
some evidence of cultural fatigue among practitioners with processes which indicated a refresh of the approach might be timely.
Identify existing and emerging issues and begin to develop define problem
Assess problems against agreed criteria and against other priorities
Collect and analyse data to understand and define the problem and identify points for intervention
Identify appropriate responses to problem and allocate resources to deliver agreed intervention(s)
Implement planned interventions in an effective and timely manner (categorised as enforcement, engagement/education and environmental/engineering)
Evaluate the impact of interventions on the problem using evidence led techniques as appropriate
Capture the learning from the assessment stage and apply it to other problems with similar characteristics (building a ‘what works’ library and menu of interventions)
Examples of strategic, tactical and operational problems
City-wide and long term
Increased city wide youth crime and disorder related to the introduction of free travel
Sub-regional and medium term
Etching of bus windows in South East London
Localised and short term
Road safety issues at a specific junction
The processes supporting delivery utilise existing well established practices used by TfL and its partners. These include Transtat (the joint TfL/MPS version of the ‘CompStat’ performance management process for transport policing), a strategic tasking meeting (where the ‘P’ in SPATIAL is particularly explored) and an Operations Hub which provides deployment oversight and command and control services for TfL’s on-street resources. Of course, in reality these processes are not always sequential. In many cases there will be feedback loops to allow refocusing of the problem definition and re-assessment of problem-solving plans and interventions.
For strategic and tactical level problems, the SPATIAL framework provides senior officers with greater oversight of problem-solving activity at all stages of the problem-solving process. It helps to ensure that TfL and transport policing resources are focussed on the right priorities, that the resource allocation is appropriate across identified priorities and that there is oversight of the problem-solving approaches being adopted, progress against plans and delivery of agreed outcomes.
Although these changes are in the early stages of implementation, it is already clear that they provide the much needed focus around areas such as strategic prioritisation and allocation of TfL, police and other partner resources (including officers and other interventions such as marketing, communications and environmental changes). The new approach also helps to ensure that any lessons learned from the assessment are captured and used to inform evidence-based interventions for similar problems through the use of a bespoke evaluation framework (adaptation of the Maryland scientific methods scale, see Sherman et al. 1998) and the implementation of an intranet based library. The adapted approach also resonates with practitioners because it builds on the well-established SARA process but brings additional focus to prioritising issues and optimising resources. More work is required to assess the medium and longer term implications and benefits derived from the new process and this will be undertaken as it becomes more mature.
The article was co-authored by the two named authors. SB developed the original concept and developed the methodology and MM helped refine the ideas for practical implementation and provided additional content to the document. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
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