Reactive and Proactive Police Investigations

Both Reactive and Proactive police investigations are used in Britain today in order to apprehend and punish criminals for breaking the law, from crimes like burglary and assault, to much more serious crimes such as drug dealing, fraud and murder. The crime control model states how important law enforcement is, as, unless criminal conduct is kept under tight control, the view is that there will be a breakdown in public order and a limit to human freedom. This essay aims to introduce and describe the two methods of policing and also to discuss their advantages and disadvantages.

The reactive and more traditional approach to policing and police investigation involves responding to reports, complaints or cries of help, from the general public, regarding crimes that have already been committed or put simply, a reaction to crime. For example, if a person’s house has been broken into and items of property have been stolen, the person will call 999 to report the incident and the police will then start an investigation and attempt to apprehend the offender, using evidence from the scene, or from possible witnesses. This method of policing is by far the greatest lead the police get in detecting crime, and they are heavily dependent on the public’s cooperation.Many crimes that happen in private areas, such as inside people’s homes or businesses, would go undetected if not reported by members of the public, and it would be almost impossible for even legal powers to detect them.

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Another aspect of reactive policing involves the use of foot and car patrols in public areas as an attempt to prevent people committing offences, such as fighting, vandalism and burglary, the objective being to keep the Queens peace in public areas.The aim of proactive policing is to eliminate the cause before the crime occurs rather than deal with the consequences; it is more a strategy for crime reduction. As well as aiming to gain convictions, it also aims to disrupt illegal organisations and activity. It involves using different methods of surveillance and uses modern technology to build up pictures of potential criminals and gather evidence of criminal behaviour.

One area inside proactive policing is data gathering and the building up of profiles about certain individuals or groups. Personal details and the specific details of crimes that they committed are stored in a central computerized intelligence system within a force and can be accessed by members of that force.This database can then be used to link a number of crimes to one person or group, by looking at specific characteristics of the crimes committed such as the time of day the criminal usually acts or the type of weapon used. Another area inside proactive police investigation is to then put the suspected criminals under surveillance, either physical, such as staking out their property and noting their movements and interactions, or electronically, such as bugging phone lines and email communication.

Another form of surveillance is for an undercover police officer to infiltrate the criminal’s life and report back any information that is disclosed or discovered. This form of policing tends to involve specialist squads within the force who target specific criminals such as drug dealers or fraudsters. Another part of proactive investigation is to use informants who exchange information for money or in order for them to receive a lighter punishment for a crime they have committed. Once enough information has been gathered, enough evidence collected and the potential threat realised, counter-measures can then be taken to prevent the crime happening.

An advantage to reactive policing is that there is a real and actual demand for it from the members of the public. Knowing that if you become a victim of a crime, there is always a member of the police force at the end of a phone or patrolling the streets makes people feel a lot safer. Public tranquillity and reassurance is a very important goal for the police, and one of the key objectives set for the police by the Home Office in 1998-99 was to respond promptly to emergency calls from the public.Public areas which have police patrols, have a lot lower crime rate as the offenders are deterred by the visible police presence, and have a much greater fear of being discovered committing an offence.

Reactive policing is all done openly and in the public eye and no ethical guidelines are broken. It also operates on a personal level, with the police officers actually meeting and talking to the victims of crime, and also being able to offer help, in the form of a counsellor or another professional.Reactive police investigation also has its many disadvantages too. It is often seen as a vicious circle, starting with the volume of crime overwhelming the police, with few resources and the often endless paperwork, there is no time for any proactive work, resulting in the prolific offenders not being caught.

The public loose confidence in the police’s ability and the clear up rate declines even more, resulting in no deterrent for prospective offenders.Although a necessity, it is often perceived that the amount of paperwork police officers are expected to do is a waste of time, for example, the apprehension of someone stealing something from a shop, requires some 40 forms to be completed. The effort is focused on the crime itself rather than the criminal that did it, and the paperwork ties up the officers and prevents them from doing proactive work, which is needed to identify and apprehend the prolific criminals. Reactive policing is felt to have limited impact against the more serious and professional criminals and tends to focus more on petty criminals.

Because reactive policing is so time consuming, proactive work is often squeezed into the remaining available time and is rarely part of a planned programme.Many crimes are often left unreported and therefore undiscovered and the offenders never caught and punished, because people think that the crimes are too trivial to report or there is nothing the police can do about it, in some instances they have no faith in the polices’ ability to catch the offender. Research showed that a person is influenced by their past contact with the police, many reported that they were unhappy with the officers attitudes or their ability to keep the victims informed about follow-up enquiries.A main advantage to proactive work is the success of the computerized database of offenders.

It provides a system for analysing patterns of crime and allowing clusters of crimes to be credited to one individual as usually a relatively small number of prolific criminals account for a substantial proportion of crime due to multiple offences. This is done by studying the criminals ‘hallmark’ and characteristics which link the crimes, such as means of entry and item stolen, without this system these patters wouldn’t be recognised. It is also rare to gain sufficient evidence to convict a suspect from just one crime scene, with the evidence from all the linked crimes put together there are increased odds of securing a conviction. Another benefit is that it allows those people wrongly suspected of a crime to be eliminated from police enquiries.

Through analysing the data, the police are also able to spot patterns and trends in crime and target it before it happens, such as increasing patrols in specific areas before drug dealers or gangs move in, or educating school children about the dangers of crime in problem areas. Although it makes heavy demands on police leadership, the approach is much more ‘hands on’ and officers do more problem solving and become more independent. “Problem solving policing is more rewarding for officers and police work is geared towards the root causes of problems” Herman Golstein 1970’sProactive operations such as Operation Bumblebee launched by the Metropolitan police to tackle burglary in London proved a huge success. A powerful, public attack was made, where the handlers of stolen goods were targeted and there were regular searches of active burglars houses.

In a year, burglary reports dropped by 7% and the clear up rate nearly doubled.Police informants have been called ‘The lifeblood of the CID’ as a lot of valuable information can be discovered from them. Informants are also a very cost effective approach to proactive policing as for every £1 paid to an informant, £12 of stolen property is recovered.Whereas reactive policing can be seen as a viscous circle, proactive policing can be called a virtuous circle, where, the police set and meet priorities and prolific offenders are caught, this deterring them from committing future crime and giving the public more confidence in the system.

Clear up rates improve and the police have more time for crime prevention, which deters more offenders and the crime rates are held.As with reactive policing, the proactive approach also has its disadvantages. Although the computerized intelligence system can be invaluable, only half of all forces have one. Only 30% of all forces have an integrated system allowing other forces to access the information, which is a waste of resources.

It was also discovered that many forces don’t have adequate IT support, meaning that in some instances, records were duplicated and some criminals were entered several times. The full value as a predictive technique cannot be realised unless the system is easily accessible, integrated and at a local level.Although surveillance tactics have proved to be invaluable, many forces are understaffed and inadequately equipped with the necessary technology to attempt it. Over a quarter of forces don’t have a surveillance team, often leading to officers attempting surveillance operations themselves without the sufficient training and equipment and wasting the opportunity.

Surveillance activities are also incredibly expensive and time and resource consuming. To keep track of one criminal it takes between 12 and 18 officers, 4 cars and a motorcycle, adding up to £2,500 for a 10-hour shift, and therefore operations must be selected very carefully. Often the only way to gain enough evidence against a professional criminal is through surveillance, although this also has many ethical dilemmas. Although, under the law, all proactive methods are legal unless otherwise stated, they can also interfere with the due process model, which states that ‘all judicial enquiries should abide by strict and formal procedures, meaning a smooth running, fair and impartial system guaranteeing human rights’ Sage dictionary of criminology Covert operations are secretive and often use telephone taps and bugging devices and ignore a persons right to privacy and civil liberties, and therefore have grave ethical implications.

Although informants are very useful and extremely cost effective they are often underused, for example in 1992 fewer than 20% of registered informants recovered any kind of payment. One reason for this is that the amount of cash available for such resources is very small and another reason is the ethical problems the police face. Sometimes the informant may have too close connections with the criminal or it is too hard to guarantee their animosity and freedom. In many instances, the police would rather drop a case than, jeopardise the safety and identity of an informant and restrict any future use.

It is also a necessary but time consuming task to keep the database of informants up to date and check they are still active.In conclusion, both reactive and proactive methods of policing are invaluable and necessary if practised along side one another. Reactive aims to deal with the consequences of crime and the victims, whereas proactive is a more crime preventative measure, aiming to stop the crime before it happens. There is much scope for improvement inside the system and many problems, such as the time consuming reactive work, which allows the officers little time for anything else.

Also the proactive approach only works if the forces have adequate staff, equipment and training to deal with the demand on them.

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Reactive and Proactive Police Investigations. (2018, Jun 01). Retrieved from