Keizer polices problems, not people

The Keizer Police Department has one of the lowest officer-to-resident ratio of any city in the State of Oregon, and Chief John Teague says that’s largely due to a philosophy called Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) – a complex, holistic policing philosophy designed to improve efficiency and reduce crime.

“You’ve probably heard the term community policing, but that’s just one aspect of POP,” said Teague.

“It became kind of a theme in the industry, and we leaned into it heavily here in Keizer.”

Community policing is a pro-active, as opposed to reactive idea designed to address criminal problems at their source, sending officers out into the community in order to understand it, get to know the people individually, and form casual as well as official partnerships.

Teague said in the past, police departments would pull out the community policing tactics from the larger problem-oriented model and make that the central effort of the department, but he said there is far more to POP than just community policing.

“We know from the research that community policing, by itself, doesn’t contribute to a reduction in crime,” he said. “It just develops good relationships and makes that process more formal. By itself, it just doesn’t work.”

What does work, said Teague, is a more fully-realized POP program, which for Keizer, includes a four-officer team called the Community Response Unit (CRU) and a full time crime analyst, working together with the four shifts of patrol officers to identify, track and prevent crime.

The CRU team doesn’t regularly patrol with the other officers, and they don’t always get dispatched in a detective role, but they can join patrol officers or assist in gathering evidence. Their key role, as is every role in POP, is communication.

“It’s all about having the right people at the right places, at the right time,” said Keizer Patrol Lieutenant Andrew Copeland. “We all work together and brief together in the morning.”

With four separate shifts of patrol officers, it’s easy for details to get lost or forgotten from one shift to the next, but POP creates a structure to address that.

“Our CRU unit, headed by Sergeant Darsy Olafson works with our Crime Analyst Cara Steele – they work issues right alongside the detectives and patrol officers.”

Everyone getting in the same room and sharing information every morning creates a heightened readiness for KPD.

“For example, a night shift officer says ‘hey I had contact with this specific person,’ then the day-shift patrol officer says ‘hey didn’t we just talk about him?,’ and then someone from our CRU says “Oh yeah, he’s been here, here and here and we’ve been tracking him because he’s one of our problem-people, and they put a packet together for a District Attorney (DA). Then the parole and probation officer, who also works out of our office, says ‘hey that’s so-and-so, and I know who the parole officer is and I can put you in contact with them.’ And then code enforcement is in there saying ‘hey how can I help?’ Then it’s like ‘hey listen, we’re going to go execute a search warrant, why don’t you come along with us.’ All of this happens kind of organically at the briefings every morning.”

Olafson, a long-time KPD veteran and currently leading the CRU, cited other examples of how POP has improved their ability to fight crime.

“One of the bigger ones that we didn’t realize we were doing POP until a couple of years later was we were having enclosed trailers, excavators, vehicles stolen throughout the city,” said Olafson, “These briefings started to highlight the idea that it was a very specific color and make of (the perpetrator’s) vehicle, and we started to home in on it, working with traffic and motors.”

Olafson said the communication and cooperation enabled by the POP structure within the department and other city and county agencies was the primary reason they recovered more than 500 pieces of stolen property from that crime ring, and has greatly contributed to overall crime reduction in the city.

“One little piece of subtle nuance in a patrol guy’s day can be the lynchpin for us putting together an entire case,” he said.

“It really turned the whole agency into a household instead of a neighborhood,” said Teague. “In a neighborhood, you have a problem and you might call your neighbor down the street. In a household, you know everybody’s problems – it’s much more intimate.”

POP isn’t just improving communication, though – it involves a great deal of analysis, as well.

“[Cara Steele, Keizer Crime Analyst] is much more than a number-cruncher,” said Teague. “She takes an over-arching view of the crime that is happening in the city, and then tries to make some analysis of that. We don’t have a great deal of crime, comparatively, so she works to get a subjective feel for what’s happening and where things might be happening next.”

According to Teague, Copeland and Olafson, the POP program is having a direct impact on the ability of Keizer’s officers to effectively do their job and keep the community safe.

“In the absence of the CRU and the crime analyst, we would have to staff up heavily and we would be responding to crime without actually doing anything to prevent it.”