The Tampa Police Department (TPD) has managed to lower crime rates by unprecedented numbers year after year for the last sixteen years. Their success has been attributed to a revolutionary new approach to law enforcement they call Focus on Four - an innovative plan tackling four key areas of high-volume crimes known colloquially as the "Big Four": burglary, robbery, auto burglary, and auto theft. Through redistribution of tactical resources, intelligence-led policing, proactive and preventative policing, and partnering with the community, the TPD has reinvented the way police work is done in their city.
Redistribution of tactical resources
The TPD launched a new, proactive approach to policing to improve upon the more traditional concept of responding to 911 calls. Managers and officers are responsible for tracking the crimes in their area and then devising daily attack plans to solve those crimes and prevent future offenses. To ensure this new philosophy is achievable, the city is divided into three smaller, more manageable geographic districts. The majors who command these districts are provided specialized resources and the latitude to deploy them as they deem necessary. The goal is to attack emerging crime patterns and trends that are unique to each geographic area. Assigning these officers and employees to the districts allows each one to become its own autonomous police station.
The decentralization of resources also places officers and employees in close proximity to the citizens they serve. This allows the formation of intimate working relationships and a firsthand knowledge of the issues in the assigned geographic areas of responsibility.
Tracking offenses as they occur becomes a critical element of the new crime-reducing tactics. To perform this tracking, each district is assigned a crime analyst to provide daily intelligence. They create a daily report that identifies when particular crimes are occurring, how and where the crimes are being committed, and who the likely offenders are. This information allows for a much more efficient and effective deployment of crime-fighting resources, but also quickly creates a massive flow of information to the officers, mostly in printouts and emails.
While these efforts are a major step forward in intelligence-led policing, it became clear that the process was not sufficient enough to manage the rapid flow of information coming into the police department. Officers were inundated with emails, spreadsheets, maps, and overwhelmed by accessing over a half-dozen different systems to see critical information. The problem isn't too much information – it is that the information they have isn't usable in the way they were distributing it. It is nearly impossible to fight crime in email.
The answer came when in 2012, Street Smart™, a high-speed information sharing solution built on the proven methods of the TPD, was launched. Street Smart gives police officers in the field the kind of real-time information normally associated with crowd-sourcing and blogging and frees police-generated data from backroom analytics via one central system. This high-speed information sharing enables officers to combat crimes faster by visualizing data points on maps and allowing police officers to aggregate and share relevant information through situation-based bulletins and police discussion boards.
Prior to implementing Street Smart, reports were compiled daily and computer mapping of crime data was completed on a weekly and monthly basis. Street Smart takes this one step further by supplying up-to-the-minute data feeds, maps, discussion boards, bulletins and case management tools. Officers no longer need to rely on a roll call board, information on notepads, meeting takeaways, and multiple systems—crime data is now in one common operating picture that is updated around the clock.
Proactive and preventative policing
Once a clear and simple mission is developed, district commanders are assigned all the resources necessary to combat crime in their area. Each district major receives real-time intelligence to deploy their resources effectively; thereby, raising the level of accountability at all levels of the organization. A department-wide cultural shift from only responding to 911 calls to a new, proactive approach has energized Tampa police officers. As they saw their efforts making a difference, the department saw a boost in enthusiasm and morale. A sense of urgency permeates every call—even the most minor of crimes. That momentum prompts officers to develop initiatives to address crime problems specific to their assigned areas.
Each officer and employee is rewarded for displaying initiative that embraces the Tampa Police Department's annual crime reduction goals. These goals are distributed department-wide to ensure each officer develops a vested interest in reaching them. The department then launched a series of proactive initiatives that focused on the Big Four. Each of these operations indirectly reduces violent offenses because criminals who commit a series of burglaries may be more likely to commit an aggravated assault or worse.
Partnering with the community
A department-wide philosophy of "Community Oriented Policing" permeated the organization. Proactive communication with community leaders and cooperative partnerships with neighborhoods also helps reduce crime and improve the quality of life. Officers are tasked with identifying the needs and concerns of those living or working in the areas they patrol, and a collaboration of residents, neighborhood watch members, civic association groups, business partners, and neighborhood mobile patrols are critical to the department's crime reduction success.
The department's community-driven philosophy establishes and maintains an open line of communication and mutual trust with the community. Websites and email campaigns are used to send real-time information. Crime prevention tips, crime alerts, and arrest information is consistently emailed. The Public Information Office creates an external publication that is sent to the community and posted on the City of Tampa's official government website. The publication highlights what the department is doing to keep the community safe. It also educates citizens on how they can get involved in the department's daily efforts to improve their neighborhoods. This constant communication and combined effort has become essential in the Tampa Police Department's efforts to reduce crime.
Best Practices & Looking Ahead
The Focus on Four plan was the catalyst for a dramatic change in police culture, moving away from a reactive approach toward a proactive one. At the time the TPD launched this plan in 2002, they had one of the highest crime rates for a city of its size. Now, the city of Tampa boasts one of the lowest crime rates for a city its size. The plan is dynamic, evolving on a monthly, weekly, and sometimes daily basis to keep up with changing crime patterns. Recently, due to an uptake in retaliatory shootings, Tampa added a 5th category of Shootings to their focus resulting in double-digit reductions in violent crime. Since incorporating Street Smart into their Focus on Four plan, TPD has seen overall crime go from a 47% reduction to a nearly 76% reduction with further reductions happening on a daily basis by the exceptional officers of the Tampa Police Department.