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Reforming to Preserve: Compstat and Strategic Problem Solving in American Policing

This paper provides the first national description of Compstat programs, considered in the framework of strategic problem solving. Relying on a survey of American police departments conducted by the Police Foundation, they examine the diffusion of Compstat programs and the nature of Compstat models throughout the US. They also assess the penetration of models of strategic problem solving more generally into American policing. Data suggest that many elements of strategic problem solving had begun to be implemented more widely across American police agencies before the emergence of Compstat as a programmatic entity, and that such elements have been adopted broadly even by departments that have not formally adopted a Compstat program. While maintaining that Compstat holds out the promise of allowing police agencies to adopt innovative technologies and problem-solving techniques and empowering traditional police organizational structures, their analysis suggest that at this stage, what most characterizes Compstat departments and distinguishes them from others is the development of the control element of this reform. Considering this, they question whether the rapid rise of Compstat in American police agencies can be interpreted more as an effort to maintain and reinforce the bureaucratic or paramilitary model of police organization, than as an attempt to truly reform models of American policing.

Authors: David Weisburd, Stephen D. Mastrofski, Ann Marie McNally, Rosann Greenspan, and James J. Willis

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