East Valley COMPASS

The COMPASS model (Community Mapping, Planning, and Analysis for Safety Strategies), developed by the National Institute of Justice, offers a method for aiding police agencies in the development of more sophisticated and successful problem oriented policing models. COMPASS encourages the harnessing of data, knowledge, and skills in police agencies through the creation of partnerships with researchers and other relevant members of the COMPASS consortium.

The Police Foundation served as the research partner for the COMPASS program in East Valley, California, from May 2002 through July 2004. The major focuses of the East Valley COMPASS initiative–regional data sharing and problem solving–were to be facilitated by a partnership of police and other agencies (e.g., probation and parole, United Way, school districts, hospitals, etc.) in seven jurisdictions in the East Valley–Redlands, Fontana, Colton, Rialto, City of San Bernardino, Highland, and Yucaipa. The main difference between East Valley COMPASS and other COMPASS projects was that seven jurisdictions, instead of just one, would contribute data and be part of the problem-solving partnership. This initiative called for the collaboration of not only police and sheriff departments, but also local governments, healthcare providers, institutions of higher learning, and the private sector.

The focus of our evaluation was developing technology through which regional data sharing could take place among partner agencies, among police and non-police partner agencies, and between partner agencies and the public, and to use these data to conduct regional problem solving. In considering a regional data-sharing effort, one should consider two separate but important areas: technology and the human factor. The human factor will be more difficult to overcome. Some observations from our evaluation follow:

  • In a regional data-sharing effort, reconciling data issues and creating technology will require more time and resources than expected. It is recommended that partner agencies have external staff that is specifically trained in program management, data, and technology, so they will have the knowledge, time, and motivation to complete the necessary regional tasks.
  • To overcome the lack of trust of an external staff by police and city agencies, external staff can monitor and facilitate regional efforts but they should not layer themselves on top of the partner agencies, but insert themselves into the working process regionally.
  • To overcome concerns of privacy and confidentiality, the effort should begin with data sharing (protected) among the partners. Once this is successful, then move to sharing data with the public. Doing this will ensure more participation by the police agencies than if done in the inverse.
  • To overcome political divisions and possible mistrust between police and non-police participants, data-sharing efforts should focus on a specific problem or issue and not “share data just to share it.”
  •  In order to overcome communication issues between participating individuals and their agencies, letters of understanding can be used. Letters are different from memoranda in that they are voluntary and provide confidence and trust instead of making sharing mandatory.

Our study points to more fundamental limitations of regional data-sharing development for regional problem solving. Problems in many communities are simply local phenomena that may not be aided by a regional approach. Consequently, the development of a data system for regional problem solving ignores the specific nature of problems and the practical barriers inherent to accessing diverse databases. Regional data sharing is important, but may be better tailored toward sharing data for short-term tactical purposes (e.g., pattern analysis) or for simply identifying problems, the first step in the problem-solving process, regionally.

See The Limits of Regional Data Sharing and Regional Problem Solving Observations From the East Valley, CA COMPASS Initiative, Rachel Boba, David Weisburd, and James W. Meeker, Police Quarterly, March 2009 vol. 12 no. 1 22-41. http://pqx.sagepub.com/content/12/1/22.abstract