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Defining the Problem

NCJ Number
Robert V. Wolf
Date Published
January 1999
13 pages
This paper discusses the importance of and procedures for obtaining data about community problems that determine the focus of a community justice project, which is intended to provide problem solving resources for the community.
Since the focus of all community justice projects is solving local crime and public safety problems, one of the foremost tasks for planners is to identify the key problems that the targeted neighborhood faces. The first step in identifying a community's problems is to go directly to the community, i.e., its leaders, its merchants, and its residents. Focus groups, surveys, individual interviews, and attendance at community meetings are all tools planners can use to determine how various segments of the community view what is wrong and right with the community. The second step is to obtain more specific data, including statistics on crime patterns and the disposition of cases. The third step for planners is to analyze how community problems are currently handled. This can involve interviews with key players, e.g., police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and probation officers. Data gathering can also involve first-hand observation by sitting in court, accompanying police officers on a ride-along, or being with a probation officer for a day. The intent of such data gathering is to look for inefficiencies and areas that call for improvement. After obtaining data on community problems, the task is to develop proposed solutions tailored to the problems. This is also done by soliciting ideas from members of the community and the criminal justice system. Planners should also look at other jurisdictions that have handled similar problems in creative ways. So far as possible, programs with proven success should be the first effort, so as to avoid debilitating trial and error.