Problem Solving – SARA
SARA � Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment
SARA has been used for some time in problem-oriented
policing (POP) as a methodical process for problem solving.
It is an integral part of the philosophy of community
policing in the US.
It is of use to crime reduction practitioners in any
field as applying the process can ensure that a crime
problem is effectively identified and tackled, avoiding
any waste of time and resources if only part of the
actual problem is identified. SARA is also commonly
used within the police service, so an understanding
of the process may help partner organisations to work
with the police to tackle local problems.
Its four stages are:
Scanning � spotting problems using knowledge, basic data and electronic maps
Analysis � using hunches and information technology to dig deeper into problems� characteristics and underlying causes
Response � devising a solution, working with the community, wherever possible
Assessment � looking back to see if the solution worked and what lessons can be learned.
Scanning allows incidents to be grouped into clusters
or �problems�. These problems comprise similar, related
or recurring incidents and are identified from police
data and intelligence and calls from members of the
The definition of what constitutes a �problem� is deliberately
left open as there is an almost endless range of situations
where the public may call the police. Incidents may
vary in terms of their seriousness, particularly in
crime terms, but they are all of concern to the community
and call for a police response.
Problems identified in the scanning phase of the process
should not be �one-offs�; they should be problems which
have been recurring for some time, certainly over a
period of months. It makes more sense to spend time
and resources on a long-term problem than on one that
would have only lasted for a couple of weeks.
In this phase, crime reduction practitioners identify
the conditions that give rise to a particular problem
by examining the characteristics and impact of the problem
in greater detail. For example, scanning might have
revealed that there were many thefts from shops in a
particular area, but analysis will provide the hour,
day or month that the thefts took place and from which
Analysis may involve collecting information about offenders
and victims, the time of occurrence, location and other
details of the physical environment, the history of
the current problem, the motivations, gains and losses
of involved parties, the apparent (and hidden) causes
and competing interests, and the results of current
Police and other practitioners may need to talk to
colleagues, partners, local businesses, or to members
of the community to better understand the problem. As
well as police data, information held by other organisations
such as insurance companies, hospitals, local authorities,
probation and schools may be useful.
Another tool which can be used at this stage is the
Analysis Triangle (PAT) which appears to derive
from the Routine
Activity Theory developed by Cohen and Felson (1979)
and Felson (1994). PAT breaks incidents down into three
the features of the incident�s location
the features of the caller/victim
the features of the offender or of the source of
It helps to be as precise as possible in defining the
problem, having identified the incidents to be included
in the analysis. It is crucial to establish what it
is about the place, caller or victim, and the offender
or source of the problem that causes it to arise, and
how and when happens. This may need some lateral thinking
to define the factors behind a problem.
An accurate assessment of the problem is one of the
main elements of POP. If a response to a problem fails,
the practitioner can then return to the analysis to
see whether another element might be influenced.
Response refers to any action taken to try to address
a problem. This might vary from the simple � for example
a practitioner advising someone what they should or
should not be doing � to the complex, such as a practitioner
involving the community and local bodies to set up a
project to help young people.
Work done in the analysis phase helps to identify or
isolate the element that can most easily and effectively
be tackled to try to resolve a problem. Often, responses
will combine actions to tackle more than one aspect
of the problem identified during the analysis phase.
In selecting responses, it is crucial to work out in
detail how they are expected to produce their intended
A simplistic example of potential responses for a problem
is given below. Detailed scanning and analysis
would enable officers to devise better ways of responding.
Problem – gangs of youths frequently attacking or
intimidating people leaving a pub and walking along
a poorly lit street
Tackling the lack of lighting by bringing the
problem to the attention of the relevant authority
Considering why the youths hang around the area,
to establish whether there is something that brings
them there, or whether there is a lack of other
places to go
Enlisting the help of the local community by
encouraging them to keep a special watch on the
area and to lobby the local authority to provide
better amenities for young people
Targeting police resources such as foot and car
patrols in the area at the particular times identified
by analysis when the incidents are most frequent
Bringing the problem, and efforts to tackle it,
to the attention of the local media to try to
improve the reputation of the area
In the final stage of SARA, practitioners review attempts
to deal with a problem and evaluate how successful they
have been. There are three major reasons why the assessment
stage is very important:
To find out whether a particular problem still
exists and requires continuing attention. This is
important in deciding whether to continue to deploy
resources to respond effectively to the problem.
To improve problem-solving skills by finding out
what seems to work in differing circumstances. This
avoids reinventing the wheel and contribute to the
�what works� knowledgebase and the dissemination
of good practice.
To enable effective problem-solving to be recognised
within the police service and other organisations,
acknowledging individuals’ efforts.
Assessment can be difficult to do well and as a result
is often largely overlooked. It must be a routine feature
of any problem-solving structure. Assessment is not
an evaluation of the performance of those involved but
what happened when a problem was tackled.
An assessment that concludes that a problem has been
dealt with successfully does not always mean that it
has been eliminated. There are many different types
of success. For example:
The problem and its impact remain the same but
the volume of police effort to respond to it may
The harm to the public may be reduced even though
the number of incidents remains the same.
The number of problem incidents may be reduced.
The problem may be entirely eliminated.
Needs a clear definition of the problem and a description
of how it is being addressed in order to focus measurement
where success is most realistically to be expected.
Needs a good description of what was actually done
and when action was taken as there is often a difference
between what was planned and what was actually done.
Needs to identify whether a response failed to
achieve its hoped for outcomes because it was not
applied as had been intended, or whether it genuinely
failed to make an impact.
Needs a collection of incident and other data about
the problem before and after the response and the
identification of the precise action taken to resolve
the problem, rather than basic before and after
measures at an aggregate level.
Although SARA can be used as a guiding process for
problem solving, it would be wise not to see it as the
answer to everything as it can be limited in its effectiveness
if it is employed in too mechanistic a fashion.
Examples of poor use of SARA within problem solving
not making full use of historical data available
not doing in depth analysis because it is felt
that enough is known about a problem to understand
it without special research
not keeping the phases distinct from each other
using it to justify an already chosen solution,
rather than as a means of gaining deeper understanding
of what is happening.
PROblem, Cause, Tactic or Treatment, Output and Result
was devised to enhance the SARA model but does not appear
to have been taken up, given the already widespread
use of SARA.
Not Rocket Science? Problem-solving and crime
Crime Reduction Research Series Paper 6, Tim Read and
Nick Tilley, London: Home Office, 2000
PDF 184 Kb
Problem-oriented Policing Brit Pop
Crime Detection and Prevention Series Paper
Adrian Leigh, Tim Read, Nick Tilley. London: Home Office,
PDF 579 Kb
Brit Pop II: problem-oriented policing in practice
Police Research Series Paper 93, Adrian Leigh, Tim Read,
Nick Tilley. London: Home Office, 1998
PDF 801 Kb
Facilitator�s Guide � The Mechanics of Problem
The Community Policing Consortium, supported by the
US Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented
Policing Services 1997?
(free download on the Police Executive Research Forum
PERF) PDF 267 Kb
What makes a good SARA? Mike Townsley
& Ken Pease, August 2001
97 (53 Kb)
Contact Supt Simon Byrne at Merseyside Police for further
Much of the description for each
stage of SARA has been adapted from Problem-oriented
Policing Brit Pop paper listed above, with reference
to the other reports and papers.
This summary is hopefully a useful starting point
if you wish to use the SARA process as a tool in your
own problem solving work.
A more enhanced framework tool can be found in
the Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity, which has been
designed to apply to all crime reduction activity, rather
than particularly police-led work.
Date added: 17 January 2002
Review date: July 2002
Originator: Crime Reduction College Information Team
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