Brain power

What does good policing look like and how does a community define it? – The value of user stories and use cases

Like much of politics, policing has an essentially local focus.  In other words, how the police operate, integrate within, and how they ultimately serve and protect their communities depends on a local context. Said differently, a view or judgement that policing outcomes are successful or not (serving community needs) is directly tied to local demographics, governance infrastructure, police systems and operations and their collective ability to listen, hear, understand and address the concerns, challenges, and needs of the local population, the constituents who should benefit from policing. Essentially, it is about understanding the local constituents needs or requirements – the “users’ needs and requirements” – and designing and deploying  police operations and infrastructure to successfully deliver to these requirements.

Emotional calls for defunding the police or abolishing the police may make one feel better, that they are doing something. I get it … but talk is cheap.  Taking the time to carefully consider and understand the community needs with respect to policing and desired outcomes takes much more time, patience, and skill to develop solid, meaningful, and local requirements that drive a specific and contextual community police solution.

How do you do this … effectively and sustainably?

As a knowledge management practitioner for 20 years, I know that successful and sustainable solutions to business and operational challenges are evidence based, rely on solid information, and include proven experience and insight in their development – good knowledge.  Successful solutions are based on common understanding and consensus, if not agreement, on a clear vision and shared, desired outcomes. Without a clear vision and shared, defined outcomes, probability of failure increases and success becomes increasingly illusory and frustrating. You see this now in many dimensions regarding policing across the country.

For discussion purposes and knowing that this will be an extraordinary difficult task to successfully complete, let us assume that the “cancel culture” is put aside and a local community (e.g. town, county, etc.) of political and service department leader’s and constituents is able to sit down to listen, to hear, to discuss, and to decide and gain some consensus on the following question:

“What does good policing look like in our community?”

And assuming the community can characterize a shared common vision for what kind of policing solution the community will build together, one of the key tasks for moving forward is breaking down that vision of what “good policing looks like” into actionable pieces of work based on specific requirements that when satisfied will answer the “good policing” question.

I suggest that an effective, context-based way to get to these requirements is through written “user stories or use cases?” User stories and use cases communicate needs or requirements from the view of the recipient and beneficiary of the provided service and support. In this case, the police support that generally most, if not the majority of, people in every community needs.

The value of user stories and user perspectives is a bottom up approach to defining success which in turn benefits from a top down perspective on what support is available and how it can be provided.  The intersection is often an “effective” fit solution.  This approach also begins to address what roles the police must fill and the services that police not only provide, but also roles and services that may be best provided by other community organization infrastructure. Align the budget available and projected and create a phased strategy (how to do it) and implementation plan (what to do to implement) to deliver the communities policing and support requirements, and you develop a mechanism that is evidence based and requirements based from a user perspective.  It may also turn out that this evolving understanding of the solution makes budget alignment less challenging since the details have been on the table. Trade-off discussions will likely follow on what and how…but you know the requirements because you have shared consensus on them.

User stories/ Use cases are the building blocks for communicating and understanding

User stories/Use cases can help to address:

  1. What good policing looks like in the community and what outcome this will provide
  1. How each part of the policing solution adds value from the users and beneficiaries of the policing operations as well as from the police who provide the services and support
  1. The overall community benefits from the value those evidence-based solutions offer
  1. Because they add value through helping to explain how the policing system should behave and in the process also help to identify where risks and challenges exist they can detail the desired outcomes.

User stories/Use cases can include the following elements:

  • Actor – anyone or anything that performs a behavior (who is using the system).
  • Stakeholder – someone or something with vested interests in the behavior of the system under discussion (SUD).
  • Primary Actor – stakeholder who initiates an interaction with the system to achieve a goal
  • Preconditions – what must be true or happen before and after the use case runs.
  • Triggers – this is the event that causes the use case to be initiated.
  • Main success scenarios [Basic Flow] – use case in which nothing goes wrong.
  • Alternative paths [Alternative Flow] – these paths are a variation on the main theme. These exceptions are what happen when things go wrong at the system level.

Write a Use Case

User stories and use cases should be written in an easy-to-understand narrative1:

  1. Identify who (type/role) is going to be using police services.
  1. Pick one of those users.
  1. Define what that user wants as an outcome from policing. Each thing the user wants from policing becomes a use case.
  1. For each use case, decide on the normal course of events when that user is benefiting from that police service.
  1. Describe the basic course in the description for the use case. Describe it in terms of what the user does and what the (police) system does in response that the user should be aware of.
  1. When the basic course is described, consider alternate courses of events, and add those to “extend” the use case.
  1. Look for commonalities among the use cases. Extract these and note them as common course use cases.
  1. Repeat the steps 2 through 7 for all other users.

In summary, this is one way to rise above the rhetoric and emotion around the value that police should and can provide, how you measure success at the local, contextual level and the value that local success provides. This approach has the ability to enable decisions on policing on grounded in local community requirements and expectations and then to tailor police operations to that community and its expectations and requirements.

I know that this is complicated and challenging in so many ways. It is however a starting point to think through this that is based on shared vision and local, context-based requirements, neither on emotions nor knee-jerk reactions that may do more harm than good.

Header image: Defund the Police Projections in Seattle. Backbone Campaign on Flickr, CC BY 2.0.


  1. Kenworthy, E. (1997). Use Case Modeling: Capturing User Requirements.
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Bill Kaplan

Bill Kaplan, a KM Practitioner, published author, speaker, and KM Coach, is the Founder of Working KnowledgeCSP, an independent, internationally recognized knowledge management consulting company and service disabled veteran owned small business. After a 25-year USAF career, Bill served as the Chief Knowledge Officer and Knowledge Management Practice Manager at Acquisition Solutions, Inc. (ASI), a public sector only management consulting company. Under Bill's knowledge leadership, ASI earned Top 20 North American Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise (MAKE) recognition from Teleos in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Prior to that, he was the Deputy Global KM Practice Manager at SAIC. Bill holds a BS in Business and Economics from Lehigh University, an MBA from The Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and a Professional Degree in Engineering Management with a concentration in Knowledge Management from The George Washington University. Bill is a graduate of The Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy (formerly the Industrial College of the Armed Forces). He is also an adjunct professor in knowledge management at the University of Maryland, Global Campus.

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