by Bill Flury

The “Ten Most Wanted” Cars

At the morning roll call the Indianapolis Chief of Police spoke to his patrol officers about his frustration with their inability to locate stolen cars. He held up the stolen car listing that showed the make, model, year, color, and license plate data for the 128 cars currently being sought. Then he pointed out that the recovery rate was really very poor – only 1 or 2 a week – and they should be getting a lot more. At this rate, the list was continuing to grow because the theft rate was outstripping the recovery rate. The public, especially the citizen’s whose cars had been stolen, were getting pretty upset so they would have to find a better way to spot and recover the cars on the list. He asked for ideas on ways to improve on what they were doing.

The next week one of the patrol officers asked for and got time with the Chief to present his idea. When they met, he told the Chief his view of the problem they were having in spotting the stolen cars. He said that the list they were getting at the roll call each morning was too long. As they were riding on patrol and looking at cars along the way there was no good way to match up in their head all the cars they were seeing with all the data on the cars on the list. He said that what they needed to do was find a way to better focus their attention on what they should be looking for. He reminded the Chief how good the patrols were in finding cars when they were just looking for one at a time like when they got an APB to look for a “Red, 4 door Kia, with a license number ending in 534, just seen leaving a robbed 7-11 on Earle Street”.  They almost always got these quickly and it because they could easily remember exactly what they should be looking for.

He told the Chief that his idea was to do something that would narrow down the stolen car list to help make it easier for the patrols to focus on something to look for. He thought something like the FBI’s very successful “10 Most Wanted List” would help and he and the Chief discussed how that had begun and why it worked so well.

One of the FBI’s longest-running programs — the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives — was the result of a newspaper story. In 1949, International News Service reporter James F. Donovan asked the FBI: “Who are the 10 toughest guys you are looking for?” The FBI gave him a list. Donovan’s front-page report in The Washington Daily News displayed photos of four escapees, three con men, two murder suspects and a bank robber. The list was a hit. It clearly focused the public’s attention on the really bad guys and people began to spot them and call in tips to the FBI that would lead to them to the people on the list.  Some of the fugitives were captured quickly as a result.

The idea, outlined by the officer, was to create a “10 Most Wanted” car list for the patrol officers to use as a target listing instead of the big spreadsheet.  He suggested that they could select which cars to focus on by selecting some very visible characteristic that would be easy to see. His choice was car color. Each day he would select and print out from the list a short list that would include just the stolen cars of one specific color. Because of all the variations in color the list of those of just one color would usually include only about 10-12 cars. Then, the patrol officers could focus their attention on just the cars of the “color of the day” as they rode patrol.

This approach would be a lot easier for them. They only had to look carefully at cars of the specified color and they only had to keep in mind the license numbers or other data about the cars of that color as they thought about a match. The Chief thought this might work and gave the go-ahead.

Starting the next week, each morning at roll call, the patrols were told the “Stolen Car Color of the Day” and given a list of the data for the stolen cars of that color. Then, they went off to their normal patrols. The results were striking. Recovery rates went up immediately. The patrols began to pick up 1 or 2 a day instead of 1 or 2 a week. As one of the officers put it, “The new approach required me to look less and see more.” He only had to look at cars of the color of the day and that would give him a bit more time let him take a bit closer look at those cars.

Lesson Learned

Narrowing the focus helped the officers concentrate on what they needed to do.

We all have many things on our “To Do” lists. Maybe it would help if each morning when we are planning our day, we could choose three “Most Wanted” items and mark them for completion today Then, through the day we could remember to focus on making sure, as a minimum, we complete those three. What do you think?