TOPPS - it is not what you think

On April 2nd I gave a talk on Tourism Policing: How Police Departments Can Interact for Better Tourism Security,” at the International Tourism Safety Association annual meeting in Las Vegas. We received a great welcome - Vegas Style - from former Mayor Goodman and two show girls. See photo at left.

As is NOT typical to conferences, I was not responsible for the title of my own presentation.  I was asked to talk about community policing in connection with tourism and was happy to enumerate what community policing has to offer.

So, initially, I did not even pay attention to the title and saw it reflecting the need to provide better security for tourism by using community policing principles.  At the conference I first learned about TOPPS: Tourism Oriented Policing and Protective Services.  The idea sounded great. So I queried TOPPS on google only to find over 4 million entries but not a single one related to tourism safety.  There are companies, baseball and football cards, apparel products, bakeries, university programs on health, comics, investments, but nothing on tourism safety. Only a search on TOPPS with the added words of tourism safety revealed a number of entries most associated with “Tourism and More” which is the web site of Dr. Peter Tarlow who offers sessions on TOPPS in connection with tourism safety and who was the moderator of the conference. 

I paid attention to the other presentations as I was intrigued that to date I have never heard about TOPPS and I remain wondering if any member of our committee had.  Two issues came to the surface by the end of the conference: 1) other than Dr. Tarlow’s talk about TOPPS there is absolutely no mention of it in the literature, no research, and no theoretical conceptualization. Tarlow’s book on Tourism Security was just published and the paperback edition is expected to be in print in July. I doubt it fills the gap as it is slated more as a “how to” approach with no indication of any theoretical or conceptual discussion.  2) There was a great deal of talk about the need to establish tourist police and that concerns me. Even worse, there was a repeated recommendation during the conference to designate specific officers and specific units to serve as tourist police. I have not seen any reference to TOPPS as a philosophy but rather as a specific program.

Indeed, if that is the case, the nice and appropriate title of tourism oriented policing is missing the target altogether.  It is oriented in name only. A number of countries are active in establishing tourism police departments or designation of special units; this is the case in the Caribbeans, Nepal, and Latin America. Aruba even passed a new law a few months ago where crime against a tourist is going to be penalized more severely than a crime against a local citizen.  It is yet to be tested in court.

I am all in favor of tourism oriented policing where the entire department adopts the philosophy that tourism safety is important and then it tries to proactively co-produce tourism safety with relevant partners and stakeholders.  Designating specific officers or specific units is wrong.  What will the rest of the department be doing?

For example, the City of Las Vegas is a top destination tourist city with an estimated 40 million visitors a year.  Its police department (which is actually a city-county department) has approximately 2700 officers. For a city/county of this size of visiting population and in a 24-hour city that does not sleep, designating specific officers or a unit is simply a drop in the bucket as the departmental resources are already stretched to the limit.

So if we now see recommendations for tourist police next we will see church police, or science police or any specific subject matter police.  That is not only a waste of resources but it goes to show a grave misunderstanding of police mission, organizational realities, budgetary considerations, deployment tactics, and effective interventions.

Tourism is clearly an important economic engine and for some it is the major or the only economic source of living.  If anything, it behooves those who are interested in the safety of travel and tourism to better understand the concept of policing, community policing, and the co-production of public safety.  The principles of community policing should be looked at as a valuable source to assist tourism oriented policing with concepts and practice alike. After all, tourism oriented policing is nothing but a private case or a derivative of community policing. There is absolutely no need to reinvent the wheel.

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Blog Comments

Todd A. Robbie, I agree with your assessment, to the point that I don't at all see the need to have TOPPS. As you noted, there is nothing documenting this in the literature, no evaluations, so I wonder what the impetus is for this. Now, I can see that many places that have large numbers of tourists would want to protect them to protect their economic impact, but you don't have to have a "new" form of policing to accomplish that. Many areas in Central America, along with the Caribbean do have police that focus on "tourist areas" to provide a sense of security to those visiting their countries, however, this again isn't a new form of policing or something that only certain officers should do. Again, I go back to the issue that community oriented policing is the backbone philosophy of policing that encompasses such tactics as intelligence led policing, hot spot policing, and problem solving policing, among others. If you don't have the community policing focus of partnerships, problem solving, outreach, and trust building, none of these other tactical or strategies of policing will work. Whenever law enforcement has "special" police or police dedicated to specific units, we lose something and divide our total resources. How often have we heard "we do the real policing" and those special unit guys just (fill in the blank). Is it a good idea to protect tourists that visit your community or your country? Yes. Is this all there is to tourist policing? No. Protection and security for the tourists is one thing, but what about the issue of "tourists" who travel that turn out to be criminals or terrorists traveling for specific criminal purposes or to achieve their objectives? Wouldn't you want all officers who work in "tourist" areas to be visible, regularly engage tourists to observe suspicious actions, establish relationships with tourists to gather information about what they may have observed, identify and solve crime problems impacting tourists, etc.? I believe that this "tourist policing" can be done by all the officers who regularly work in the tourist areas and by implementing the philosophy of community oriented policing agency-wide.
June 25th at 2:37PM ET
Morgan Robbie - spot on as usual. TOPPS sounds like a fad vice an established approach to community safety. I'd rather see a CP program that takes into account the unique nature of Las Vegas and tourism and builds a solution instead of a tactic.
June 25th at 10:16AM ET