Study Reference:

Groff, E. R., Ratcliffe, J. H., Haberman, C. P., Sorg, E. T., Joyce, N. M., Taylor, R. B. (2014). Does what police do at hot spots matter? The Philadelphia Policing Tactics Experiment. Criminology, p. 1-31.


Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Micro places, Focused, Highly Proactive; Very Rigorous; No evidence of an effect (but likely due to implementation issues)


What police practice or strategy was examined?

This study examined three different approaches to hot spots policing – foot patrol, problem-solving, and offender-focused strategies. Hence, this study is reported three times in the Matrix, and the focus for this summary is the problem-solving approach. All POP team members attended 1 day of training on the theoretical foundation of POP, the problem-solving process, and examples of POP in practice. Each step in the SARA process was addressed: scanning (gathering data to identify and understand the problem), analysis (analyzing the data that were gathered), response (developing tactics to address the problem), and assessment (evaluating what, if any, effect the tactics have had on the problem). Specific actions taken at each site varied with the problem identified. Overall, each tactic ran for a minimum of 12 weeks and a maximum of 24 weeks at any single target area.


How was the intervention evaluated?

A total of 81 high crime areas were identified for the overall study. 27 of these areas were selected as amenable for each condition (thus, there were 27 areas selected for the offender-focused portion of this study). Of these 27 areas, 20 areas were randomly assigned to receive problem-oriented policing strategies and 7 acted as control sites that received usual police services. The researchers examined two separate violent crime outcome measures: all violent crime and violent street felonies, both taken from the Philadelphia Police Department’s crime incident database.


What were the key findings?

The problem-oriented policing approach did not result in statistically significant reductions in violent crime relative to control areas. However it is important to note that the authors detail significant implementation difficulties related to this intervention, which may have led to this finding. A systematic review on problem-oriented policing shows that this tactic is generally effective in reducing crime.


What were the implications for law enforcement?

The findings are interesting given that many previous studies have indicated that problem-solving can be a very effective hot spots approach. The authors suggest that the findings may be the result of problem-oriented policing being relatively a new approach, and that officers still had to answer calls for service during the initiative. Problem-oriented activity (unlike the foot patrol and the offender-focused teams) was also conducted during downtime and at irregular and unpredictable periods between other duties. Dosage was difficult to determine. Finally, fidelity and fieldwork surveys indicated almost half ot the POP sites did not implement POP targeting violent crime problems (which was the study’s objective).


Where can I find more information about this intervention, similar types of intervention, or related studies?

Systematic review on problem-oriented policing

All studies in the Matrix on micro places

Increase police presence in hot spots

More information on problem-oriented policing

COPS Office Review on POP