What is Hot Spots Policing?
Over the past two decades, a series of rigorous evaluations have suggested that police can be effective in addressing crime and disorder when they focus in on small units of geography with high rates of crime. These areas are typically referred to as hot spots and policing strategies and tactics focused on these areas are usually referred to as hot spots policing or place-based policing.
This place-based focus stands in contrast to traditional notions of policing and crime prevention more generally, which have often focused primarily on people. Police, of course, have never ignored geography entirely. Police beats, precincts, and districts determine the allocation of police resources and dictate how police respond to calls and patrol the city. With place-based policing, however, the concern is with much smaller units of geography than the police have typically focused upon. Places here refer to specific locations within the larger social environments of communities and neighborhoods, such as addresses, street blocks, or small clusters of addresses or street blocks. Crime prevention effectiveness is maximized when police focus their resources on these micro-units of geography.
Hot spots policing covers a range of police responses that all share in common a focus of resources on the locations where crime is highly concentrated. Just as the definition of hot spots varies across studies and contexts (from addresses to street segments to clusters of street segments), so do the specific tactics police use to address high crime places. There is not one way to implement hot spots policing. The approaches can range rather dramatically across interventions.
For example, the strategies of place-based policing can be as simple as drastically increasing officer time spent at hot spots, as was the case in the Minneapolis, MN Hot Spots Patrol Experiment. But place-based policing can also take a much more complex approach to the amelioration of crime problems. In the Jersey City, NJ Drug Market Analysis Program Experiment, for example, a three-step program (including identifying and analyzing problems, developing tailored responses, and maintaining crime control gains) was used to reduce problems at drug hot spots. Also in Jersey City, a problem-oriented policing (POP) approach was taken in developing a specific strategy for each of the small areas defined as violent crime hot spots.
We note that predictive policing shares in common a focus on place-based prevention efforts, although the focus is more on predicting where crime is likely to occur in the future rather than responding to past/ongoing crime concentrations. The only predictive policing study currently in the Matrix (Hunt et al., 2014) used a larger geographic unit of analysis (i.e. the police district), finding no impact of predictive enforcement on property crime.