Hot Spots Policing

RESOURCES

Hot Spots Lab (Matrix Demonstration Project)
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“Place-Based Policing” (David Weisburd, Police Foundation Ideas in Policing Lecture)
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5 Things You Need to Know about Hot Spots Policing and the Koper Curve (Police Foundation)
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Policing Problem Places: Crime Hot Spots and Effective Prevention (Anthony A. Braga and David Weisburd)

 

 

 

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.

 

Fairness and Effectiveness in Policing: The Evidence (National Research Council)
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Hot Spots Policing Effects on Crime (Anthony Braga, Andrew Papachristos, and David Hureau, Campbell Collaboration systematic review)
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“Hot Spots Policing Can Reduce Crime” (National Institute of Justice)
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Hot Spots Policing (CrimeSolutions.gov)

What is the Evidence on Hot Spots Policing?

Hot spots policing is listed under “What works?” on our Review of the Research Evidence. 

 

The evidence base for hot spots policing is particularly strong. As the National Research Council (2004: 250) review of police effectiveness noted, “studies that focused police resources on crime hot spots provided the strongest collective evidence of police effectiveness that is now available.”  A Campbell systematic review by Braga et al. (2012) comes to a similar conclusion; although not every hot spots study has shown statistically significant findings, the vast majority of such studies have (20 of 25 tests from 19 experimental or quasi-experimental evaluations reported noteworthy crime or disorder reductions), suggesting that when police focus in on crime hot spots, they can have a significant beneficial impact on crime in these areas.  As Braga (2007: 18) concluded, “extant evaluation research seems to provide fairly robust evidence that hot spots policing is an effective crime prevention strategy.”

 

In Braga and colleagues’ meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies, they found an overall significant average effect of hot spots policing, suggesting a meaningful benefit of the hot spots approach in treatment areas compared to control areas. Importantly, there was little evidence to suggest that spatial displacement was a major concern in hot spots interventions. Crime did not simply shift from hot spots to nearby areas.

 

Violent Crime in America: What We Know About Hot Spots Enforcement (Police Executive Research Forum Critical Issues in Policing Series)
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“A Hot Spots Experiment: Sacramento Police Department”
(Office of Community Oriented Policing Services)
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25 Techniques of Situational Crime Prevention (Center for Problem-Oriented Policing)
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Policing Crime and Disorder Hot Spots: A Randomized Controlled Trial (Anthony Braga and Brenda Bond)
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What is Problem-Oriented Policing (POP)? (Center for Problem-Oriented Policing)
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A Randomized Controlled Trial of Different Policing Strategies at Hot Spots of Violent Crime in Jacksonville (Bruce G. Taylor, Christopher S. Koper, and Daniel J. Woods)

 

 

What Should Police Be Doing at Crime Hot Spots?

1. The Minneapolis Hot Spots Patrol Experiment suggested that increased police presence alone leads to some crime and disorder reduction. Officers were not given specific instructions on what activities to engage in while in hot spots. They simply were told to increase patrol time in the treatment hot spots.

 

Koper (1995) found that each additional minute of time officers spent in a hot spot increased the amount of time after officers departed before disorderly activity occurred until a plateau was reached. The ideal time spent in the hot spot was 14 to 15 minutes. The best approach for saturation patrol is for police to travel between hot spots, spending about 15 minutes in each hot spot, and moving from hot spot to hot spot in an unpredictable order, so that potential offenders recognize a greater cost of offending in these areas because police enforcement could increase at any moment.  These recommendations were applied to a hot spots experiment in Sacramento, where treatment hot spots received 15 minute visits from patrol visits approximately every 2 hours.  The intervention was associated with declines in calls and serious incidents.

 

2.The Braga and Bond (2008) hot spots experiment in Lowell, Massachusetts assessed which hot spots strategies were most effective in reducing crime. Results suggested that situational prevention strategies had the strongest impact on crime and disorder. Such strategies focus on efforts to disrupt situational dynamics that allow crime to occur by, for example, increasing risks or effort for offenders or reducing the attractiveness of potential targets. Such approaches include things like razing abandoned buildings and cleaning up graffiti. Increases in misdemeanor arrests made some contribution to the crime control gains in the treatment hot spots, but were not as influential as the situational efforts. Social service interventions did not have a significant impact.

 

3. An additional promising approach for dealing with crime hot spots is having officers incorporate principles from problem-oriented policing (POP). A recent experiment in Jacksonville, FL was the first study to compare different hot spot treatments in the same study with one treatment group receiving a more standard saturation patrol response and the second receiving a problem-oriented response that focused on officers analyzing problems in the hot spot and responding with a more tailored solution. Results showed a decrease in crime (though not a statistically significant decrease) in the saturation patrol hot spots, but this decrease lasted only during the 90 day intervention period. In the POP hot spots, there was no significant crime decline during the intervention period, but in the 90 days after the experiment, street violence declined by a statistically significant 33 percent. Problem solving approaches may take more time to show beneficial results, but any successes that come from a problem-oriented framework may be more long-lasting in nature. Braga and colleagues (2012) conclude in their systematic review that problem solving versus a focus on just increasing enforcement may bring about longer-term crime control gains. As they note, “While arresting offenders remains a central strategy of the police and a necessary component of the police response to crime hot spots, it seems likely that altering place characteristics and dynamics will produce larger and longer-term crime prevention benefits” (Braga et al., 2012: 32).

 

Micro Place Studies from the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix
Not all micro place studies are hot spots studies. Hot spots policing studies represent 27 of the 36 micro place studies in the Matrix.

microplace-slabDownload a full list of studies included in the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix

Hot Spots Policing Studies from the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix:

 

Author
Intervention
Bichler et al.  (2013) Problem-oriented policing, focusing on outreach to motel owners and operators, code enforcement, and permit ordinance to increase pressure on uncooperative motel operators full-circle
M
F
P
Braga et al. (1999) Problem-oriented policing in violent crime hot spots leads to reductions in violent and property crime, disorder and drug selling full-circle
VR
F
HP
Braga & Bond (2008) Focus on hot spots of crime leads to reductions in crime and disorder calls for service full-circle VR F P
Braga et al. (2012) Safe Street Team problem-oriented policing project associated with a reduction in violent index crimes at treatment hot spots relative to comparison places full-circle R F HP
Di Tella & Schargrodsky (2004) Blocks that received extra police protection experienced significantly fewer car thefts than the rest of the neighborhoods full-circle
R
G
R
Groff et al. (2014) -Offender focused An approach focusing on known offenders led to a reduction in violent crime and violent felonies full-circle
VR
F
P
Hope (1994) Case studies of problem-oriented policing and drug-market locations. Forced closure or sale of property reduced drug dealing full-circle
M
F
HP
Lawton et al. (2005) Police officers on drug corners in Philadelphia led associated with significant localized intervention impacts for both violent and drug crimes. full-circle
M
G
P
Mazerolle, Price et al. (2000) The use of civil remedies and third party policing associated with reduced drug crime, especially in residential locations full-circle
VR
F
HP
Ratcliffe et al. (2011) Foot patrol associated with a significant decrease in crime in hot spots that reach a threshold level of pre-intervention violence full-circle
VR
G
P
Sherman & Weisburd (1995) Substantial increases in police patrol associated with reduction in total crime calls and more significant reduction in disorder at high crime hot spots full-circle
VR
G
P
Taylor et al. (2011)– POP Problem-oriented policing in hot spots associated with a 33% drop in “street violence” during the 90 days after the intervention full-circle
VR
F
HP
Telep et al. (2014) Spending approximately 15 minutes at treatment hot spots to reduce calls for service and crime incidents full-circle
VR
G
P
Weisburd & Green (1995) Crackdowns on drug hot spots reduced disorder; no effects on violence or property crime full-circle
VR
F
HP
White & Katz (2013) Problem-oriented policing at convenience store locations led to a 40% decline in calls for service at target stores. full-circle
M
F
P
Hegarty et al. (2014) Hot spots policing design using both visibility and visibility/activity, both of which reduced crimes and calls for service. grey-circle
VR
G/F
P
Koper et al. (2013) Use of license plate readers has significant impact on drug crimes, other crimes (including auto crimes) had more mixed or nonsignificant results grey-circle
VR
F
P
Piza & O’Hara (2014) Saturation foot patrol produced reductions in violent crime, with evidence of both temporal and spatial displacement grey-circle
VR
F
P
Rosenfeld et al. (2014) -Directed patrol plus enforcement Directed patrol plus enforcement activities reduced total firearm violence, but produced no change in firearm robberies grey-circle VR F P
Sherman & Rogan (1995) Crack house raids reduced crime for about 12 days; crime reductions decayed quickly  grey-circle
VR
F
P
Buerger (1994) Problem-oriented policing in high crime addresses leads difference in calls for service in commercial treatment vs. control addresses, but small decline in residential calls in treatment area empty
VR
F
HP
 Groff et al. (2014) – Foot patrol  Foot patrol did not lead to reduction in violent crime empty VR  F  HP
 Groff et al. (2014) -POP Problem-oriented policing did not lead to a reduction in violent crime, however likely due to weak implementation empty VR F HP
Lum et al. (2010) Use of license plate readers mounted on patrol cars in autotheft hot spot areas not associated with declines in auto crime or crime generally in two jurisdictions empty
VR
G
P
 Rosenfeld et al. (2014) -Directed patrol only  The directed patrol intervention had no significant impact on any of the outcome measures. empty VR  G  P
 Weisburd et al. (2012)  Broken windows policing had no evidence of an effect in calls for service empty VR  G  P
Taylor et al. (2011)– Saturation Saturation/directed patrol in hot spots not associated with a significant decline in crime in the post-intervention period empty
VR
G
P

All of these studies are micro places on the X-axis of the Matrix

 

Result: full-circle =successful intervention; grey-circle = mixed results; empty = nonsignificant finding; backfire = harmful intervention

Rigor: M = moderately rigorous; R = rigorous; VR = very rigorous

Y-axis: F = focused; G= general

Z-axis: R = reactive, P = proactive, HP = highly proactive

Seattle Police car image courtesy of Flickr user evilpeacock and used under a Creative Commons license.