Micro Places – Braga & Bond (2008)

Study Reference:

Braga, A. A., & Bond, B. J. (2008). Policing crime and disorder hot spots: A randomized controlled trial. Criminology, 46 (3), 577-607.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Micro places; Focused; Proactive; Very rigorous; Effective

What police practice or strategy was examined?

The study examined the impact of a problem-oriented policing project implemented in hot spots in Lowell, Massachusetts. The intervention followed the scanning, analysis, response, and assessment (SARA) model. A number of responses were used to deal with the underlying problems in each hot spot, including situational interventions, social services (e.g., providing housing for the homeless), and order maintenance (which resulted in a significant increase in misdemeanor arrests). Monthly meetings represented an ongoing SARA process, in which previous practices were evaluated with citizen calls for service data and adjustments were made to improve the treatment and better control crime. The intervention lasted for a year from September 2005 to August 2006.

How was the intervention evaluated?

A randomized experiment was utilized for the evaluation. Thirty-four hot spots were identified with 17 randomly assigned to the treatment group and 17 to the control group, which received routine police strategies guided by Compstat meetings. A two-block catchment area was included around the final hot-spot areas to detect displacement or diffusion effects. Citizen emergency calls for service data were examined, along with observational data used to measure the pretest and posttest physical and social incivilities at the treatment and control places.

What were the key findings?

The problem-solving approaches employed in the treatment areas resulted in far more problem-solving responses and greater crime control gains compared to the Compstat approaches used in the control areas.[1] Total calls for service were reduced by 19.8% in treatment vs. control hot spots. All crime types showed reductions, although the degree of reduction varied across crime categories. The systematic observation data revealed that indicators of social and physical disorder were significantly reduced at the treatment places relative to the control places. Further, no call categories experienced significant displacement or diffusion. A mediation analysis indicated that situational prevention strategies generated the strongest crime prevention gains and increasing misdemeanor arrests also had a smaller crime reduction benefit. The use of social service strategies was not associated with significant reductions in crime.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

The authors suggest that when adopting a policing disorder approach to crime prevention, police departments should work within a problem-oriented policing framework and adopt a community coproduction model and a situational approach rather than drifting toward a zero tolerance policing model that uses arrest to address social incivilities.

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

[1] Bond and Braga (2015) further revealed important differences between problem-solving meetings and Compstat meetings that likely resulted in the observed differences in outcome, including more traditional hierarchical command structure in communication process, little collaborative planning, and lower appreciation of the roles and expertise of others in the group in the Compstat meeting.