Micro Places – Gill et al. (2018)

Study Reference:

Gill, C., Weisburd, D., Vitter, Z., Shader, C. G., Nelson-Zagar, T., & Spain, L. (2018). Collaborative problem-solving at youth crime hot spots: a pilot study. Policing: An International Journal, 41(3), 325-338.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Micro places; Focused; Highly proactive; Rigorous; Mixed findings

What police practice or strategy was examined?

This study examined a collaborative problem-solving approach that deemphasized arrests at hot spots of youth crime. The Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, Seattle Police Department, City of Seattle, and Seattle Neighborhood Group (SNG, a community crime prevention non-profit) implemented this pilot program in two youth crime hot spots in downtown Seattle from June 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014. This problem-solving intervention stressed the importance of non-enforcement approaches that avoided increasing the likelihood of youth being arrested and processed through the criminal justice system. To develop solutions for their sites, the teams used police data, CPTED assessments, local knowledge, and informal conversations with business and community stakeholders to identify the risk factors driving youth crime. Six officers and a sergeant worked on the project. In one hot spot (a park), the intervention involved cross-agency efforts to promote collective efficacy, CPTED, and the transfer of one homeless man to sheltered housing to address property and drug offenses and high levels of disorder at that site. In the other (a retail street), the intervention included a “buy-bust” operation focused on adult drug offenders that had driven youth drug crime and enforcement of disorderly conduct.

How was the intervention evaluated?

Two pairs of youth crime hot spots were matched based on the number and type of youth incidents and the characteristics of the blocks (e.g., retail vs. residential, types of business), after which they were randomly assigned to the treatment group or the control group. The study then measured the pre- and post-intervention differences in crime incidents and calls for service between the treatment and comparison hot spots.

What were the key findings?

In one treatment hot spot, where problem-solving activity was more consistent, the intervention was related to a nonsignificant 3% increase in calls for service relative to its comparison site. In the other hot spot, where the focus was more on enforcement, despite the emphasis on non-arrest approaches, the treatment was associated with a significant 29% reduction in calls for service relative to its comparison site. Results were similar on crime incidents, which went up by 4% (nonsignificant) in one treatment hot spot relative to the control site, and were significantly reduced by 27% in the other hot spot as compared to its counterpart.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

One explanation for the mixed findings is that the initial enforcement activities might be more likely to yield an immediate deterrent effect, while problem-solving strategies might take longer to show effects. In addition, the police usually relied on outside assistance to solve problems, such as adapting environmental designs or providing social services. This multi-agency approach was more difficult to implement as planned than continuing initial enforcement activity. The findings might also have reflected increased reporting of crime resulting from improvements in the relationship between community members and police following the collaborative problem-solving strategies. Overall, the authors suggest that when addressing youth crime hot spots where enforcement is necessary, police should carefully plan and balance with community and environmental strategies to prevent large numbers of youth from entering the juvenile justice system.

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