Micro Places – Weisburd et al. (2012)

Study Reference:

Weisburd, D., Hinkle, J.C., Famega, C., and Ready, J. (2012). Legitimacy, Fear and Collective Efficacy in Crime Hot Spots. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

Location in the Matrix, Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Micro Places; General; Proactive; Very Rigorous; No evidence of an effect

What police practice or strategy was examined?

This study examined the impact of applying the “broken windows” thesis (Wilson & Kelling, 1982) to a hot spots policing intervention in three cities in the San Bernardino Valley area of California (Redlands, Ontario, and Colton).  Broken windows theory suggests that eliminating visual signs of social disorder and neglect will increase residents’ feelings of safety and empowerment to exercise informal social controls, which ideally will help control and reduce disorderly and criminal behavior. Based on the theory, police can play an important role in helping address these signs of disorder. Participating officers were instructed not to ignore any instances of physical or social disorder in target areas, but they had broad discretion in deciding how to address disorder problems. This was not a zero tolerance intervention that required arrest or citation in response to disorderly activity. For most of the study period, the 55 target street segments received an extra 3 hours of police presence per week. The intervention was thus designed as an intensive increase in police presence and activity in hot spots. The intervention spanned from June 2008 through January 2009.

How was the intervention evaluated?

In order to test this theory, this study examined the impact of a 6-month broken windows policing style crackdown on disorder in 55 targeted hot spots areas compared to control areas using a blocked randomized design. 371 hot spot residents completed both waves of a pre-post survey measuring fear of crime/perceived risk of victimization, police legitimacy, collective efficacy, and perceived social and physical disorder design. Crime and disorder outcomes were assessed pre and post intervention using police calls for service data.

What were the key findings?

The analysis of official measures of crime and disorder showed no significant changes in calls for service as a result of the intervention. Additionally, the findings did not support the belief that broken windows policing at hot spots would significantly reduce levels of fear of crime among people who lived on the targeted streets.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

Broken windows policing in such a small dosage may not be an effective strategy to reduce crime and disorder. The study suffered from low statistical power (because base rates of crime at target hot spots were relatively low compared to hot spots in more urban areas) and a relatively modest treatment (3 hours per week in intervention areas). Further research is needed to determine the effect of broken windows policing on crime and disorder in crime hot spots.

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