Micro Places – Weisburd et al. (2021)

Study Reference:

Weisburd, D., Gill, C., Wooditch, A., Barritt, W., & Murphy, J. (2021). Building collective action at crime hot spots: Findings from a randomized field experiment. Journal of Experimental Criminology17, 161-191.

See also

Weisburd, D., & Gill, C. (2020). Rethinking the conclusion that community policing does not reduce crime: Experimental evidence of crime reporting inflation. Translational Criminology, 4-6.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Micro places; Focused; Highly Proactive; Very Rigorous; Mixed effects

What police practice or strategy was examined?

This study evaluated the effectiveness of a proactive policing program called Assets Coming Together (ACT). The program attempted to increase collective action and efficacy at crime hot spots in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, with the hopes of improving police legitimacy and reducing crime and fear of crime. A crucial element of ACT was the involvement of the entire patrol force in delivering the program: All patrol officers were expected to undertake the activities described below during their discretionary time (when not responding to 911 calls, taking breaks, or writing reports). The intervention comprised three stages: (1) asset identification, in which officers identified and built relationships with key stakeholders and resources (“assets”)through conversations; (2) coalescence, where officers developed police–community partnerships and strengthened ties among residents; and (3) taking action, where officers and residents moved from getting to know each other to identifying and addressing key community concerns. In practice, two or three officers were assigned to each hot spot within existing patrol teams. Each sergeant was responsible for a small group of hot spots, with oversight from the day and night shift lieutenants.  Given the focus on regular community contact and the fact that night shift officers typically had less discretionary time available, day shift officers did the majority of the outreach work, but night shift officers contributed in other ways, such as providing extra patrols and creating flyers and other materials for community events.

How was the intervention evaluated?

Forty-two hot spots were identified for this study and matched on crime rates and land use characteristics. Within each pairing, hot spots were randomly selected to receive ACT, resulting in 21 treatment hot spots and 21 control hot spots that received a normal police response. The treatment was then implemented over a 16-month period from July 2015 to October 2016. To examine the effects of the intervention on crime, researchers used official police calls-for-service and crime incident data. However, researchers recognized that increased collective action may lead to increased citizen’s willingness to call the police and detection of criminal incidents. To account for this “crime inflation,” researchers adjusted the number of crime incidents based on the number of calls for service. To measure the effects of the intervention on collective action (e.g., problem-solving), legitimacy, and fear of crime, researchers used a two-wave community survey conducted before and during the experiment.

What were the key findings?

The findings of this study are mixed. Before adjusting for crime inflation, researchers found no significant difference in criminal incidents between treatment and control groups. However, calls for service increased in treatment areas during the intervention period, and after adjusting for this, results indicated a significant reduction in criminal incidents for treatment areas compared to control areas. Survey results also indicated that the intervention led to significant increases in collective action among residents, but had little impact on collective efficacy and police legitimacy, while fear of crime increased at treatment sites.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

The authors suggest that collective actions at hot spots can be encouraged through programs like ACT and that ordinary policing resources can be successfully used to carry out such programs. By adjusting for crime inflation, this study also suggests that such interventions can lead to crime prevention benefits, though they may also result in increased citizen reporting of crime.

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