Neighborhood – Piza et al. (2020)

Study Reference:

Piza, E. L., Wheeler, A. P., Connealy, N. T., & Feng, S. Q. (2020). Crime control effects of a police substation within a business improvement district: A quasi‐experimental synthetic control evaluation. Criminology & Public Policy, 19(2), 653-684.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Neighborhoods; General; Proactive; Rigorous; Mixed effects

What police practice or strategy was examined?

This study examined the impact of increased police presence on crime control following the opening of a police substation in September 2012, within a business improvement district in Newark, New Jersey. This initiative emerged from a partnership between the Newark Police Department and the Newark Downtown District, where the latter contributed by hiring a crime analyst to assist with tracking geospatial crime trends and increasing the number of quality-of-life ambassadors in the target area. The substation was responsible for patrolling an area of 0.35 square miles in downtown Newark, which is smaller than those managed by standard police precincts or sectors. The officers assigned to the substation area conducted foot and vehicle patrols over two eight-hour shifts each day. During each shift, six officers typically patrolled the substation’s target area, representing a higher police presence than the usual single patrol unit in other areas (which consisted of two officers). Ultimately, the effect of the substation on patrol deployment resembled a saturation patrol strategy, a marked increase in proactive police activities in the targeted area.

How was the intervention evaluated?

Researchers identified 314 street units, encompassing 194 street segments and 120 intersections, that fell within the substation target area. They then created control areas that resembled the target areas in terms of demographics, environmental characteristics, and pre-intervention crime trends. To assess the crime reduction effects of a police substation, they compared changes in violent and property crimes from pre-intervention to post-intervention periods in target and control areas from September 2012 through July 2018. Additionally, to measure spatial displacement, changes in crime in catchment areas were analyzed over the intervention period. Researchers also monitored changes in police activities, including arrests, field interrogations, quality-of-life summonses, directed patrol activities, and parking and moving violations.

What were the key findings?

The study found that the heightened police presence in the substation’s target areas led to significant reductions in burglary and motor vehicle theft compared to the control areas. However, there was spatial displacement observed for robbery and theft from autos. In the post-intervention period, there was an increase in quality-of-life summonses and directed patrols, while the issuance of parking summonses decreased.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

Increased police patrols have resulted in a decrease in certain types of crime, such as burglary and motor vehicle theft, after the opening of a police substation. However, the authors suggest that spatial displacement for other crimes, including robbery and theft from auto, could be influenced by the specific timing of police visits and the distinctive characteristics of the target area, which might require different policing approaches. To prevent spatial displacement, they recommend brief, intermittent patrols focusing on hot spots to influence offender decision-making more effectively. Despite mixed results, this study highlights the benefits of a police substation that is accompanied by visible police visits and collaboration with community stakeholders (i.e., Newark Downtown District), beyond the mere presence of a physical facility.

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