Neighborhood – Pace (2010)

Study Reference:

Pace, S. A. (2010). “Assessing the impact of police order maintenance units on crime: An application of the Broken Windows Hypothesis”. Unpublished M.A. Thesis, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Location in the Matrix, Methodological Rigor, and Outcome:

Neighborhood; Focused; Proactive; Moderately rigorous; No evidence of an effect

What police practice or strategy was examined?

This study evaluates a police order-maintenance unit designed to reduce minor and major offenses, initiated in April 2009 in certain neighborhoods of northwest Las Vegas, Nevada. Order maintenance, drawing on the Broken Windows hypothesis, consists of paying attention to disorder and attempting to address the quality of life issues that affect the citizens in an area. The broken windows theory argues that if police reduce minor incivilities and disorder, then the area will become less susceptible (or present fewer opportunities) to violent offenses because criminals will feel less comfortable operating in those areas. Studies suggest that disorder reduction strategies reduce crime, with the strongest effects generated by interventions designed to change social and physical disorder conditions at particular high-risk places (Braga et al., 2015). For this study, a Las Vegas Police Metropolitan Police Department “order maintenance team” operated in a target area identified by a high volume of violent calls for service for 84 days beginning April 25, 2009. Officers performed order maintenance functions, in which they had to learn the unique problems of the area by communicating with citizens. The team was told that some of the ways they could accomplish this task was to more frequently communicate with citizens in the area and attempt to learn where the problem addresses were and who the prolific offenders in the area were. The order maintenance team was also told that they did not have to meet a quota for arrest or citations. It was explained to the team that informal actions such as a warning would be appropriate for situations they deemed to use it in.

How was the intervention evaluated?

The study employed a quasi-experimental research design utilizing a pre and posttest approach. The treatment was an eight-member squad of officers deployed four days a week, operating between the hours of 2:00pm and 12:00am, Wednesday through Sunday. The units were eight marked patrol units operating in the target area during the time the team was deployed, and they were not to be mandated to respond to any normal calls for service. Calls for service for major and minor crimes, as well as self-initiated field activity, were examined in the target area and 2 comparison areas that did not receive the intervention. The study employed several different time periods for comparison purposes and to control for seasonal effects.

What were the key findings?

There were no significant reductions in minor or major offenses in the target area for any of the time periods analyzed. The only significant finding was that self-initiated field activity increased in the target area compared to the year prior.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

While there is evidence that targeted order maintenance approaches can reduce crime (Braga et al., 2015) that was not the case in this particular context. The author suggests the possibility that once police became more accessible to the citizens in the experimental area, the citizens felt more comfortable in reporting offenses (which could have offset crime reduction effects from the program). However, it is difficult to judge the nature, focus, and intensity of the intervention team’s operations from the available information.

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