Police departments traditionally consider crime rates in terms of “whodunit.” But recent studies indicate that effective crime reduction may be better understood through a different lens. Data points to small geographic spaces where crime rates appear increasingly higher than the community or precinct at large. Experts in criminal studies are calling the concentrated areas “hot spots”. They argue that enhanced hot spots policing strategies and resources, like police patrols deployed to high crime streets or blocks, can result in long-term prevention rather than apprehensions.
What Makes Hot Spot Policing Different?
Hot spots policing strategies do not operate under the assumption that police departments have ignored geography as an important factor. Precincts, districts, patrol areas, and even police who walk beats work within a place and respond to incidents within a geographic area. But even though much of police work is rooted in location, the mindset has primarily focused on perpetrators.
Basing hot spots policing practices on people caused misconceptions that people-based demographics have been used negatively as “profiling.” The use of location-centric concepts eliminates that unhealthy perception of hard-working peace offers and supports the idea of community policing efforts. The basic difference is that hot spots policing invests additional resources into microcosms where community members struggle with unusually high crime rates.
Is Hot Spot Police Patrols More Effective?
It’s essential to understand that hot spots policing is not the latest law enforcement fad. Diligent research has evaluated this theory for decades. Experts have arrived at similar conclusions that focusing on geography proves effective.
According to a 2004 report by the National Research Council, “studies that focused police resources on crime hot spots provided the strongest collective evidence of hot spots policing effectiveness that is now available.” A hot spots policing review published in 2012 echoed those sentiments, noting that 20 out of 25 test studies indicated crime rate reductions when hot spot strategies were applied. In Disorder Hot Spots: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Anthony Braga concluded that “extant evaluation research seems to provide fairly robust evidence that hot spots policing is an effective crime prevention strategy.”
What makes the idea of deploying additional officers with the tools and protective gear necessary to restore order in high crime locations attractive is the result. When departments and communities go all-in on location-based crime deterrence, the data did not point to a geographic shift. In other words, putting out a high crime fire in one sector did not result in perpetrators setting up shop in a nearby neighborhood. That indicates that localized criminal activity can be dealt with and safety restored without negatively impacting the next neighborhood.
How Do Hot Spot Police Patrols Work?
Although some view hot spots policing strategies as sound, in theory, the research that has been published draws from boots-on-the-ground experience. There’s nothing purely academic about deploying additional officers, assets, equipment and crunching the crime incident numbers afterward. The following conclusions were drawn from different cities across the country.
- Minneapolis Hot Spots Patrol Experiment: A study published in the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy (CEBCP) indicates that an increased police presence alone results in lower incident rates. The Minneapolis PD increased patrols in hot spots by 15 minutes regularly, and disorderly conduct declined.
- Micro Places: A 2008 study published in the CEBCP indicates that problem-solving strategies and resources deployed in hot spots proved effective. According to the report, “Total calls for service were reduced by 19.8 percent … All crime types showed reductions, although the degree of reduction varied across crime categories. The systematic observation data revealed that indicators of social and physical disorder were significantly reduced…”
- Problem-Oriented Policing: When increased hot spots policing was coupled with Problem-Oriented Policing strategies in Jacksonville, Florida, crime rates did not noticeably decline during a 90-day saturation period. However, following the initial uptick in hot spots policing, street violence reportedly dropped by 33 percent. Nuanced strategies appear to take longer to show benefits, but they may provide long-term results.
Refocusing how law enforcement views crime prevention can deliver significant relief for people living in high crime pockets. Increasing a police presence remains a tried-and-true way to let mischievous people know they are more likely to be apprehended. But by that same token, communities are asking police officers to place themselves at increased risk by immersing them in violent areas among dangerous offenders.
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