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06/17/2020



Research has shown that proactive, preventative policing tactics that concentrate police resources on small places or groups of people in small places (known as hot spots) are effective at reducing violent crime. However, little is known about which policing tactics are most effective for hot spot policing.

A team of researchers conducted a randomized, controlled experiment in Philadelphia in order to find out which policing tactics are most effective at hot spots. Three policing tactics were used in relatively small, high-crime places in the city:
  1. Foot patrol (FP) – Concentrated foot patrols emphasizing deterrence through increased police presence in hot spot areas.
  • Minimum of 8 hours per day, 5 days a week, for 12 weeks.
  1. Problem-oriented policing (POP) – A proactive approach focused on identifying and solving problems using both non-law enforcement and traditional law enforcement solutions.
  • Conducted in between other duties by teams of district officers working with community members and personnel from police headquarters.
  1. Offender-focused policing (OF) – An intelligence-led policing approach concentrating police resources on high-risk targets based on information received from intelligence analysts.
  • Teams of officers from the districts’ tactical operations that focused on identified, repeat offenders that were thought to be causing problems in hot spot areas.
27 hot spots of each tactic were identified, from which 20 were selected for the identified treatment and 7 held back as control areas. This resulted in a total of 60 violent crime hot spots (20 per tactic) randomly assigned to receive “treatment” (the policing tactics), and 21 hot spots (7 per tactic) were designated as the control sites (receiving ‘business-as-usual’, standard policing for the city). All three policing tactics were done in Philadelphia by the same police department (Philadelphia PD) in a similar time period.

Most FP sites were functioning by mid-June of 2010 since this tactic was the easiest to implement. OF and POP officers received training before these tactics were implemented, and they took longer to get up and running because both tactics were more difficult to put into action. The POP sites required partnership and communication between multiple agencies. All the OF sites were functioning by October of 2010, but it took until November for all the POP sites to be operational. Across the various hot spots, the tactics ran for a minimum of 12 weeks and a maximum of 24 weeks.

This experiment was designed to realistically represent how policing tactics at hot spots would be implemented under normal conditions within a large urban police department. OF sites reduced all violent crime by 42% and reduced violent felonies by 50% compared with their control sites. However, POP and FP did not significantly reduce violent crime or violent felonies. Researchers did not find evidence of displacement of crime.

Researchers summarized and interpreted their findings thus:
  1. The effectiveness of each tactic has to do with how it is implemented. In the case of Philadelphia, the police department were already well-versed with an offender-focus approach.
  2. The size of the hot spots matter for successful crime prevention – it is possible that FP is only effective when done in hot spot areas that are smaller than used in this study.
  3. Even though violent crime tends to be concentrated in a relatively small number of places, the crime rates in these small areas does not seem to be constant over short periods of time (weeks or months).

The results of this experiment reflect the implementation of these three tactics within a large, urban police department. Researchers called for the replication of this experiment in different cities and police departments across the country to get a better understanding of which policing tactics are most effective in different places.

TAKEAWAYS
  • The Philadelphia Police Department conducted a randomized, controlled experiment in order to find out which policing tactics (foot patrol, problem-oriented policing, or offender-focused) are most effective at hot spots.
  • Offender-focused sites reduced all violent crime by 42% and reduced violent felonies by 50% compared with their control sites.
  • Problem-oriented policing and foot patrol did not significantly reduce violent crime or violent felonies. Researchers did not find evidence of displacement of crime.

References

Groff, E. R., Ratcliffe, J. H., Haberman, C. P., Sorg, E. T., Joyce, N. M., & Taylor, R. B. (2015). Does What Police Do at Hot Spots Matter? The Philadelphia Policing Tactics Experiment. Criminology, 53(1), 23–53.