Preventive Patrol Research Paper

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Preventive patrol is the most basic and oldest function of the police and historically has been the primary method that the police seek to prevent crime, maintain peace, and provide general policing services. However, strong evidence suggests that traditional preventive patrol has very limited crime prevention benefit, so over time the police have supplemented this function with other refined interventions that are more strategic, and proactive in nature, including foot patrol, directed patrol, crackdowns, and hot spot policing. These approaches vary considerably across three dimensions, including dosage, geographic and crime/problem focus, and type of intervention.

Patrol is an indispensable service that plays a leading role in the accomplishment of the police purpose. It is the only form of police service that directly attempts to eliminate opportunity for misconduct; it also checks the development of desire for misconduct by destroying unwholesome stimuli, by actively creating wholesome ones, and by favorably influencing individual and group attitudes in its routine daily association with the public.

Insofar as patrol fails to eliminate desire and belief in opportunity, misconduct results. Patrol is then immediately available to investigate offenses, apprehend offenders, and recover stolen property. Constant availability is important because time is of the essence in most police work (Wilson and McClaren 1963, 320).

Patrol has been referred to as the backbone of policing because the majority of sworn officers in most departments engage in this activity (Bayley 1994). Preventive patrol is perhaps among the oldest forms of police technology, dating back to the Bow Street Runners and early formulation of the Metropolitan Police Force in London, but could in fact be traced to thirteenth-century Hangchow, China (Kelling et al. 1974). Preventive patrol relies on the assumption that the omnipresence of the police will deter criminal activity and availability of officers will promote rapid response to crime emergencies, and as such, it continues to be the primary vehicle for the delivery of police services. It is the most basic of police activities. More sworn officers are assigned to patrol than other functions within the department (Bayley 1994), and a significant amount of personnel and capital resources are dedicated to preventive patrol. Typically preventive patrol is the first assignment for rookie officers, where cultural values and production norms are learned and where officers demonstrate their police competency. Patrol affords officers ample opportunity to interact with the public and make high-discretion decisions. As gatekeepers of the criminal justice system, patrol officers can initiate the criminal justice process. However, patrol is no longer the “only form of police service that directly attempts to eliminate” criminal opportunity, and while all police departments continue to engage in preventive patrol, there are many strategies that the police have developed over time to effectively and efficiently realize their public safety goals. Many of these contemporary strategies have evolved from the traditional patrol function.

Patrol seeks to accomplish a variety of goals. Chief among these goals is public safety; however, it is not clear whether this goal is consistently achieved. Other important but secondary goals may include crime prevention, preserving the peace/order maintenance, deterrence, being available to respond to crimes or other emergencies, apprehending suspects, increasing citizens’ perceptions of safety, improving citizens’ attitudes toward the police, traffic enforcement, ensuring roadway safety, identifying and responding to community problems, or responding to any number of service requests from the public. However, preventive patrol – i.e., nondirected, random patrolling by officers when not handling citizen requests or other emergencies – continues to occupy a considerable amount of the typical officer’s time (Famega et al. 2005).

Crime prevention interventions can extend beyond uniformed officers randomly driving around geographic areas waiting to react to citizens’ requests via 911 calls for service. Patrol functions can also include high levels of crime, problem or geographic focus, as well as a variety of interventions from law enforcement to problem solving. This essay examines traditional preventive patrol and its adaptations and will critically examine the impact of patrol through the lens of effectiveness and efficiency. A variety of methods of patrol will be introduced, including random preventive patrol, foot patrol, directed patrol, crackdowns, and hot spot policing. This essay will demonstrate that the best practices for public safety have evolved from the standard, traditional, reactive, passive model of patrol to a more flexible, data-driven, intelligence-led, proactive approach.

Random Preventive Patrol

Typically police jurisdictions are geographically divided into patrol beats or zones, and officers are assigned to these beats in order to conduct patrol activities. Beats deliberately vary in size based on a variety of factors, including residential population, commercial business density, number of calls for service, and crime rates in order to equalize officer workload. The result is some beats are very large (many square miles) while some are very small. These factors, when taken together, have an impact on officer workload and activities (Herbert 1997).

The most influential early study on the impact of preventive patrol was conducted in Kansas City (MO) in the early 1970s. This large-scale experiment involved manipulating the level of patrol allocation (or patrol dosage) across 15 beats in the South Patrol Division of the KCPD for an entire year, with the goal of determining what effect patrol has across a variety of outcomes. Each of the beats was assigned among three treatment conditions: proactive beats were assigned 2 to 3 additional patrol units, reactive beats were assigned no patrol units, and control beats were assigned the normal dosage levels. These beats were matched across a variety of crime and social characteristics permitting meaningful comparisons. Results indicated that assignment to one of the treatment conditions had little significant, or inconsistent, impact on a variety of suspected outcomes. Specifically, victimization surveys indicated no differences across residential and nonresidential burglaries, auto thefts (or thefts from autos), robberies, or vandalism; rates in which crimes were reported to the police did not vary; citizens’ attitudes toward the police, satisfaction with police encounters, and fear of crime did not vary; citizens’ protective measures (e.g., target hardening) did not vary; business owners had similar attitudes toward the police; response times were not faster in proactive beats; and the rate of traffic accidents did not vary (Kelling et al. 1974). Additionally, the project observed that officers had a significant level of uncommitted time; in fact, less than 20 % of an officer’s time was dedicated to crime-related activities, whereas up to 80 % was spent on various service and peacekeeping activities. About 60 % of officers’ total time was “uncommitted.” These conclusions suggest that traditional preventive patrol may not be very effective at achieving objectively measured performance measures (e.g., crime suppression) or subjectively measured performance measures (e.g., citizens’ perceptions).

The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment (KCPPE) remains among the most influential and important examinations of the police function in America. The size and scope of this project was remarkable, and at its time, it was truly unique and, in fact, has not been fully replicated. Yet it is challenging to draw firm conclusions about the impact of the project. The research endeavor was truly path marking; however, methodological and theoretical limitations cast doubt on its findings (see Bayley 1994; Sherman and Weisburd 1995; Weisburd and Eck 2004). Nevertheless, minor adjustments to normal patrol allocations across beats probably do not increase a potential offender’s perception of being caught. Beats in urban environments are often many square miles, so doubling police presence within those areas is likely undetectable. Also, the deterrence model assumes a rational offender is able to calculate the certainty of being caught, where in reality many crimes are the function of impulse, passion, or opportunity, which would break down any inherent value of police presence. Many crimes are not suppressible by patrol, including crimes committed indoors and outside the observation of the police (or offender). Finally, traditional preventive patrol may be too passive and reactive. Assuming that crime is prevented when randomly driving within large patrol beats and waiting for calls for service places the police at a crime prevention disadvantage, as little of these resources are dedicated to anticipating or preventing criminal events (Bayley 1994). Recognizing that officers have significant levels of uncommitted time presents an opportunity to guide proactive activities of officers strategically to increase the deterrent value of routine police activities. As Sherman and Eck (2002, 307) note, “there is little evidence that changing the number of officers patrolling beats has a consistent and measurable impact on crime.” However, although these limitations may undermine the effects of patrol generally, the more focused and strategic uses of patrol may increase the likelihood that patrol officers are in the right places at the right times to deter or interrupt crimes (even those involving impulse or passion) and that their regular presence in hot spots will tend to drive would-be offenders away from areas that provide the greatest opportunities. Also, greater familiarity between police and citizens in high-risk locations may encourage cooperation and trust between these groups and facilitate higher clearances for crimes that do occur.

Another assumption of traditional preventive patrol is that officers will be out in the community and available to respond to citizens’ requests for emergency assistance, and this activity will enhance public safety. While this may be an important service the police provide to the public, rapid response to emergencies has not been closely tied to crime prevention or public safety. The idea is that quick response by officers increases the likelihood of apprehending criminals, and this process provides a general crime deterrence (National Research Council 2004). However, empirical examinations note a weak relationship between rapid response and public safety (Spelman and Brown 1981) mostly because typical calls for service involve discovery crimes, where citizens “discover” the crime long after the offender has fled the scene or that citizens delay in contacting the police even after crimes involving contact with an offender(s). It is unlikely that rapid response will reduce crime (Sherman and Eck 2002), but because it is symbolically important to citizens, many police departments continue to monitor and track response times as an indication of effectiveness.

Why, despite the evidence and conventional wisdom that indicates preventive patrol is not as effective as intended, do police departments continue to utilize it as a core function? Perhaps one reason is citizen demand. Patrol can be viewed as an institutionalized component that is so engrained in American policing that the police may feel they have to minimally conform to citizens’ desires, regardless of whether it is effective. Citizens expect to see uniformed officers patrolling streets in marked vehicles, and police risk criticism if they fail to comply with these traditions. Preventive patrol is a fixture within the institutional environment of policing. Crank and Langworthy (1992, p346) noted that “even though the rituals of 911 systems and random preventive patrol may be neither effective nor efficient as law enforcement or crime prevention strategies, they provide ceremonial evidence that a police department behaves as it should.. .Failure to sustain these important rituals may result in the de-legitimation of a police department.” Therefore, it really does not matter whether patrol “works” (in terms of crime control); the police must do it anyway. Furthermore, preventive patrol and rapid response provides ample opportunity for the police to interact with the public. These encounters are important components of the police–public relationship as it provides opportunities for the police to deliver important service (which is often unrelated to crime). Another reason may simply be habit or organizational inertia. Police organizations continue to assign vast personnel and capital resources to preventive patrol simply because they always have. It is a paradox that citizens may demand the police engage in a particular technology while also holding them accountable for public safety. Tying these concepts together, Mastrofski and Willis (2010) note that traditional preventive patrol is the “main course” that citizens crave – the standard or traditional model of policing provides citizens an opportunity to request police services and summon officers to them for a face-to-face encounter. Perhaps there is nothing more democratic than the ability of citizens to call the police (as agents of government) and know that they will respond, and in fact, citizens are more likely to have an encounter with a police officer than any other governmental representative (Langan et al. 2001). Preventive patrol and rapid response, even if it is ineffective and/or inefficient as crime control, provide other material and symbolic value to both the police and citizens.

But opportunity emerges from this reality. Recognizing the limits of preventive patrol along with the fact that officers often have large amounts of uncommitted time (Kelling, et al. 1974), the police have complemented this strategy with other tactics. Preventive patrol is viewed as the standard model (Weisburd and Eck 2004; National Research Council 2004) of policing, and while preventive patrol may not ever be completely eliminated or replaced, increasingly resources that could be used on patrol are being siphoned away toward strategies that have higher levels of focus and greater diversity in approaches. Supplemental patrol approaches, such as foot patrol, directed patrol, crackdowns, and hot spot policing, seek to focus resources in smaller geographic areas or on specific types of problems, sometimes using real-time, locally relevant crime information. These approaches are presented here within the context of patrol because they do not necessarily indicate a paradigm shift in the philosophy of policing, as problem-oriented policing or community policing may.

Beyond preventive patrol, crime prevention approaches may be characterized across at least three different dimensions. These dimensions borrow heavily from existing conceptualizations of police crime prevention strategies (see Weisburd and Eck 2004; Lum et al. 2011). The first dimension is officer dosage or overall allocation of personnel resources. Officer staffing levels may remain the same, and existing personnel can be reallocated in a more strategic manner with no additional resources. Shifting existing personnel from patrol to other, more focused strategies represents greater efficiency than adding additional personnel beyond current staffing levels (e.g., hiring more officers or more likely paying officers overtime to conduct special projects like crackdowns). Second is focus, including geographic and problem/crime focus. Using data, intelligence, and local knowledge, geographic areas may be identified that have specific types of crime problems, including guns and drugs. Police focus their attention in smaller geographic areas to address these specific types of problems. Third is the type of intervention or the activities that officers emphasize. Officers may be engaged in proactive, zero-tolerance style of law enforcement, or problem-solving approaches, or offender-focused approaches, or other activities that seek to address the problem identified earlier (e.g., trying to remove guns from the street to reduce gun-related crimes). Because crime prevention strategies tend to vary considerably across these and other dimensions, it can be challenging to draw broad conclusions on the best practices, and likewise, it is challenging to label specific activities as being a crackdown rather than directed patrol. What is clearer is that these progeny represent alternatives or supplements to traditional preventive patrol and with that in mind will be discussed collectively.

Foot Patrol

Even since the advent of motorized patrol, assigning officers to foot patrol has remained widely popular for decades. In fact, it is estimated that 55 % of all police departments regularly schedule officers to foot patrol, and utilization is most frequent in larger jurisdictions (Reaves 2010). Because motorized officers spend more time isolated in their vehicles, automobile patrol separates and creates a barrier between the police and the public, but foot patrol or bicycle patrol is positioned to encourage nonconfrontational interactions between officers and citizens, which in part can improve communication and relationships, as well as aid in peacekeeping and service delivery. But despite the widespread adoption of this strategy (which involves significant expenditure of personnel resources), the actual effectiveness of foot patrol is less clear. Evaluations have generally found citizens’ satisfaction with the police and perceived safety increase, but there is a lack of consensus whether foot patrol influences actual crime rates (particularly violent crime rates). Two comprehensive evaluations of foot patrol revealed that although foot patrol may result in a slight reduction in crime, it primarily reduces citizens’ fear of crime and changes the nature of police–citizen interactions toward more positive and non-adversarial exchanges. The major studies were the Newark Foot Patrol Experiment, which included data on foot patrol in Newark and 28 additional cities (Police Foundation 1981), and the Neighborhood Foot Patrol Program, which was conducted in 14 neighborhoods of Flint (MI) (Trojanowicz 1982).

Later reports on the Flint study discovered an increased positive acceptance of the program and confidence in police services (Trojanowicz and Banas 1985). The size of a foot patrol beat should be small enough that it can be covered at least once or twice per shift to improve police– community interactions and reduce fear of crime (Payne and Trojanowicz 1985). At best, evaluations elsewhere demonstrated little-to-modest crime prevention benefit, which may have relegated foot patrol (as a strategy) as an add-on or supplement to real public safety interventions or conceptualized it as a public-relations tool.

Examinations of foot patrol may have been biased toward null results for several reasons. First, patrol areas for which officers were responsible may have been too large, creating dosage problems or diluting any possible benefit. This is analogous to the observations of early patrol experiments (Sherman and Weisburd 1995), and crime prevention and problem solving is more effective when it focuses on geographically small micro-places (Sherman and Weisburd 1995; Weisburd and Eck 2004). Second, the content of what officers actually do also matters. Increases in the mere presence of officers may yield modest crime prevention benefits; however, there is evidence that when coupled with specific problem-solving tactics, the impact may increase (Braga et al. 1999; Weisburd and Eck 2004).

Early examinations of the effectiveness of foot patrol did not use rigorous research methodologies, and stronger research strategies are necessary to inform best practices in police crime prevention strategies.

Recent research conducted within the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) paints a different picture of the effectiveness of foot patrol. The PPD identified micro-places within the city which could be considered hot spots for violent crime (particularly homicide, aggravated assaults, and outdoor robberies). These foot beats were small high-crime areas that averaged about 14.7 intersections and 1.3 miles of surface streets. The intervention involved areas that were amenable to foot patrol, without diluting dosage to the community level. A quasi-experimental design was employed to assign half to a treatment condition (foot patrol) with the other half serving as a control or comparison area. Violent crime in foot patrol areas declined significantly, while no measurable impact was observed in control areas, even after taking possible geographic displacement into account. The greatest crime prevention benefit was observed in the most crime-prone foot beats – those beats above the 60th percentile in their violent crime rate experienced less violent crime than their comparable control areas (Ratcliffe et al. 2011). This proactive, focused, micro-place strategy resulted in a successful outcome, which is consistent with results from evidence-based policing (EBP) studies, in that “police strategies are more effective when they are place-based, proactive and focused” (Lum et al. 2011, p. 5). Foot patrol can be implemented using existing resources, as evidenced in Philadelphia. However, because they can be so labor-intensive, if implemented over a large number of areas, then staffing and personnel increases may be necessary.

Directed Patrol And Crackdowns

Directed patrol represents a more strategic approach to use of patrol resources. While officers may in fact have considerable amount of discretionary time during preventive patrol, this uncommitted time can be interrupted by a call for service at inopportune times, making it challenging for officers to engage in meaningful, strategic crime prevention. Additionally, randomly patrolling throughout assigned beats in order to provide general deterrence may not be an efficient or effective use of resources. Directed patrol seeks to mitigate this by relieving some officers from responding to calls for service in order to provide them with uninterrupted time and further focuses their presence in smaller areas that have higher incidents of crime problems. This can also provide officers an opportunity to tailor interventions to particular areas. For example, an early application of directed patrol occurred in Pontiac (MI), where officers performed aggressive activities at strategic locations during uncommitted time. In analyzing the relationship between directed patrol activities and target crime specifically robberies, burglaries, auto thefts, and larcenies from automobiles, the number of arrests during program periods increased significantly. Results suggested that intervention while on directed patrol had more of an effect on crime than simply how many police were on patrol or how much time was devoted to directed patrol. Proactive patrol activities, such as arrests, vehicle stops, and field interrogations, decreased “at least some categories of reported crime” (Cordner 1981, 52), and Sherman and Eck (2002, 310) explain, “while there is very little empirical support for the effectiveness of adding more police across the board, there is a consistent body of strong scientific support for concentrating police patrols at places and times where crime is the most likely to occur. Patrolling low crime areas is unlikely to improve safety, but more patrolling in high crime places can be effective.” Intensive, sudden, short-term increases in officers’ presence and proactive arrests for specific or all offenses in particular areas are known as crackdowns. Police crackdowns have been used to focus the attention of officers in particular areas for a variety of place-specific problems and as such may be considered a more intense form of directed patrol. This approach assumes that crackdowns increase the perceived risk of apprehension while simultaneously focusing on high-risk offenders within targeted areas, achieving crime prevention through deterrence and short-term incapacitation. Evidence indicates that crackdowns can achieve initial deterrence for some offenses as well as crime reduction after the crackdown has ended (e.g., residual deterrence). Crackdowns tend to have positive results – in a comprehensive review of 43 evaluations of crackdowns, Scott (2004) identified 24 that reported effectiveness, while 5 others reported mixed results. Case studies indicated that short-term crackdowns incur less deterrence decay after the conclusion of the strategy than long-term crackdowns, which suggests that personnel resources can be saturated in areas for relatively short periods of time, withdrawn, and crime prevention will linger for periods following the withdraw. This can be an effective and efficient practice, if strategically undertaken. For example, an examination of a 30-day crackdown in Richmond (VA) revealed a 92 % reduction in reported crime, relative to a comparison area. The crackdown produced some residual deterrence over the subsequent 6-month period; however, shortly thereafter some crime had returned to pre-project levels in some parts of the targeted zone (Smith 2001). An intensive crackdown for gun-related offense demonstrated similar benefits. Officers saturated a specific patrol beat in Kansas City (MO) for 29 weeks, during which time they proactively concentrated on removing guns from the street. Gun seizures increased by 65%, while gun-related crime decreased by 49 %. There was no indication of crime displacement to adjacent areas (Sherman et al. 1995). The effect is likely because the intervention was geographically focused to address a specific crime, rather than offering a mere general deterrent effect of increased presence. A similar initiative in Indianapolis that involved directed police patrol in high-crime areas yielded results when employing a targeted offender/specific deterrence strategy on suspicious people and problem places within beats to reducing violence (McGarrell et al. 2001).

There are limitations with crackdowns that are worth noting. First, crackdowns typically are expensive and labor-intensive, which compromises its efficiency as a crime prevention strategy. It is promising that short-term crackdowns yield the greatest residual deterrence; however, intense saturation of patrol in small areas may be cost prohibitive as a general public safety model. This is particularly true if crackdowns are implemented as a special project where officers are paid overtime for participation in the crackdown. In the crackdowns described above, Smith (2001) indicated that 4,812 additional man-hours were realized to implement the crackdown; the Kansas City Gun Experiment was executed with an additional 4,512 officer hours (Sherman et al. 1995); the Indianapolis directed patrol intervention involved 2,905 additional officer hours (McGarrell et al. 2001). Crackdowns, unlike other strategies like the intervention describe above in Pontiac and hot spots policing (to be discussed later) may not be easily implemented with existing resources. Second, crackdowns can compromise police– public relationships. Proactive, zero-tolerance arrests within areas increase the possibility of negative, confrontational police–public contacts that can interrupt the ability of these parties to engage in meaningful coproductive partnerships. Crackdowns that focus on street-level activity in socially disorganized areas disproportionately impact poor citizens, which could not only exacerbate police–public relationships but also heighten fear among residents. It is wise to consult with citizens in advance of implementing crackdowns to determine appropriate and ethical target selection and officer behavior (Sherman, et al. 1995; McGarrell, et al. 2001). Related, because crackdowns involve aggressive law enforcement efforts, there is an increased potential for abuse of citizens’ rights by the police, which further underscores the importance of careful planning and constant monitoring of activities by administration. Crackdowns may be best suited as short-term, quick fixes to emerging problems implemented in consultation with residents rather than a long-term strategic public safety solution, particularly since crackdowns rarely address the underlying causes of crime (Scott 2004).

Hot Spots Of Crime And Disorder

Within patrol beats there may be micro-places that account for a disproportionate amount of police activities. Calls for service, crimes, or disorder tend to be concentrated spatially among a few parcel addresses, street corners, or city blocks and further may be concentrated temporally. An analysis of calls for service in Minneapolis revealed that very few places accounted for a disproportionate amount of recurring problems requiring police attention. In fact, over the course of a year, most places in the city produced one call for service or less, whereas 3.3 % of all places accounted for over 50 % of all calls for service. This was also true for predatory crimes, such as robbery, rape/sexual conduct, and auto theft (Sherman et al. 1989). Places with the highest rate of crime and calls for service which required police attention are referred to as “hot spots” of crime. This has direct implications for patrol allocation in that local information can be used to identify places within the city where crime and calls for service are so frequent that they almost become predictable, and this is further concentrated among certain “hot times” during the day or week. Recognizing that random preventive patrol has limited effectiveness to begin with, and coupled with the reality that much of a patrol officer’s day includes uncommitted time, it becomes possible to strategically allocate officers to hot spots during hot times to effectively impact crime and disorder without significant alterations to personnel resources. Hot spot policing differs from directed patrol or crackdowns primarily in that its geographic focus is much smaller.

There is compelling evidence that hot spot policing can be an effective and efficient strategy to impact crime. Geographically focused policing strategies such as this have been identified as a promising strategy for increasing the effectiveness of the police (National Research Council 2004). Braga (2007) systematically examined existing published empirical examinations and concluded that 7 of the 9 studies reported significant reductions in crime and disorder and therefore will be explored more fully in another entry of the current work (see Telep and Weisburd citation here). The Minneapolis Hot Spots Patrol Experiment was an early examination of the efficacy of this spatially focused approach and was designed to examine the crime prevention effects of patrol officer presence at hot spots during hot times. Police and researchers identified 110 hot spot places and randomly assigned half of these places to a treatment condition. Officers were instructed to be present at one of the targeted hot spots during uncommitted time; thus, this examination was not so much concerned about specific officers’ activities as it was focused on additional officer presence to deter criminal activity. Results indicated that increased police presence in hot spots yielded significant reductions in calls for crime. Calls for service regarding disorder experienced the largest decline, and researchers conducting systematic social observations of hot spots observed less disorder in target hot spots relative to their counterparts. The deterrent effect of hot spot policing may be different from what was observed in the KCPPE because police focused on place-specific “micro-deterrence” (Sherman and Weisburd 1995, 646), thus strategically focusing officers on identifiable, small problem places so as to not dilute their deterrent effect across large beats. Subsequent analyses revealed that the amount of time officers are at a hot spot does not need to be too long to experience measurable reductions in disorder. Officers need to minimally be at a hot spot for 10 min to yield beneficial results, with the optimal time being 14 to 15 min for each hot spot per hot spot. Time spent at a hot spot beyond 15 min begins to yield diminishing returns which compromise the efficiency of personnel resources (Koper 1995).

Lessons from the Minneapolis examination continue to have relevance for everyday patrol work. These results demonstrate that police departments can use timely, locally relevant data to focus patrol activities in very specific locations. Famega et al. (2005) noted that typically 75 % of officers assigned to preventive patrol have uncommitted or highly discretionary time but further note that very little of that unassigned time is spent on proactive strategies such as problem solving. Rather, they note that officer typically engage in routine patrol, back up other officers, or wait to be dispatched. Opportunity arises from this in that patrol officers can target hot spots as part of their normal routine. Internal crime analysts can utilize local crime data, as done in Minneapolis, to continually redefine hot spots, examine the persistence of crime in these micro-places, and reassign officers to emerging hot spots as necessary. This reality, perhaps more than others, has the greatest potential to improve police effectiveness while utilizing existing organizational resources.

Hot spot policing strategies can have notable shortcomings. First, the overall utility of hot spots policing would be mitigated if crime and disorder were merely pushed around the corner – displacing crime and disorder from a hot spot to another location yields a zero-sum gain for public safety, and there exists a serious risk of creating new hot spots in locations that were previously crime-free. Recognizing this risk it is important to monitor areas contiguous to hot spots (i.e., catchment areas). Measuring and monitoring displacement can be complicated, as crime can be displaced territorially (from one location to another), temporally (from one time of the day to another), tactically (changing the method of crime, e.g., auto theft decline but carjacking increase), by target (different victims in the same area), functionally (offenders commit different offenses because the risk of committing the original is too high), or by perpetrator (some offenders are deterred, but new offenders emerge to replace them) (Lab 2010). Previous studies tend to demonstrate minimal territorial displacement to surrounding catchment areas, and in some cases, crime in surrounding areas actually decreases. A diffusion of benefits occurs when areas not targeted for police intervention nevertheless experience residual benefit and crime decreases (see Weisburd and Green 1995). The weight of the evidence on various hot spot policing interventions suggests that the police can impact crime, calls for service, and disorder within localities without significant risk for crime displacement. Second, like crackdowns, hot spot policing may demonstrate short-term impacts with little long-term benefits unless the strategy is coupled with meaning problem solving aimed at addressing the underlying social problems that permitted crime to flourish in the first place (i.e., what made this spot “hot” to begin with?). Third, this approach also runs the serious potential for alienating citizens. If citizens view hot spot policing as police officers saturating the area with aggressive enforcement activities, then the police may inadvertently compromise police– public relations. This can result in labeling or stigmatizing areas (and the people in those areas) as undesirable. To avoid these and other unanticipated consequences, Rosenbaum (2006) encourages comprehensive analyses using a variety of different information sources to identify hot spots; employ a variety of alternatives in the areas to facilitate short-and long-term success; build meaningful partnerships between the police and other governmental, private, and citizens groups who are hidden allies in facilitating public safety; and pay attention to preventing crime across individual, family, and community levels (and not just the microspatial level).


Preventive patrol remains a dominant activity function of the police; however, the evidence suggests that it has limited effectiveness and efficiency in promoting public safety. Over time a number of approaches have developed to counterbalance this reality, and while it remains challenging to suggest that a single evolving approach is superior to another, it is safe to say that they represent a dramatic improvement to and hold more crime prevention promise than preventive patrol.

The evolving nature of street-level activities of police officers to achieve effective and efficient crime prevention comes with it a number of challenges and considerations for policy makers. These considerations are directly related to the dimensions previously developed. First is a strategic allocation of resources. Effective and efficient crime prevention often must be accomplished within fiscal realities; thus, it is important to determine whether officers traditionally assigned to preventive patrol duties can be engaged to participate in the supplements such as foot patrol, directed patrol, crackdowns, or hot spot policing. Will officers be tasked with performing activities during periods of uncommitted time, or will they be untethered from responding to calls for service in order to engage in strategic problem solving? Hot spot policing or some version of directed patrol may be suitable for generalist officers who are still responsible for calls for service, whereas foot patrol and crackdowns may be most easily implemented by either assigning officers to blocks of time where they are not responding to calls to implement this strategy. Interventions that are executed through the use of overtime assignments may be doomed to be inefficient and too episodic in nature to have a lasting public safety benefit, and thus may be reserved for unusual, exigent circumstances rather than business as usual.

Second, identification and focus become paramount importance. Rather than conceptualizing geographic areas as large beats, neighborhoods, or some other arbitrary quasi-permanent boundary, focus would have to be defined as smaller areas within patrol beats. Related, the type of crime, problem, or disorder occurring within the jurisdiction may also vary from place to place. Some areas may be prone to gun-related violence, whereas others are plagued by drugs. Some areas may be hot spots of disorder and public nuisances, whereas others may be prone to violence. Even after disaggregation by these means, further analysis and local knowledge may be necessary. Regardless, greater geographic and crime/ problem specificity is necessary to more fully identify locations in need of supplemental police attention and intervention and must be monitored on a regular basis in order to determine whether problems emerge in new areas (territorial displacement) at different times (temporal displacement) or whether old problems are replaced with new problems (tactical displacement).

Third, interventions will vary and will need to be place and crime specific. Mere presence for general deterrence, problem solving, focused activities, and aggressive law enforcement all can have public safety benefits; however, they must be suited to the geographic and crime/problem focus of different places. Strategic, data-driven, intelligent policing coupled with monitoring of objective and subjective outcomes holds public safety promise beyond the traditional preventive patrol approach.

Fourth, preventive patrol and other interventions will need to make an effort to continually engage the public in a collaborative manner. An unanticipated consequence of random motor patrol is that it separated the police from the public, created a barrier for nonconfrontational interactions, and created social distance between the police and citizens. A conscientious approach to facilitating a partnership between these groups will avoid misconceptions, help the police to strategically identify places of greatest concern and the underlying problems associated with these places, and facilitate effective order maintenance and delivery of police services.


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