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A Synthetic Control Approach to Evaluating Place-Based Crime Interventions



This paper presents a new quasi-experimental approach to assessing place based policing to encourage the careful evaluation of policing programs, strategies, and operations for researchers to conduct retrospective evaluations of policing programs.


We use a synthetic control model to reduce the bias introduced by models using non-equivalent comparison groups to evaluate High Point’s Drug Market Intervention and demonstrate the method and its versatility for evaluating programs retrospectively.


The synthetic control method was able to identify a very good match across all socio-demographic and crime data for the intervention and comparison area. Using a variety of statistical models, the impact of High Point Drug Market Intervention on crime was estimated to be larger than previous evaluations with little evidence of displacement.


The synthetic control method represents a significant improvement over the earlier retrospective evaluations of crime prevention programs, but there is still room for improvement. This is particularly important in an age where rigorous scientific research is being used more and more to guide program development and implementation.

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  1. A “banked” case refers to a potential prosecution for narcotics sales, supported by audio and video evidence usually obtained through a controlled buy that is held in inactive status unless the subject of the prosecution continues dealing, at which point an arrest warrant is issued and prosecution proceeds.



  4. Therefore, when an infrequent event, such as homicide occurs, it raises the monthly incidence level so high that it is exerts undue influence on the matching algorithm.

  5. Weights were applied as probability/survey weights in STATA VERSION 12.

  6. These initial models were limited to twelve month pre-post tests.


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This work was supported by the National Institute of Justice (Grant Number 2010-DJ-BX-1572). We would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments, and Beau Kilmer and Allison Ober who provided helpful reviews of earlier versions. We offer additional thanks to our scientific steering committee: Anne Piehl, Rodney Brunson, Scott Decker, Jonathan Caulkins, and George Tita.

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Correspondence to Jessica Saunders.

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Saunders, J., Lundberg, R., Braga, A.A. et al. A Synthetic Control Approach to Evaluating Place-Based Crime Interventions. J Quant Criminol 31, 413–434 (2015).

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