Journal of Experimental Criminology

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 297–320 | Cite as

The possible “backfire” effects of hot spots policing: an experimental assessment of impacts on legitimacy, fear and collective efficacy

  • David WeisburdEmail author
  • Joshua C. Hinkle
  • Christine Famega
  • Justin Ready



To examine the impacts of broken windows policing at crime hot spots on fear of crime, ratings of police legitimacy and reports of collective efficacy among residents of targeted hot spots.


A block randomized experimental design with a police intervention targeting disorder delivered to 55 treatment street segments with an equal number of segments serving as controls. Main outcomes were measured using a panel survey of 371 persons living or working in these sites.


The broken windows police intervention delivered to crime hot spots in this study had no significant impacts on fear of crime, police legitimacy, collective efficacy, or perceptions of crime or social disorder. Perceptions of physical disorder appear to have been modestly increased in the target areas.


The findings suggest that recent criticisms of hot spots policing approaches which focus on possible negative “backfire” effects for residents of the targeted areas may be overstated. The study shows that residents are not aware of, or much affected by, a three hour per week dosage of aggressive order maintenance policing on their blocks (in addition to routine police responses in these areas). Future research needs to replicate these findings focusing on varied target populations and types of crime hot spots, and examining different styles of hot spots policing.


Hot spots policing Legitimacy Broken windows Fear of crime Disorder 



This research was supported by grant no. 2007-91116-MD-IJ from the National Institute of Justice. The authors would like to thank Chief Jim Bueerman of the Redlands Police Department, Chief Jim Doyle of the Ontario Police Department and Chief Bob Miller of the Colton Police Department for their willingness to participate in an experimental study, and for their support throughout the project. Appreciation is also due to a number of graduate students who assisted with the project: Jill Christie for her tireless work supervising the survey data collection and data entry; Julie Willis for her invaluable assistance with data cleaning and geocoding; and Cody Telep, Dave McClure and Breanne Cave for their valuable comments on, and edits to, early drafts of this manuscript. Finally, thanks are also due to the anonymous peer reviewers for their helpful feedback.


  1. Appleyard, D. (1981). Livable streets. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bloom, H. S. (2005). Randomizing groups to evaluate place-based programs. In H. S. Bloom (Ed.), Learning More From Social Experiments: Evolving Analytic Approaches. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Publications.Google Scholar
  3. Braga, A. A. (2001). The effects of hot spots policing on crime. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 568, 104–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Braga, A. A. (2005). Hot spots policing and crime prevention: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 1, 317–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Braga, A. A., & Bond, B. J. (2008). Policing crime and disorder hot spots: A randomized controlled trial. Criminology, 46, 577–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Braga, A. A., & Bond, B. J. (2009). Community perception of police crime prevention efforts: Using interviews in small areas to evaluate crime reduction strategies. In J. Knutsson & N. Tilley (Eds.), Crime Prevention Studies (Vol. 24, pp. 87–119). Monsey: Criminal Justice Press.Google Scholar
  7. Braga, A. A., & Weisburd, D. (2010). Policing Problem Places: Crime Hot Spots and Effective Crime Prevention. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Braga, A. A., Weisburd, D., Waring, E. J., Green Mazerolle, L., Spelman, W., & Gajewski, F. (1999). Problem-oriented policing in violent crime places: A randomized controlled experiment. Criminology, 37, 541–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chermak, S., McGarrell, E. F., & Weiss, A. (2001). Citizen perceptions of aggressive traffic enforcement strategies. Justice Quarterly, 18, 365–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clarke, R. V., & Weisburd, D. (1994). Diffusion of crime control benefits: Observations on the reverse of displacement. In R. V. Clarke (Ed.), Crime Prevention Studies (pp. 165–184). Monsey: Criminal Justice Press.Google Scholar
  11. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.Google Scholar
  12. Ferguson, K. M., & Midel, C. H. (2007). Modeling fear of crime in Dallas neighborhoods: A test of social capital theory. Crime & Delinquency, 53, 322–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ferraro, K. F. (1995). Fear of crime: Interpreting victimization risk. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  14. Green, L. (1995). Cleaning up drug hot spots in Oakland, California: The displacement and diffusion effects. Justice Quarterly, 12, 737–754.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Green, L. (1996). Policing places with drug problems. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  16. Greene, J. A. (1999). Zero tolerance: A case study of police policies and practices in New York City. Crime & Delinquency, 45, 171–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Greenwood, P. & Petersilia, J. (1975). The criminal investigation process: Summary and policy implications. R-1776-DOJ, the RAND CorporationGoogle Scholar
  18. Harcourt, B. E. (2001). The illusion of order: The false promise of broken windows policing. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Hinkle, J. C., & Weisburd, D. (2008). The irony of broken windows policing: A micro-place study of the relationship between disorder, focused police crackdowns and fear of crime. Journal of Criminal Justice, 36, 503–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hinkle, J. C., & Yang, S. (2008). What shapes peoples’ perceptions of disorder? An exploratory study of fear, victimization and demographics. St. Louis: Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology.Google Scholar
  21. Hunter, A. (1978). Symbols of incivility: Social disorder and fear of crime in urban neighborhoods. Dallas: Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology.Google Scholar
  22. Jacobs, J. (1961). The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  23. Kelling, G. L., & Coles, C. (1996). Fixing broken windows: Restoring order and reducing crime in American cities. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  24. Kelling, G. L., Pate, T., Dieckman, D., & Brown, C. E. (1974). The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment. Washington: The Police Foundation.Google Scholar
  25. Kochel, T. R. (2011). Constructing hot spots policing: Unexamined consequences for disadvantaged populations and for police legitimacy. Criminal Justice Policy Review (in press)Google Scholar
  26. Levine, J. P. (1975). The ineffectiveness of adding police to prevent crime. Public Policy, 23, 523–545.Google Scholar
  27. Mastrofski, S., Snipes, J., & Supina, A. (1996). Compliance on demand: The public’s response to specific police requests. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 33, 269–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mastrofski, S., Snipes, J. B., Parks, R. B., & Maxwell, C. D. (2000). The helping hand of the law: Police control of citizens on request. Criminology, 38, 307–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. McCluskey, J., Mastrofski, S., & Parks, R. (1999). To acquiesce or rebel: Predicting citizen compliance with police requests. Police Quarterly, 2(4), 389–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. McGarrell, E. F., Chermak, S., & Weiss, A. (1999). Reducing firearms violence through directed police patrol: Final report on the evaluation of the Indianapolis Police Department’s directed patrol project. Washington: National Institute of Justice.Google Scholar
  31. National Research Council (2004). Fairness and effectiveness in policing: The evidence, Committee to Review Research on Police Policy and Practices. In W. Skogan & K. Frydl (Eds.), Committee on Law and Justice, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  32. Pierce, G., Spaar, S., & Briggs, L. R. (1986). The character of police work: strategic and tactical implications. Center for Applied Social Research. Boston: Northeastern University.Google Scholar
  33. Rader, N. E., May, D. C., & Goodrum, S. (2007). An empirical assessment of the “threat of victimization:” Considering fear of crime, perceived risk, avoidance, and defensive behaviors. Sociological Spectrum, 27, 475–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rosenbaum, D. P. (2006). The limits of hot spots policing. In D. Weisburd & A. A. Braga (Eds.), Police innovation: Contrasting perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Sampson, R. J. (2004). Neighborhood and community: Collective efficacy and community safety. New Economy, 11, 106–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sampson, R. J., & Raudenbush, S. W. (1999). Systematic social observation of public spaces: A new look at disorder in urban neighborhoods. The American Journal of Sociology, 105, 603–651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sampson, R. J., Raudenbush, S. W., & Earls, F. (1997). Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science, 277, 918–924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Shaw, J. W. (1995). Community policing against guns: Public opinion of the Kansas City Gun Experiment. Justice Quarterly, 12, 695–710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sherman, L. W., & Rogan, D. P. (1995). Effects of gun seizures on gun violence: “Hot spots” patrol in Kansas City. Justice Quarterly, 12, 673–693.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sherman, L. W., & Weisburd, D. (1995). General deterrent effects of police patrol in crime “hot-spots”: A randomized controlled trial. Justice Quarterly, 12, 755–782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sherman, L. W., Gartin, P. R., & Buerger, M. E. (1989). Hot spots of predatory crime: Routine activities and the criminology of place. Criminology, 27, 27–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Silver, E. (2000). Extending social disorganization theory: A multilevel approach to the study of violence among persons with mental illnesses. Criminology, 39, 1043–1074.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Skogan, W. G. (1990). Disorder and decline: Crime and the spiral of decline in American neighborhoods. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  44. Smith, W., Frazee, S., & Davidson, E. (2000). Furthering the integration of routine activity and social disorganization theories: Small units of analysis and the study of street robbery as a diffusion process. Criminology, 38, 489–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Spelman, W., & Brown, D. (1984). Calling the Police: Citizen reporting of serious crime. Washington: Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  46. St. Jean, P. K. B. (2007). Pockets of crime: Broken windows, collective efficacy, and the criminal point of view. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  47. Taylor, R. B. (1997). Social order and disorder of street blocks and neighborhoods: Ecology, microecology, and the systemic model of social disorganization. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 34, 113–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Tyler, T. R. (1990). Why people obey the law. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Tyler, T. R. (2004). Enhancing police legitimacy. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 593, 84–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. U.S. Census Bureau (2000). United States Census 2000. Retrieved from
  51. Weisburd, D. (2004). The emergence of crime place in crime prevention. In G. Bruinsma, H. Elffers, & J. Keijser (Eds.), Punishment, places and perpetrators: Developments in criminological and criminal justice research (pp. 155–168). Cullompton: Willan.Google Scholar
  52. Weisburd, D., & Braga, A. A. (2003). Hot spots policing. In H. Kury & J. Obergfell-Fuchs (Eds.), Crime prevention: New approaches (pp. 337–354). Mainz: Weisser Ring.Google Scholar
  53. Weisburd, D., & Eck, J. E. (2004). What can police do to reduce crime, disorder and fear. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 593, 42–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Weisburd, D., & Green, L. (1995). Policing drug hotspots: The Jersey City drug market analysis experiment. Justice Quarterly, 12, 711–735.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Weisburd, D., & Lum, C. (2005). The diffusion of computerized crime mapping in policing: Linking research and practice. Police Practice and Research, 6, 419–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Weisburd, D., Petrosino, A., & Mason, G. (1993). Design sensitivity in criminal justice experiments. In M. Tonry (Ed.), Crime and Justice: A Review of Research (Vol. 17). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  57. Weisburd, D., Bushway, S., Lum, C., & Yang, S. (2004). Trajectories of crime and places: A longitudinal study of street segments in the city of Seattle. Criminology, 42, 283–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Weisburd, D., Wyckoff, L. A., Ready, J., Eck, J. E., Hinkle, J. C., & Gajewski, F. (2004). Does crime just move around the corner? A study of displacement and diffusion in Jersey City, NJ. Washington: National Institute of Justice.Google Scholar
  59. Weisburd, D., Wyckoff, L. A., Ready, J., Eck, J. E., Hinkle, J. C., & Gajewski, F. (2006). Does crime just move around the corner? A controlled study of spatial displacement and diffusion of crime control benefits. Criminology, 44, 549–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Weisburd, D., Groff, E. R., & Yang, S. (Forthcoming). The Criminology of Place: Street Segments and Our Understanding of the Crime Problem. Oxford: Oxford University Press (in press)Google Scholar
  61. Weisburd, D., Hinkle, J. C., Famega, C., & Ready, J. (2011). Legitimacy, fear and collective efficacy in crime hot spots: assessing the impacts of broken windows policing strategies on citizen attitudes. Final Report. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice (in press)Google Scholar
  62. Wilson, J. Q., & Kelling, G. L. (1982). Broken windows: The police and neighborhood safety. Atlantic Monthly, 211, 29–38.Google Scholar
  63. Wyant, B. R. (2008). Multilevel impacts of perceived incivilities and perceptions of crime risk on fear of crime: Isolating endogenous impacts. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 45, 29–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Xu, Y., Fiedler, M. L., & Flaming, K. H. (2005). Discovering the impact of community policing: The broken windows thesis, collective efficacy and citizens’ judgment. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 42, 147–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Weisburd
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Joshua C. Hinkle
    • 3
  • Christine Famega
    • 4
  • Justin Ready
    • 5
  1. 1.The Hebrew UniversityJerusalemIsrael
  2. 2.George Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA
  3. 3.Georgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  4. 4.California State University–San BernardinoSan BernardinoUSA
  5. 5.Arizona State UnversityPhoenixUSA

Personalised recommendations