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Citizens’ reactions to hot spots policing: impacts on perceptions of crime, disorder, safety and police

Abstract

Objectives

We explore whether the use of foot patrol, problem-oriented policing and offender-focused policing at violent crime hot spots negatively impacted the community’s perceptions of crime and disorder, perceived safety, satisfaction with police and their perceptions of procedural justice.

Methods

We report on a repeated cross-sectional survey that was mailed before and after the deployment of concentrated police interventions in 60 small areas of Philadelphia, PA, as part of the Philadelphia Policing Tactics Experiment. Eighty-one violent crime hot spots were randomly allocated to one of three treatments (20 each), or to a control assignment (21). Impacts on the community via seven scales were analyzed using OLS models with orthogonal contrast-coded treatment variables and demographic covariates.

Results

The OLS models estimating changes in the community’s opinions from pre- to post-intervention uncovered no statistically significant changes on any of the dependent variables relative to control locations, irrespective of the treatment type. Even though one experimental treatment condition (offender-focused) reported statistically significant violent crime reductions, the police activity that generated the crime reduction did not noticeably change community perceptions of crime and disorder, perceived safety, satisfaction with police or procedural justice.

Conclusions

As implemented in Philadelphia, none of the policing tactics had measurable changes in resident perception within the communities that were targeted. The results do not support the suggestion that hot spots policing negatively impacts the community. At the same time, no positive benefits were generated.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We note that labeling an area as “high crime” may have legal ramifications, but these considerations are beyond the intended scope of this article (Ferguson 2011).

  2. 2.

    The LISA analysis was performed using local Moran’s I test applied with a first order queen spatial weights matrix. To reflect the focus on violent crime, homicide and incidents involving the threat of deadly force were given a weight of 2 and (relatively) less serious crimes of unarmed robbery and misdemeanor assault were given a weight of 1.

  3. 3.

    HNN analyses are useful in that they are not constrained by predetermined spatial units (here Thiessen polygons) but rather follow the shape of the data. First-order clusters include events that have nearest neighbor distances shorter than expected based on complete spatial randomness. The minimum number of events for each hot spot was set at 10.

  4. 4.

    These numbers are based on the total number of taxable properties within each cluster, a 95 % confidence level, and 5 % confidence interval to determine sample size for each cluster and an anticipated 20 % response rate for poor, urban neighborhoods.

  5. 5.

    Field researchers visited each site and completed a structured observation form which measured a number of site characteristics such as the level of social and physical disorder, quality of housing and land use. As part of this form, field observers estimated on a 4-point scale the prevalence of vacant lots and buildings, where 1 was an indication of a very high amount of vacant land use, and 4 was an indication of very low numbers of vacant land. High was considered having over 50 % of the streets in the beat with at least one vacant lot or over 25 % of the streets having over half of their lots vacant. A beat was listed as medium when over 25 % of the streets had at least one vacant lot, and classified as low when an area had no vacant lots or only a few vacant lots interspersed in the area. The mean response across the areas was 2.47, an average between high and medium.

  6. 6.

    This was done by determining the percentage of geographic area the experimental areas covered within each overlapping census tract, multiplying each census variable by the percentage of overlapping geographic area, and summing across census tracts variables for each experimental area.

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Correspondence to Jerry H. Ratcliffe.

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Ratcliffe, J.H., Groff, E.R., Sorg, E.T. et al. Citizens’ reactions to hot spots policing: impacts on perceptions of crime, disorder, safety and police. J Exp Criminol 11, 393–417 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-015-9230-2

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Keywords

  • Hot spots policing
  • Foot patrol
  • Problem-oriented policing
  • Offender-focused policing
  • Community survey
  • Procedural justice
  • Crime