The Problem: Violence is a major public health problem. There were more than 5 million violent crimes in 2007, including 248,280 sexual assaults and 597,320 robberies. USDOJ: Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2007. There were 16,272 deaths from murder or non-negligent manslaughter in 2008. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. In addition to directly causing acute injuries, emotional harm, and deaths, crime may undermine population health through indirect mechanisms. For example, high rates of crime make outdoor exercise unsafe, contributing to lower levels of physical activity. Crime also adds to the burden of stress for people living in high crime areas.
The Law: The law prohibits violent crime, but implementation varies. “Hot spot policing” is a law enforcement strategy that focuses limited police resources on street corners, alleys or other places in a neighborhood where crime is particularly prevalent. For more information on hot spot policing, see U.S. Dept of Justice: Hot Spot Policing.
The Evidence: Braga systematically reviewed nine studies that assess the impact of hot spot policing on crime. Braga. The effects of hot spots policing on crime. Campbell Systematic Review 2007:1. The studies evaluated three types of hot spot policing interventions: (1) enforcement of problem-oriented policing interventions; (2) directed and aggressive patrol programs; and (3) police crackdowns and raids. Of the nine studies, five employed randomized experimental designs and four employed quasi-experimental designs. Seven of the nine studies found hot spot policing to be associated with reductions in crime and disorder. A meta-analysis conducted on the five randomized studies found a statistically significant 67 percent reduction in reported calls for police assistance. There was not enough evidence to determine the relative effectiveness of the three different intervention types. Displacement of crime – a concern with hot spot policing – was examined in five of the studies. None of the studies observed a substantial displacement effect. However, Braga and the authors of the underlying studies caution that displacement is a difficult phenomenon to measure and that more sophisticated measures may be needed to fully assess whether displacement occurs. Braga interpreted the results of the meta-analysis of the five studies and the evidence in all nine studies collectively as “fairly robust evidence that hot spots policing is an effective crime prevention strategy.”
The Bottom Line: According to the author of a Campbell Collaboration systematic review and meta-analysis, the current evidence supports the effectiveness of hot spots policing as a crime prevention strategy.