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Practice Profile

Hot Spots Policing

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Practice Description

Practice Goals
Used by a majority of U.S. police departments, hot spots policing strategies focus on small geographic areas or places, usually in urban settings, where crime is concentrated (Braga et al. 2012). Although there is not a common definition for “hot spots,” they are generally thought of as “small places in which the occurrence of crime is so frequent that it is highly predictable, at least over a one year period.” (Sherman 1995, pg. 36). Through hot spots policing strategies, law enforcement agencies can focus limited resources in areas where crime is most likely to occur. The appeal of focusing limited resources on a small number of high-activity crime areas is based on the belief that if crime can be prevented at these hot spots, then total crime across the city might also be reduced.

Target Areas
The units of analysis in hot spots policing vary in size. Hot spot areas can include very small units of analysis such as buildings or addresses, block faces, or street segments, or bigger units such as clusters of addresses, block faces, or street segments. There are also several crime mapping techniques that can be used to identify and test for crime hot spots using software packages such as ArcGIS. Hot spots can also be displayed in diverse formats, including point mapping and spatial ellipses. There is no set standard for identifying and defining crime hot spots; rather, a combination of technology and police officer or crime analyst experience/knowledge contribute to the mapping and targeting process (Eck, et al. 2005).

Practice Theory
Recent interest in hot spots policing is due in part to changes and innovations in policing that have occurred over the last three decades and the emergence of theoretical perspectives in criminology suggesting the importance of ‘place’ in understanding crime. The observation that the distribution of crime varies within neighborhoods and is not spread evenly across areas has existed for some time (Braga et al. 2012). However, with the emergence of powerful computer hardware and software capable of carrying out sophisticated spatial analyses, crime analysts in police departments are now able to identify and track spatial concentrations of crime. Moreover, police reforms like Compstat revealed the strong linkages between spatial analyses of crime patterns and police operations meant to disrupt those patterns. Criminologists have also relied on spatial analysis tools to point out that much of the crime in a community is committed in a small number of criminogenic places.

Three related theoretical perspectives influenced the study of place-based crime: rational choice theory (Cornish and Clarke 1987), routine activity theory (Cohen and Felson 1979), and environmental criminology (Brantingham and Brantingham 1991). Rational choice theory assumes that offenders are self-interested and weigh the costs and benefits of offending before making the choice to offend. Routine activity theory suggests that crime is the convergence in time and space of a motivated offender, a suitable target, and a lack of capable guardianship. Environmental criminology is concerned with criminal events and the importance of the characteristics of the places where crime happens (as cited in Braga, 2007). Hot spots policing emerged, in part, from these criminological theories.

Practice Components
Hot spots policing relies primarily on highly focused, traditional law enforcement strategies. A visual representation of the relationship between the diversity of the hot spots policing approach and its level of focus compared to other policing strategies, such as community-oriented and problem-oriented policing, can be found in Weisburd and Eck (2004, pg. 45).

Hot spots policing can adopt a variety of strategies to control crime in problem areas, including order maintenance and drug enforcement crackdowns, increased gun searches and seizures, and zero-tolerance policing. These strategies can be categorized into two fundamentally different types of approaches (Braga, et al. 2012). The first approach, problem oriented policing, represents police-led efforts to change the underlying conditions at hot spots that lead to recurring crime problems. It requires police to look past traditional strategies and include other possible methods for addressing crime problems (Weisburd and Eck, 2004). The second approach relies primarily on traditional policing activities, such as vehicle patrols, foot patrols, or crackdowns concentrated at specific hot spots to prevent crime through general deterrence and increased risk of apprehension.

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Aggregating the results from 10 randomized controlled trials, Braga and colleagues (2012) found a significant small overall mean effect (0.116) in favor of hot spots policing. This suggests hot spots policing strategies have a modest effect on reducing crime. Braga and colleagues also examined the effects of the two different approaches to hot spots policing: problem-oriented policing and traditional policing. They found that problem-oriented policing approaches produced a larger overall mean effect size (0.232) that was twice that of the overall mean effect size for traditional policing approaches (0.113). The analysis suggests that hot spots policing efforts that rely on problem-oriented policing strategies generate larger crime reduction effects than those that apply traditional policing strategies in crime hot spots.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11989 - 2011160

Meta-Analysis 1

Braga, Papachristos, and Hureau (2012) reviewed studies on police-led crime control efforts that were completed in 2010 or earlier. Eligible studies compared places that were exposed to hot spots policing interventions with places that were exposed to traditional police services whose units of analysis were crime hot spots or high-activity crime “places.” Studies included both randomized experiments and well executed quasi-experiments. Studies measured the effects of hot spots policing on officially recorded levels of crime at places and reported on crime displacement and diffusion of crime benefits.

The researchers’ initial search for studies yielded 4,315 distinct abstracts of which 131 reports, articles, or books were selected for additional review. Nineteen studies, taken from peer-reviewed journals (n=14), unpublished reports (n=3), and published reports (n=2), were included in the final meta-analysis. Of these studies, 10 used randomized experimental designs and nine used quasi-experimental designs. The majority of studies (n=17) were conducted in the United States, while the remaining two were conducted in Australia and Argentina. Ten of the studies were conducted in medium-sized cities with populations between 200,000 and 500,000; seven studies were conducted in large cities with populations greater than 500,000; two studies were conducted in small cities with populations of less than 200,000.

The 19 studies provided 25 distinct experimental and quasi-experimental tests of the effects of hot spots policing on crime. Problem-oriented policing was the most common intervention type studied (n=13) followed by increased foot or car patrol (n=5), drug enforcement operations (n=5), increased gun searches and seizures (n=1), and zero-tolerance policing (n=1). Only 16 of the 19 studies were included in the meta-analysis as two studies did not report the necessary information to calculate effect sizes and one study did not use appropriate statistical methods to estimate program effects. Of the 16 studies, effect sizes were calculated for 20 main effects tests and 13 displacement and diffusion tests.

Program effect sizes were weighted based on the variance of the effect size and the study sample size. The standard mean difference effect size was calculated for each program. The authors used a random effects model to estimate the overall mean effect size.

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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Implementation Information

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A 2005 National Institute of Justice report by Eck and colleagues provides information on hot spot analysis techniques and software, and identifies when to use each one. See Mapping Crime: Understanding Hot Spots:
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Braga, Anthony A., Andrew V. Papachristos, and David M. Hureau. 2012. “The Effects of Hot Spots Policing on Crime: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Justice Quarterly iFirst:1–31.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Braga, Anthony A. 2005. “Hot Spots Policing and Crime Prevention: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Journal of Experimental Criminology 1:317–42.

Braga, Anthony A. 2006. “The Crime Prevention Value of Hot Spots Policing.” Psicothema 18(3):630–37.

Braga, Anthony A. 2007. “The Effects of Hot Spots Policing on Crime.” Campbell Systematic Reviews 1.

Brantingham, Paul and Patricia Brantingham. (Eds). 1991. Environmental Criminology. 2nd ed. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.

Cohen, L. and M. Felson, 1979. “Social Change and Crime Rate Trends: A Routine Activity Approach.” American Sociological Review 44:588–605.

Cornish, D. and R. V. Clarke. 1987. “Understanding Crime Displacement: An Application of Rational Choice Theory.” Criminology 25:933–947.

Eck, John, Spencer Chainey, James G. Cameron, Michael Leitner, and Ronald E. Wilson. 2005. Mapping Crime: Understanding Hot Spots. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.

Sherman, Lawrence W. 1995. “Hot Spots of Crime and Criminal Careers of Places.” In John E. Eck and David Weisburd, (Eds.). Crime and Place. Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum, pp. 35-52.

Taylor, Bruce, Christopher S. Koper, and Daniel J. Woods. 2011. “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Different Policing Strategies at Hot Spots of Violent Crime.” Journal of Experimental Criminology 7:149–81.

Weisburd, David and John E. Eck. 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.
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Related Programs

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Following are programs that are related to this practice:

Minneapolis (MN) Hot Spots Experiment Effective - One study
A program that increased police presence in crime “hot spots” to reduce criminal activity in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The program is rated Effective. In hot spots that did not receive intensified police patrols, there was a greater increase in citizen calls to police than in the experimental locations. There also was less observed disorder at the experimental sites.

Compstat (Fort Worth, Texas) Promising - One study
A policing management program that depends on the cooperation of the entire agency to create a “focused” approach to reduce crime and disorder. The program is rated Promising. The program did not result in increased arrests for all six types of nuisance offenses. However, there was an increase in drunkenness, drug offenses and disorderly conduct arrests. There was no statistically significant effect on violent crime, but an effect on the reduction of property and index offense rates.

Indianapolis (Ind.) Directed Patrol Promising - One study
A policing program that uses a proactive directed patrol strategy to reduce firearms violence in Indianapolis, Indiana. The program is rated Promising. The effect on reducing firearms crime was seen in the North target beats, but not the East. Control police beats showed an increase in gun crimes, and in the remaining areas of Indianapolis homicides increased.

Kansas City (MO) Police Department Street Narcotics Unit Promising - One study
A special police unit developed to conduct raids of crack houses to reduce crack-related crime and improve public order in Kansas City, Missouri. The program is rated Promising. There were fewer calls for service and reported offenses for the experimental group. The Follow-up effects were sustained for both outcomes for about 2 weeks after the experiment ended.

Operation Safe Streets (Philadelphia, Pa.) Promising - One study
A problem-oriented policing program targeted at high-crime areas and drug corners to prevent violent and drug-related crime. The program is rated Promising. Localized analysis of the intervention areas found reductions in violent and drug crime rates. Analysis on the adjoining areas suggests the intervention caused some spatial diffusion of benefits for violent and drug crime displacement. There were no statistically significant effects on citywide homicides, violent or drug crime rates.

Hot Spots Policing (Lowell, Mass.) Effective - One study
A crime-reduction policing strategy that uses a disorder policing approach to concentrate on improving physical and social order in high-crime locations in Lowell, Mass. The program is rated Effective. There was a statistically significant reduction of the total number of calls for service in the treatment areas relative to the control. Observed disorder was alleviated and calls for service were not significantly displaced into surrounding treatment areas.

Hot Spots Policing (Jacksonville, FL) No Effects - One study
A geographically focused policing strategy intended to reduce violent crime in high-crime areas using problem-oriented policing and directed patrol techniques. The program is rated No Effects. There was a significant reduction in nondomestic violent crime (i.e., street violence) in hot spots that were assigned to the problem-oriented policing condition, but no significant reductions in violent crime, property crime, and calls for service.

Drug Market Analysis Program (Jersey City, NJ) Promising - One study
A "hot spots" policing program targeting identified drug activity locations to reduce public disorder by engaging local residents and business owners and applying pressure via crackdowns. The program is rated Promising. There was no significant difference between the experimental and control locations on violence and property offenses; but, there were reductions in disorder and narcotics offenses and fewer calls for service for some measures in the treatment catchment areas.

Problem-Oriented Policing in Violent Crime Places (Jersey City, NJ) Promising - One study
The program is a focused policing strategy intended to reduce violent crime in high-crime locations through the modification of specific characteristics and situations that promote violence. The program is rated Promising. The citizen calls for service were significantly reduced at three of the five treatment locations. Reported criminal incidents were significantly reduced at two of the treatment places. Social and physical disorder were alleviated 91 percent.

Police Foot Patrol–Philadelphia 2009 Effective - More than one study
This program used a foot patrol to reduce violent crime in hot spots in Philadelphia, Pa. It involved having rookie officers patrol areas (an average of 1.3 miles of streets) during two shifts per day. This program is rated Effective. There were significant reductions in reported violent crime, although the effect seemed to fade once officers were removed from their targeted beats.

Kansas City (MO) Gun Experiment Promising - One study
A police patrol project aimed at reducing gun violence, drive-by shootings and homicides. During the experimental period, extra police patrols were placed in gun crime "hot spots" in a target area. The program is rated Promising. There was an increase in gun seizures, a decline in gun crimes, some evidence of program benefit diffusion, and no displacement. There were lower homicides in the targeted area but no statistical difference in drive-by shootings or other types of crimes.

Safe Street Teams (Boston, MA) Promising - One study
A place-based, problem-oriented policing strategy implemented by the Boston (Massachusetts) Police Department in response to a sudden increase in violent crimes. The program is rated Promising. The results showed that the intervention had significant reductions in total violent index crimes, robberies, and aggravated assaults over the 10-year study period; however, there were no significant reductions in homicides and sexual assaults.

High Point Drug Market Intervention Effective - One study
A problem-oriented policing program that aims to eliminate overt drug markets and the problems associated with them through a deterrence-based, pulling-levers framework. The program is rated Effective. The Intervention had a statistically significant impact on reducing violent incidents in the target areas.

Broken Windows/Public Order Policing in High Crime Areas (CA) No Effects - One study
The program was implemented in three midsized cities near the Los Angeles, California area, with the goal of examining effects on residents’ fear of crime, perceptions of collective efficacy and police legitimacy, and actual and perceived levels of crime and disorder. The program is rated No Effects. Findings revealed no significant impacts on any of the dependent variables, suggesting no indication of either beneficial effects or “backfire” effects in targeted areas.

Philadelphia Policing Tactics Experiment: Offender-Focused Policing Effective - One study
This is a proactive, hot spots policing tactic that focuses attention on repeat violent offenders operating in neighborhoods with high violent-crime rates. The program is rated Effective. Hot spots that received the treatment reported significantly fewer violent crimes and violent felonies relative to the control areas. However, citizens’ perceptions of crime and safety were not impacted by the intervention.

Police Foot Patrol–Philadelphia 2010 No Effects - More than one study
This strategy is aimed at reducing crime at violent-crime hot spots in Philadelphia, Pa., through police foot patrols. It involved having veteran officers patrol areas (an average of 3 miles of streets) during one shift per day. This program is rated No Effects. Relative to the control areas, increasing foot patrols at violent-crime hot spots had no impact on violent crimes, violent felonies, or citizens’ perceptions of crime and safety.

Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) in Kansas Promising - More than one study
This is a law-enforcement model in which both location-based crime and automobile crash data is analyzed to determine where such incidents disproportionately occur (“hot spots”) and to employ targeted traffic enforcement strategies. The program is rated Promising. The areas of targeted enforcement experienced significant declines in robberies, burglaries, and traffic crashes.

Directed Patrol and Self-Initiated Enforcement in Hot Spots (St. Louis, Missouri) Promising - One study
This is an experiment designed to assess the effectiveness of different hot spots tactics (i.e., directed patrol and self-initiated enforcement) on firearm violence. The program is rated Promising. Hot spots that received the self-initiated enforcement experienced a significant reduction in firearm assault rates. However, no differences were found on firearm robbery rates.
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Practice Snapshot

Settings: High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots

Practice Type: Community and Problem Oriented Policing, General deterrence, Hot Spots Policing, Violence Prevention

Unit of Analysis: Places