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Practice Profile

Geographically Focused Policing Initiatives

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

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

Practice Description

Practice Goals
Geographically focused policing initiatives increase the presence and visibility of police officers at specific high-crime locations to significantly reduce crime and disorder. The adoption of geographically focused policing interventions may be guided by a variety of different policing strategies, including:

  1. Hot spots policing/directed patrol. Certain places are intensively policed with high-visibility foot patrols or other strategic tactics.
  2. Police crackdown. This involves police cracking down on a particular crime problem (e.g., through drug enforcement) or on a particular set of offenders (e.g., a certain group of gang offenders).
  3. Community policing interventions. The same officer is usually assigned to a specific geographical area on a permanent basis so that they can become familiar with local issues.
  4. Broken windows/Compstat. Assertive enforcement of minor offenses and order maintenance approaches are used.
  5. Police-led environmental improvement. Police are the driving force in encouraging changes to the environment to discourage crime (e.g., physical redesign of areas or security surveys resulting in recommendations).
  6. Problem-oriented/Intelligence-led policing projects. Interventions adhere to the Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment (SARA) process (Weisburd et al. 2008). The SARA process involves the identification of a problem believed to be related to crime or disorder outcomes, the development and administration of a response specifically tailored to this problem, and an assessment of the effects of the response on a crime or disorder outcome.
Target Areas
When implementing geographically focused policing initiatives, the target areas may include small places (e.g., crime hot spots, problem buildings), smaller police-defined areas (e.g., beats), neighborhoods and selected stretches of roads or highways, or larger police-defined areas (e.g., precincts).

Practice Theory
Geographically focused policing initiatives are often based on rational choice theory, which suggests that criminal behavior is a product of choices and decisions made by the offender after weighing the risks and rewards of committing a crime (Clarke and Cornish 1986). These choices are derived from offender perceptions of the situational landscape; thus, geographically focused crime prevention efforts to block crime opportunities are expected to deter crime.

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Aggregating the results of 16 independent tests of geographically focused policing initiatives, Bowers and colleagues (2011) found a statistically significant weighted mean treatment effect size of 1.39. This finding indicates that crime decreased in treatment areas targeted by geographically focused policing initiatives relative to control areas.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11971 - 201016178

Meta-Analysis 1
Bowers and colleagues (2011) conducted a meta-analysis to 1) assess the effect of geographically focused policing initiatives on crime and disorder, and 2) evaluate displacement and diffusion (i.e., whether crime generally increased or decreased in catchment areas more than control areas) following the implementation of a geographically focused policing intervention. However, the focus of this review was solely on the overall effect of geographically focused policing initiatives on crime.

To be included in the meta-analysis, the study must have 1) evaluated a focused policing intervention that fell into the categories described above in the Practice Description, 2) used some quantitative measure of crime and/or disorder, 3) reported original research findings (i.e., systematic reviews or meta-analyses were not included), and 4) included an intervention that was geographically focused on an area smaller than a city or a region. The meta-analysis also included both published and unpublished studies that met the criteria, and which could have been conducted at any point in time or at any location.

The search strategy to retrieve relevant studies included a keyword search of electronic databases, a review of bibliographies of existing displacement reviews and those on the effectiveness of focused policing initiatives, forward searches for works that cited key publications, a review of research reports of professional research and policing organizations, and a hand search of pertinent journals. The original search was carried out between December 2009 and January 2010 and yielded more than 2,731 studies.

Following coding and screening, two reviewers determined that 44 studies were eligible for review. Of the 44 studies, five were randomized controlled trials, and 39 were quasi-experimental designs. Most of the 44 studies used simple pre- and posttest research designs (57 percent), 43 percent used more complex pre- and posttest assessments with at least one control area, and 14 percent used a separate catchment for the control area. Thirty of the interventions had taken place in the United States, 10 in the United Kingdom, three in Australia, and one in Sweden. Of the others, 23 took place in purely residential environments, nine in multiple types of environments, four in various environments, four in mixed areas containing both residential and retail, two in strictly retail locations, and one in an educational and recreational environment.

The most common type of outcome data used in the included studies was recorded crime (35 studies), seven studies used calls for service data, four used arrest data, and one used data generated through observation methods. The studies also varied in terms of the size of the physical area that received the intervention. Of the 44 studies, 24 covered a large area, nine covered a medium area, and 11 covered a small area. In terms of the type of intervention, 12 used problem-oriented policing programs, seven used directed patrol studies, four used hot spots policing, 10 looked at police crackdowns, two looked at intelligence-led policing, five used community-oriented policing, and two adopted a broken windows approach. Of the remaining studies, one used a civil abatement intervention, and one used a police-led initiative to alter the physical environment.

The authors used odds ratios to estimate the effect of geographically focused policing initiatives on the treatment areas. In addition to calculating individual estimates of relative effect size for each treatment area in each study, they also calculated mean effect sizes across studies.

Of the 44 studies, only 16 provided individual effect sizes for both treatment and control areas. Therefore, only those 16 studies were included in the meta-analysis.
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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Other Information

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Geographically focused policing initiatives have also been associated with the displacement of crime or diffusion of benefits. Displacement occurs when offenders switch from crime targets in treatment areas to targets in nearby areas, thereby undermining the positive crime reduction effects of geographically focused policing initiatives. Alternatively, diffusion of benefits occurs when the crime control effects of policing strategies in treatment areas extend to nearby areas that did not receive the initial intervention, thereby amplifying the crime control effects. These nearby or catchment areas, to which crime potential displaces or crime control benefits diffuse after the implementation of geographically focused policing initiatives, may frequently take the form of a ring or donut-shaped region that directly surrounds the area of intervention (Weisburd and Green 1995). Bowers and colleagues (2011) found a statistically significant weighted mean catchment effect size of 1.14, which suggests significant, positive diffusion of crime benefit for catchment areas. This finding indicates that the geographically focused policing initiatives implemented in treatment areas contributed to significant crime reduction in nearby areas that did not directly receive the treatment.
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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
Bowers, Kate J., Shane D. Johnson, Rob T. Guerette, Lucia Summers, and Suzanne Poynton. 2011. “Spatial Displacement and Diffusion of Benefits among Geographically Focused Policing Initiatives: A Meta-Analytical Review.” Journal of Experimental Criminology 7(4):347–74.
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Additional References

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

Clarke, Ronald Victor Germuseus, and Derek Blaikie Cornish. 1986. The Reasoning Criminal: Rational Choice Perspectives on Offending. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag.

Weisburd, David, Laura A. Wyckoff, Justin Ready, John E. Eck, Joshua C. Hinkle, and Frank Gajewski. 2006. “Does Crime Just Move Around the Corner? A Controlled Study of Spatial Displacement and Diffusion of Crime Control Benefits.” Criminology 44(3):549–92.

Weisburd, David, and Lorraine Green. 1995. “Policing Drug Hot Spots: The Jersey City Drug Market Analysis Experiment.” Justice Quarterly 12(4):711–35.
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Related Programs

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Following are programs that are related to this practice:

Indianapolis (Ind.) Directed Patrol Promising - One study
This is a policing program that uses a proactive, directed patrol strategy to reduce firearm violence in Indianapolis, Ind. This program is rated Promising. Findings were mixed. There were statistically significant reductions in homicide, aggravated assault with a firearm, armed robbery, and firearm crime in the northern target area, compared with the control area. However, there were no statistically significant reductions in the eastern target area, compared with the control area on outcomes.

Specialized Multi Agency Response Team (SMART) Effective - One study
A drug-control program designed to reduce drug-related problems and improve habitation conditions at targeted sites. The program is rated Effective. Half the treatment sites experienced improvements in field contacts or arrests. There were reductions in the number of individuals contacted or arrested at the same SMART site; in the number of persons displaced to a catchment area address; and in the number of new individuals attracted to a site (suggesting a small net diffusion of benefits).

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
This is a crime-reduction strategy that uses a disorder-policing approach to improve physical and social order in high-crime locations in Lowell, Mass. This program is rated Effective. High-crime locations experienced statistically significant reductions in calls for service and in social and physical disorder, compared with control areas.

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
This is a focused policing strategy, designed to reduce violent crime in high-crime locations in Jersey City, N.J., by modifying specific characteristics and situations that promote violence in targeted areas. The program is rated Promising. Total citizen calls for service and total reported criminal incidents were reduced in treatment locations, compared with control locations. These findings were statistically significant.

Police Foot Patrol–Philadelphia 2009 Effective - One study
This police foot patrol strategy involved rookie officers patrolling an average beat of 1.3 miles during one shift per day in hot spots in Philadelphia, PA. This program is rated Effective. Compared with the control areas, there were statistically significant reductions in reported violent crime in patrolled areas, although the effect faded 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.

Police Foot Patrol–Philadelphia 2010 No Effects - 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.
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Practice Snapshot

Settings: High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots, Other Community Setting

Practice Type: Community and Problem Oriented Policing, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design/Design Against Crime, General deterrence, Hot Spots Policing, Situational Crime Prevention, Specific deterrence, Violence Prevention

Unit of Analysis: Places

Kate Bowers
Department of Security and Crime Science, University College London
35 Tavistock Square