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Program Profile: Hot Spots Policing (Lowell, Mass.)

Evidence Rating: Effective - One study Effective - One study

Date: This profile was posted on December 20, 2011

Program Summary

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.

Program Description

Program Goals
The Hot Spots Policing strategy was implemented in 2005 by the Lowell (Mass.) Police Department and was intended to improve social and physical order in high-crime areas in Lowell. By improving social order in high-crime areas, the strategy seeks to reduce disorder-related crime. The ultimate goal is to improve order in these specific areas to create broad crime-reduction results across the greater area.

Target Sites
The program concentrates on reducing disorder in locations in Lowell identified to have high levels of crime.

Program Components
The strategy includes the use of several techniques aimed to improve physical and social disorder in hot spots of crime. The program uses three approaches to reduce disorder-related crime, based on a general policing disorder strategy:
  • Increased misdemeanor arrests. This component entails the use of aggressive order maintenance techniques by police, including increased arrests for public order violations. Some examples are making arrests for public drinking, arresting drug dealers, conducting “stop and frisks” of suspicious individuals, and conducting foot patrol in high-crime areas. This component is intended to take high-risk individuals off the street and to reduce disorder-related crime.
  • Situational prevention strategies. This component entails a variety of measures broadly designed to improve physical and social disorder in target areas by police. This includes the installation of improved street lighting, implementation of video surveillance, dispersing groups of loiterers, performing code inspections, cleaning up vacant lots, razing abandoned buildings, and evicting problem residents. These activities are intended to go beyond simply arresting violators and to promote a generalized sense of order in problem areas. Such techniques require partnerships between and among police and city agencies, local business owners, and tenant associations.
  • Social service actions. This component entails assistance from social service agencies to help police increase social order. This includes providing youth with recreational opportunities, working with local shelters to provide housing for homeless individuals, and connecting problem tenants to mental health services. These activities are intended to create opportunities for high-risk individuals in targeted locations to assist police efforts to promote social order.
Key Personnel
This strategy requires collaboration with many community agencies and businesses, as well as the assistance of geospatial analysts to identify hot spots of crime.

Program Theory
The strategy is based on the broken windows theory of crime, which postulates that crime is likely to flourish in areas with high levels of physical and social disorder. It entails the use of broken windows policing, also known as disorder policing, to produce a crime-reduction effect by improving order in problem areas. The program is based on the idea that, by reducing overall disorder, conditions will improve and crime will be reduced. The program uses a problem-oriented policing approach to concentrate specifically on the reduction of nuisance crime, in combination with a hot spots policing approach to target specific high-crime areas.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Citizen Calls for Service
Braga and Bond (2008) found that the total number of calls for service dropped 19.8 percent in treatment areas, relative to control areas—a statistically significant reduction.

The magnitude of effects was inconsistent across all categories of crime calls, but results indicate substantial reductions in calls in treatment places relative to calls in control places. There was a statistically significant 14 percent reduction in disorder/nuisance calls in treatment areas relative to control areas. There was a statistically significant 41.8 percent reduction in robbery calls in treatment areas relative to control areas. There was a statistically significant 34.2 percent reduction in nondomestic assault calls in treatment areas relative to control areas. There was a statistically significant 35.5 percent reduction in burglary/breaking-and-entering calls in treatment areas relative to control areas. There was a (statistically insignificant) 10.7 percent reduction in larceny/theft calls in treatment areas relative to control areas.

The regression analysis of total mediated effects of key program elements indicated an estimated 21.5 percent reduction in total calls for treatment areas, relative to control areas. Based on the analysis of each component's isolated impact, the implementation of situational prevention strategies appeared to produce the strongest effects on reductions in calls for service.


Observed Disorder
Social disorder was alleviated at 14 of 17 (82.4 percent) treatment places, relative to control places. There was a 71.6 percent reduction in observed loitering in treatment areas, compared with a 12.9 percent reduction in control areas. There was a 73.1 percent reduction in observed public drinking in treatment areas, compared with a 7.3 percent increase in control areas. There was a 61.9 percent reduction in observed drug selling in treatment areas, compared with an 11.5 percent reduction in control areas. There was a 52.4 percent reduction in observed homeless individuals in treatment areas, compared with a 10.5 percent increase in control areas. These results were found to be statistically significant.

Physical disorder was alleviated at 13 of 17 (76.5 percent) treatment places, relative to control places. There was a 26.8 percent reduction in observed street segments with trash in treatment areas, compared with an 11.4 percent increase in control areas. There was a 23.1 percent reduction in observed structures with graffiti in treatment areas, compared with a 1.8 percent increase in control areas. There was a 62.5 percent reduction in observed damaged structures in treatment areas, compared with a 25 percent reduction in control areas. There was a 71.4 percent reduction in observed unkempt vacant lots in treatment areas, compared with no discernible change in control areas. There was a 100 percent reduction in observed abandoned cars in treatment and control areas. There was a 66.7 percent reduction in observed unsecured abandoned buildings in treatment areas, compared with no change in control areas. These results were found to be statistically significant.


Displacement/Diffusion Effects
It was found that that calls for service were not significantly displaced into areas surrounding treatment places, relative to areas immediately surrounding the control places. All call categories experienced varying nonsignificant increases in the treatment catchment areas, relative to control catchment areas. However, these increases were not significant enough to outweigh statistically significant reductions in crime seen in treatment areas.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Braga and Bond (2008) conducted a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the impact of the Lowell, Mass., Hot Spots strategy on disorder-related crime. They used the SARA (Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment) model, a method often used in problem-oriented policing studies. During the scanning phase, crime and geospatial analysts identified high-crime locations in Lowell, using crime data in addition to qualitative data on perceptions of crime locations collected from police officers. Thirty-four hot spots were identified, which were matched into 17 pairs of blocks—with one member of each pair assigned to the treatment group and the other to the control group. During the analysis phase, hot spot areas were allocated to treatment or control groups using random assignment. The strategy was then implemented in the response period, with an intervention period spanning over 1 year, from Sept. 1, 2005, to Aug. 31, 2006. The assessment phase began during the intervention period, during which police departments were held accountable for successful implementation of the program’s activities. They held Compstat-like meetings to assess the progress in reducing crime and disorder problems by the program’s activities, and researchers attended the meetings. If results of these meetings indicated that desired effects were not being achieved, police captains emphasized the need for officers to work harder to implement disorder policing activities. Police departments were not informed of which areas were designated as treatment or control hot spot areas.

The main outcomes used in the evaluation were citizen calls for service and observed disorder, supplemented by an analysis of displacement/diffusion effects.
  • Citizen calls for service. Calls for emergency service were used as official measures of crime, which were provided by the Lowell Police Department. Pretest and posttest data on nuisance crime in treatment and control areas was analyzed to determine whether there were any significant changes as a result of the Lowell strategy. Types of crimes were distributed in the form of rare event counts, including calls for assault, robbery, burglary/breaking and entering, larceny/theft, disorder/nuisance, and total calls for service. In order to supplement this analysis, a regression analysis was used to determine differential impacts of the three program components (misdemeanor arrests, situational prevention strategies, and social service strategies) on citizen calls for service in treatment and control areas.
  • Observed disorder. Researchers made systematic social observations of evaluation areas in order to assess disorder, not knowing which were designated as treatment or control groups. They were driven by a plainclothes officer in an unmarked car and recorded observations from the “epicenter” of activity to gain the best perspective on activity in the area. Researchers distinguished observations between indicators of social disorder and indicators of physical disorder, and the data was coded and entered into a database for analysis. Social disorder was measured using observations of the number of people engaged in social incivilities, including loitering, public drinking, drug selling, and the presence of homeless people. Physical disorder was measured using photographs of areas taken by researchers. The pictures were analyzed for the presence of physical disorder, including street segments with trash; structures with graffiti; damaged structures; unkempt vacant lots; abandoned cars; and unsecured abandoned buildings.
  • Displacement/diffusion effects. The potential displacement/diffusion effects of the strategy were analyzed in order to account for the possibility of crime moving to nearby areas, as well as for the possibility of benefits spreading to nearby areas. In order to measure these effects, a two-block catchment area was constructed around each of the 34 places. Displacement and diffusion effects were assessed by comparing citizen calls for service and reported crime incidents in the two-block catchment areas immediately surrounding the control and treatment groups for the 6-month preintervention and postintervention periods.
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Cost

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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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

Study 1

Braga, Anthony A., and Brenda J. Bond. 2008. “Policing Crime and Disorder Hot Spots: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Criminology 46(3):577–607.


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Additional References

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

Schreiber, Sara. 2010. “Zone Defense: The Hopeful Case for ‘Broken Windows’ in Disordered Streets.” Law Enforcement Technology 37(3):24–28.
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Related Practices

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:

Hot Spots Policing
Used by many U.S. police departments, hot spots policing strategies focus on small geographic areas or places, usually in urban settings, where crime is concentrated. The practice is rated Effective. 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.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types



Problem-Oriented Policing
These analytic methods are used by police to develop crime prevention and reduction strategies. The practice is rated Promising and led to a significant decline in crime and disorder.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types



Street-Level Drug Law Enforcement
This practice includes targeted-policing approaches for reducing drug and drug-related offenses. This practice is rated Promising in reducing reported, drug-related calls for services and offenses against persons. This practice is rated No Effects in reducing reported property offenses, public order calls for service, and total offenses.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Drug and alcohol offenses
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Violent offenses
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Property offenses
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Public order offenses
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
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Program Snapshot

Gender: Both

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting, High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots

Program Type: Community and Problem Oriented Policing, Foot Patrol, Community Crime Prevention , Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design/Design Against Crime, Situational Crime Prevention, Hot Spots Policing

Current Program Status: Active