The Problem-Oriented Policing in Violent Crime Places strategy was adopted by the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) in response to rising violent crime rates in Jersey City, NJ, during the early 1990s. Borrowing techniques from hot spots policing and problem-oriented policing approaches, the strategy specifically concentrated on creating reductions in violent crime. Problem-oriented policing entails the analysis of underlying issues contributing to a certain crime problem, while hot spots policing concentrates on controlling crimes that cluster in geographic areas. The application of both techniques enabled officers to identify underlying conditions of crime in high-activity violent crime locations, enabling the development of tailored strategies to modify problematic characteristics and reduce violent crime in targeted problem areas.
The strategy was targeted at high-activity violent crime locations in Jersey City, NJ.
The strategy implemented by the JCPD used a series of problem-oriented tactics that could be broadly characterized as a “policing disorder” strategy. The approach used a broad range of techniques specifically intended to increase police activity and promote order in high-crime locations. To reduce social disorder, aggressive order maintenance techniques were applied, including the use of foot and radio patrols, the dispersing of groups of loiterers, the issuing of summons for public drinking, and use of ‘stop and frisks’ of suspicious persons. To reduce physical disorder, officers also made physical improvements in problem locations, which included securing vacant lots, removing trash from the streets, increasing lighting in areas, and removing graffiti from buildings.
The Violent Crimes Unit of the Jersey City Police Department was responsible for the development and implementation of problem-oriented strategies in identified high-crime locations.
The Jersey City strategy concentrated on the role of place in crime prevention, drawing on three complementary theoretical perspectives: rational choice, routine activities, and environmental criminology. The rational choice theory posits that choosing to commit a crime is a rational decision made by an offender to benefit himself (or herself), as part of rational and deliberate target-searching behavior. This is based on the idea that an offender commits a crime after deciding that the potential benefits of the crime outweigh the potential risks. The routine activities theory posits that a criminal act occurs when there is a convergence of a suitable target in the absence of a capable guardian. In theory, this complements rational choice because, when the opportunity to commit crime is presented, the offender is more likely to make the choice to offend. The role of place is introduced by environmental criminology, also known as crime pattern theory, which explores the distribution and interaction of targets, offenders, and opportunities across time and space. Based on the application of this idea to the theories of rational choice and routine activities, it is presupposed that certain characteristics of a place can make it more attractive than another to an offender. As pertinent to this strategy, the theory posits that the police concentrate on specific features of high-crime places that increase opportunities for offenders and cause crime to cluster at these locations. The strategy also applies the broken windows theory of criminology, which suggests that disorder in neighborhoods leads to an increase in crime. Accordingly, the Jersey City strategy adopts a situational crime prevention approach, specifically intended to reduce violent crime by modifying places, routine activities, and situations that promote violence. In sum, the strategy relies on the idea that improving order in problematic areas can effectively lead to reductions in violent crime.
Citizen Calls for Service
Braga and colleagues (1999) found that the total number of calls for service was significantly reduced at the treatment places, relative to the control places. There were reductions across all remaining five categories; however, only three were statistically significant. Statistically significant reductions were seen in street-fight calls, property calls, and narcotics calls. Robbery calls and disorder/nuisance calls were reduced in treatment places relative to control places, but not to statistically significant levels.
Reported Criminal Incidents
The total number of criminal incidents was significantly reduced at the treatment places, relative to the control places. There were reductions across all remaining five categories; however, only two were statistically significant. Statistically significant reductions in treatment areas relative to control areas were seen in reported incidents of robbery and property incidents. Reported incidents of nondomestic assault, disorder/vandalism, and narcotics arrests were reduced in treatment locations relative to control locations, but not to statistically significant levels.
Observed Social and Physical Incivilities
Social disorder was alleviated in 10 of 11 (91 percent) treatment places, in comparison with control places—a statistically significant finding. One of the treatment cases was excluded from the analyses because of improper collection of observational data.
Physical disorder was alleviated in 10 of 11 (91 percent) treatment places in comparison to pre-test conditions—a statistically significant finding. One of the treatment cases was excluded from the analyses, as it did not indicate initial evidence of urban blight.
Displacement and Diffusion Effects
The displacement and diffusion experimental analyses revealed that the majority of crime types in the treatment catchment areas were not significantly displaced or diffused as a result of the problem-oriented strategy in target areas. Robbery calls and incidents, assault calls, property calls, drug offense calls and arrests, street-fight calls, disorder incidents, and total incidents were not displaced into the areas immediately surrounding the treatment places, relative to the areas immediately surrounding the control places. Disorder calls, assault incidents, and the total number of calls in the treatment catchment areas may have reflected a significant diffusion of crime control benefits relative to control catchment areas. However, the most notable finding was that property crime incidents were significantly displaced into the treatment catchment areas, when compared with control catchment areas.