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Program Profile: Problem-Oriented Policing in Violent Crime Places (Jersey City, NJ)

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on March 26, 2012

Program Summary

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.

Program Description

Program Goals
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.

Target Sites
The strategy was targeted at high-activity violent crime locations in Jersey City, NJ.

Program Activities
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.

Key Personnel
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.

Program Theory
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.

Evaluation Outcomes

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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 conditionsa 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.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Braga and colleagues (1999) conducted a pilot study in Jersey City, NJ, to test the feasibility of problem-oriented policing in reducing violent crime. The study was implemented in coordination with the Violent Crimes Unit (VCU) of the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) and used a randomized controlled trial based on the SARA (scanning, analysis, response, assessment) model. During the initial scanning phase, officers used computerized mapping and database technologies to count assault incidents and emergency citizen calls and match them in “intersection areas.” Simple temporal analyses and ranking procedures were subsequently used to identify 28 intersection areas with the highest levels of crime for potential inclusion in the experiment. During the analysis phase, officers selected 12 pairs for random assignment to the treatment group out of the 28 originally identified locations. Officers were instructed to select a caseload of places with an appropriate mix of high-, medium-, and low-activity places and were also instructed to choose places that were not spatially adjacent to one another. During the response phase, officers developed solutions to address specific causes that were identified during the scanning and assessment phase. Based on the data, officers noted that areas with high levels of violent crime were closely related to levels of disorder at the location. Therefore, a vital component of the solution included attempts to improve social and physical disorder in targeted locations. Finally, during the assessment phase, officers regularly monitored the progress of the strategy. They recorded monthly totals of violent crime calls, investigations, and arrests at each place and also made regular contact with community members to discuss whether progress was made in alleviating problems of the place. The community contacts and crime data analysis enabled officers to monitor progress toward their disorder-reduction goals. If problems appeared to be alleviated, the place would be eligible to be “closed down,” in which case the locations would be excluded from any further problem-oriented policing treatment.

A randomized complete block design was used to assess the main effects of the strategy, and 24 places were matched into 12 homogenous blocks. One member of each block was then randomly allocated to the treatment condition, producing 12 treatment locations and 12 control locations. Treatment locations received specialized attention from the VCU through the implementation of aggressive order maintenance techniques. Control places received the routine amount of traditional policing strategies, including arbitrary patrol interventions and routine follow-up investigations by detectives. The VCU was instructed not to engage in any problem-solving activities at control locations during the experiment.

To analyze the impact of the strategy, crime incident report data and citizen emergency calls for service data provided by the JCPD were used as official indicators of crime. Both measures were compared using a pre/post intervention analysis, including the 6-month preintervention period and a 6-month postintervention period. Researchers also conducted observations of physical and social characteristics to detect changes in physical and social incivilities in treatment and control locations. Displacement and diffusion effects were also measured, to account for the potential effects of crime moving to nearby areas, or benefits spreading to nearby areas.


  • Citizen calls for service. Emergency calls for service were measured across six categories: robbery calls, street-fight calls, property crime calls, nuisance/disorder calls, drug offense calls, and total calls.
  • Reported criminal incidents. Crime incident report data was analyzed using aggregate crime counts across six categories: robbery incidents, nondomestic assault incidents, property crime incidents, disorder/vandalism incidents, narcotics arrests, and total incidents.
  • Observed social and physical incivilities. Social observation data was collected at control and treatment locations to examine variations in social incivilities between both groups. Examples of social incivilities included drinking in public, loud music, and loitering. After the data was collected, researchers conducted pretest and posttest analyses of the mean number of persons engaged in disorderly behaviors across three observations in treatment and control places. Based on the analysis, a determination was made of whether social order had improved in treatment locations compared with control locations. To detect changes in physical incivilities, the physical characteristics of the 12 treatment locations were videotaped and coded during the pre-intervention period; the same locations were then observed during the post-intervention period. A pre/post-test analysis of the data was used to determine whether physical conditions in these areas had improved after the implementation of the strategy. Examples of physical incivilities included vacant lots, trash, graffiti, and broken windows.
  • Displacement and diffusion effects. Displacement and diffusion effects were assessed by comparing citizen calls for service and reported criminal 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., David L. Weisburd, Elin J. Waring, Lorraine Green Mazerolle, William Spelman, and Francis Gajewski. 1999. “Problem-Oriented Policing in Violent Crime Places: A Randomized Controlled Experiment.” Criminology 37(3):541–80.
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Additional References

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

Braga, Anthony A. 1997. “Solving Violent Crime Problems: An Evaluation of the Jersey City Police Department’s Pilot Program to Control Violent Places.” Dissertation. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University.
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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, Situational Crime Prevention, Violence Prevention, Hot Spots Policing

Current Program Status: Not Active

Listed by Other Directories: Campbell Collaboration

Program Developer:
David Weisburd
Distinguished Professor
George Mason University, Department of Criminology, Law and Society
4400 University Drive, MS 6D3
Fairfax VA 22030
Phone: 703.993.4079
Website
Email

Researcher:
David Weisburd
Distinguished Professor
George Mason University, Department of Criminology, Law and Society
4400 University Drive, MS 6D3
Fairfax VA 22030
Phone: 703.993.4079
Website
Email

Researcher:
Anthony Braga
Senior Research Fellow
Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government
79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge MA 02138
Phone: 617.495.5188
Website
Email