Home  |  Help  |  Contact Us  |  Site Map   |  Glossary
Additional Resources:

Program Profile: Broken Windows/Public Order Policing in High Crime Areas (CA)

Evidence Rating: No Effects - One study No Effects - One study

Date: This profile was posted on November 16, 2015

Program Summary

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.

Program Description

Program Goals/Target Sites
A “broken windows” based hot spots policing approach is a disorder reduction tactic used by some law enforcement agencies in high crime neighborhoods. The strategy is based on the “broken windows” theory of crime, which suggests 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 or order maintenance policing, which focuses resources on small areas with high crime rates (hot spots) to produce a crime-reduction effect throughout the larger area. In California, this policing strategy was implemented in three midsized cities near Los Angeles. The intervention was based on the idea that, by reducing social and physical disorder, conditions will improve and crime and disorder will be reduced.
Program Activities
The approach was implemented in three midsized cities near the Los Angeles, California area.  The strategy included using a broken windows policing approach across 55 street blocks identified as high crime areas (hot spots) in each city. These areas received an extra 3 hours of attention from police per week, in addition to the normal level of police presence.
Participating officers attended 1 day of training that encouraged them not to ignore any incidents of physical or social disorder within targeted areas. For first offenses, officers were told to use discretion in resolving problems, and give preference to police warnings and explanations about why some behaviors (such as public drinking or loitering) were not permissible. Specifically, officers were instructed to deal with social disorder via warnings, negotiations, and counseling as the first option. Common intervention activities included talking to a citizen, field interrogation, “stop and frisk,” advising/warning a citizen, issuing a citation, making an arrest, making a referral to another agency, and writing an incident report (Weisburd et al. 2012). Arrests or citations were to be used with repeat offenders or cases with aggravated circumstances.
To deal with physical disorder, officers were trained to report every instance of disorderly condition, such as graffiti or litter, to the appropriate city clean-up agencies, and follow up with those agencies if the problem was not dealt with in a timely manner.  
Program Theory
The intervention in California was based on the broken windows theory, which argues that police can prevent crime by addressing disorderly neighborhood conditions, including both physical and social disorder (Wilson and Kelling 1982). Left untreated, such conditions can cause fear and withdrawal among community members. This, in turn, can lead to a decrease in informal social controls (or a perceived decrease by offenders). According to the theory, disorder creates the conditions under which crime is allowed to thrive.

The intervention in California also included hot spots policing, which focuses on small geographic areas or places, usually in urban settings, where crime is concentrated (Braga et al. 2012). Hot spots policing is based on three related theoretical perspectives on spatial concentrations of crime: rational choice theory (Cornish and Clarke 1987), routine activities theory (Cohen and Felson 1979), and environmental criminology (Brantingham and Brantingham 1991). Hot spots policing allows law enforcement agencies to focus limited resources in areas where crime is most likely to occur. Concentrating limited resources on a small number of high-crime areas that generate a disproportionate share of crime is thought to represent a more efficient way to allocate resources than other less focused approaches.
Other Information
Critics of hot spots policing contend that it may generate backfire effects by negatively affecting residents’ fear of crime, collective efficacy, and police legitimacy, due to increased police presence and activity in targeted areas. Some critics argue that increased police presence may alter residents’ perceptions of crime in their neighborhood, ultimately increasing fear of crime and eroding police–community relations, which may threaten police legitimacy (Rosenbaum 2006; Weisburd and Braga 2003). Specifically, Rosenbaum (2006) notes that simply being labeled a “hot spot” may increase residents’ fear of crime, and that increased police presence may have residents feeling more like targets than partners with the police. Thus, the nature and style of policing within hot spots is thought to play an important role in how the community responds to having a heavier than usual police presence.

Evaluation Outcomes

top border
Study 1
Overall, Weisburd and colleagues (2011) found the broken windows hot spots intervention had no significant impacts on fear of crime, police legitimacy, collective efficacy, or perceptions of crime and disorder. The authors also examined whether the intervention had a “backfire” effect, meaning policing tactics had increased citizens’ fear of crime and perceptions of crime and disorder because of the sudden increase in police presence in the area. However, the nonsignificant results did not support the idea of either beneficial effects or backfire effects. 

Fear of Crime

The intervention did not result in any significant differences between the intervention and control areas regarding citizens’ fear of crime.

Perceived Risk

The intervention did not result in any significant differences between the intervention and control areas regarding citizens’ perceived risk of being a victim of a crime.
Perceived Crime
The intervention did not result in any significant differences between the intervention and control areas regarding citizens’ perceptions of crime
Perceived Social Disorder
The intervention did not result in any significant differences between the intervention and control areas regarding citizens’ perceptions of social disorder.
Perceived Physical Disorder
The intervention communities reported an increase in physical disorder post-intervention as compared with the control areas, but this difference was not statistically significant (p=0.08). This result suggests that the intervention may have generated a minor backfire effect, although the authors speculated that citizens may have become more aware of physical disorder by virtue of getting involved in efforts to help clean up the disorder (such as picking up trash from their yards or fixing broken locks or windows).
Collective Efficacy
The intervention did not result in any significant differences between the intervention and control areas regarding citizens’ ratings of collective efficacy.
Police Legitimacy
The intervention did not result in any significant differences between the intervention and control areas regarding measures of police legitimacy.
bottom border

Evaluation Methodology

top border
Study 1
Weisburd and colleagues (2011) conducted a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the impact of the broken windows hot spots policing approach on residents’ fear of crime, neighborhood collective efficacy, public perceptions of police legitimacy, and perceived crime and disorder in three midsized cities near Los Angeles, California. More than 60 percent of the residents in two of the target cities (Colton and Ontario) were Hispanic; the other city (Redlands) was about 74 percent white. The intervention began in mid-June 2008 and ended around mid-January 2009 (approximately 6 months in duration). The treatment areas received an additional 3 hours per week of police presence in addition to regular patrol, whereas the control areas received police patrol as usual.
The experiment was conducted at the street-segment level, which was defined as the two block faces on both sides of a street, which included both of the intersections connected to the street block. A total of 110 street segments were randomized into treatment and control areas, with 55 target blocks in each group. The number of blocks chosen in each city was limited to a number that police leaders felt would be feasible to deliver the intervention in a sufficient dosage, and were carefully selected on the basis of having a sufficient number of crime and disorder problems that required police attention (i.e., treatment areas should have had 10 or more disorder calls for service or 3 or more Uniform Crime Report Part I crime calls for service within the year preceding the study). Additionally, treatment areas were separated from each other by at least one full street segment in every direction. The cities of Colton and Ontario had 60 and 20 segments included in the study, respectively, while Redlands had 30 street segments.
Outcomes were assessed using a series of telephone surveys delivered to residents and business owners/managers. Surveys were administered by research assistants at California State University in two waves, before and after the police intervention. The first wave of data was collected between March and June 2008; the second was collected between January and April 2009. The final sample size included 371 individual responses from the 110 street segments: 192 from the experimental area and 179 from the control area. Of these, 205 surveys were completed by residential respondents and 166 were completed by business owners/managers. ANOVA models were used to examine within-subject changes in both target and control communities, controlling for city and the interaction between intervention and city.
bottom border


top border
There is no cost information available for this program.
bottom border

Implementation Information

top border
Participating officers received a 1- day training session that covered the broken windows theory of crime control, broken windows policing in practice, and information related to the study and intervention design. The training explained the selection process of treatment and control sites and an action plan for administering the appropriate dosage in target areas. Each officer received an intervention protocol booklet that showed examples of how to address specific types of social and physical disorder consistent with broken windows policing. The training encouraged police officers to address all instances of physical or social disorder encountered within the target area. One police department conducted follow-up trainings during weeks 12 and 17 to ensure that new participants were implementing the program as designed. Trainings emphasized that the preferred method of handling disorders was the use of warnings and counseling. Officers were also trained to report any physical disorder to the appropriate clean-up agency, and follow-ups were conducted to ensure consistency (Weisburd et al. 2012).
To ensure program fidelity, participating officers were required to use log sheets that recorded all instances of physical and social disorder that occurred in target areas. Officers were to complete log sheets for each visit to a target area regardless of how much time they spent there and whether there were any incidents. Common intervention activities were listed and officers were asked to indicate frequency of each activity. There was also room at the bottom of the form for open-ended comments regarding disorder and the officer’s response to the disorder. The log sheets were used to monitor dosage in target areas during the intervention and to collect data on specific activities conducted. Log forms were collected on a biweekly basis and information was recorded in a database (Weisburd et al. 2012).
bottom border

Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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

Study 1
Weisburd, David, Joshua C. Hinkle, Christine Famega, and Justin Ready. 2011. "The Possible “Backfire” Effects of Hot Spots Policing: An Experimental Assessment of Impacts on Legitimacy, Fear and Collective Efficacy." Journal of Experimental Criminology 7(4):297–320.
bottom border

Additional References

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

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

Brantingham, Paul, and Patricia Brantingham (eds.). 1991. Environmental Criminology. 2nd ed. Prospect Heights, Ill.: 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 25:933–47.

Kelling, George L., and James Q. Wilson. 1982. “Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety.” Atlantic Monthly 249(3):29–38.

Rosenbaum, Dennis P. "The Limits of Hot Spots Policing." 2006. In D. Weisburd  and  A. A. Braga (eds.). Police Innovation: Contrasting Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 245–63.

Weisburd, David, and Anthony A. Braga. "Hot Spots Policing." 2003. In H. Kury and  J. Obergfell-Fuchs (eds.) .Crime Prevention: New Approaches. Mainz, Germany: Weisser Ring, 337–54.

Weisburd, David, Joshua C. Hinkle, Christine Famega, and Justin Ready. 2012. Legitimacy, Fear, and Collective Efficacy in Crime Hot Spots: Assessing the Impacts of Broken Windows Policing Strategies on Citizen Attitudes. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.

Wyckoff, Laura A., Justin Ready, John E. Eck, Joshua C. Hinkle, and Frank Gajewski. 2004. Does Crime Just Move Around the Corner?: A Study of Displacement and Diffusion in Jersey City, NJ. Washington, D.C.: Police Foundation.
bottom border

Related Practices

top border
Following are 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
bottom border

Program Snapshot

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, White, Other

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots

Program Type: Community and Problem Oriented Policing, Community Awareness/Mobilization, Community Crime Prevention , Violence Prevention, Hot Spots Policing, General deterrence

Current Program Status: Not Active

Listed by Other Directories: Campbell Collaboration