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POP Center Tools Understanding and Responding to Crime & Disorder Hot Spots Page 5

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Responding to Hot Spots

Hot spot policing covers a range of responses that focus resources on the locations where policing incidents are highly concentrated.22 The particular police responses in hot spots vary across initiatives, and also differ in the extent to which they are developed on the basis of a careful analysis of the problems at the hot spots. In initiatives that focus only on increasing police presence, there is some element of analysis in identifying the hot spots but little effort to develop a tailored response. Some hot spot initiatives can be viewed as examples of shallow problem solving, because officers conduct only a preliminary analysis to choose a response. In other initiatives, police conduct a more thorough and detailed problem-specific analysis to develop a response to address the particular
conditions contributing to incidents occurring at the hot spot.

A list of studies relying on increased police presence appears in Appendix C. A list of studies using deeper problem analysis appears in Appendix D.† The tables include the location of the study, a brief description of the strategy, a summary of the effectiveness, the research design used, and relevant citations for the full report of the study. Only studies that used a randomized experimental or quasi-experimental design are included because these studies are the most reliable for assessing whether a hot spot intervention had an effect on crime and disorder.‡ The tables also are limited to interventions that targeted very small units of geography, such as a single street segment or small group of street segments.§

† See http://cebcp.org/evidence-based-policing/the-matrix/matrix-demonstration... for more on different types of hot spot interventions. Additionally, most of the studies reviewed here and in Appendixes C and D are included in the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix. Visit http://www.policingmatrix.org and click on the “micro places” tab. More detailed information on each study is also available in the reports and articles included in the references section. See also the IACA white paper “Effective Responses: High Crime and Disorder Areas” at http://www.iaca.net/Publications/Whitepapers/iacawp_2015_01_high_crime_a...

‡ The studies in Appendix D are not a comprehensive list of problem-oriented hot spot interventions, but represent the most methodologically rigorous published studies. Additional examples of hot spot interventions using problem-oriented policing can be found by searching the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing’s Situational Crime Prevention database and Goldstein and Tilley Award online databases.

§ A number of SPI–funded studies incorporate problem solving and a place-based focus. Some, including projects in New Haven, Connecticut; Los Angeles; and the third SPI project in Philadelphia, are not included in this report because they focus on larger units of geography, such as neighborhoods or police districts. See more about SPI-funded projects at www.strategiesforpolicinginnovation.com/spi-sites

Examples of each type of hot spot initiative are included below. The more thorough the adherence to the SARA model, the more likely the intervention is to be successful in addressing the problem and reducing crime. However, even just increasing presence has shown success in reducing crime; thus, any form of problem solving is preferable to an unfocused approach.22

Increasing Presence

Simply having officers visit hot spots more often is one method of responding to crime or problems in those locations. Increasing presence is among the simplest strategies for responding to hot spots, but one that seems to be an effective approach to dealing with high-crime micro places. Increased presence should not be viewed as the same as zero-tolerance policing. Officers can engage in a number of activities while present in hot spots, and they do not have to spend their time strictly or even primarily on law enforcement. The effect of increased police presence on the community should be considered before initiating such a response (see the “Effects on Perceptions of Legitimacy” section).

The first hot spot policing experiment in Minneapolis increased patrol levels on high-crime street blocks by up to three hours per day.24 Computerized mapping of crime calls identified 110 hot spots of roughly street-block length. Police doubled the average patrol for the experimental sites over a 10-month period. Officers in Minneapolis were not given specific instructions on what activities to engage in while present in hot spots. They simply were told to increase patrol time in the treatment hot spots. The intervention hot spots, as compared with the control hot spots, experienced statistically significant reductions in crime calls and observed disorder.

Other interventions have increased presence through using teams of officers on foot patrol in hot spot areas.25 Officers can be assigned to work one or a small group of hot spots during their shift. This type of intervention may be especially useful in small, high-density urban hot spots, where officers can easily patrol an area on foot. These focused foot-patrol efforts have been effective in reducing crime in high-violence locations.

Example: Increasing presence in hot spots in Sacramento, California

The Sacramento Police Department conducted a 90-day hot spot experiment in 2011, emphasizing an increase in officer presence.26 The department chose 42 hot spots, each a single street-block long, based on an examination of high-call and high-incident streets in the previous 3 years. These hot spots were paired based on similar crime levels and then randomly assigned to an intervention group or a control group. In the intervention group, patrol officers were assigned between 1 and 6 hot spots each day to visit during their down time between 911 calls. They were told to spend 12 to 16 minutes in each assigned hot spot, ideally visiting all their assigned hot spots once every 2 hours during their shift. Each day, they were given a randomly assigned order in which to visit each hot spot. They were not told specifically what to do while present, but were given a list of proactive activities (such as traffic stops and talking to residents or business owners) that they could engage in.

The intervention was guided by findings from the Minneapolis study, which found that approximately 15-minute stops were ideal for maximizing crime deterrence.27 Stops longer than 15 minutes did not increase the amount of disorder-free time after police left the scene, while stops less than 15 minutes were not long enough to deter activity once officers left the scene.

The idea to use medium-length stops in Sacramento, conducted in a random order, was also guided by research on best practices in police crackdowns.28,† The random order helped make the times police would be present less predictable to offenders, which maximized the deterrence effect. In Sacramento, the approach was successful, as treatment-group hot spots had significantly fewer calls for service and Part I crime incidents than control-group hot spots when comparing the experiment period in 2011 with the same period in 2010.

† For more on crackdowns, see The Benefits and Consequences of Police Crackdowns (Response Guide No. 1). 

Problem-Oriented Responses from Preliminary Analysis

The specific responses used in problem-oriented initiatives are guided by analysis. There are, however, some common responses that are often used in initiatives guided only by a preliminary analysis. These interventions typically rely on some combination of situational crime prevention, increased
enforcement, and community-building work.

First, situational crime prevention has been commonly used to address underlying opportunities for crime in hot spots. The exact techniques used vary by study, but they all incorporate some combination of the 25 techniques of situational crime prevention, typically with a focus on increasing the effort for crime, increasing the risks for crime, and reducing the rewards for crime.‡ Common strategies include working with businesses to harden targets and reduce the risk of theft, cleaning up graffiti to deny benefits to offenders, and improving street lighting to assist natural surveillance.

‡ p See more about the 25 techniques of situational crime prevention at http://www.popcenter.org/25techniques/ 

Second, problem-oriented hot spot initiatives often use increased enforcement as a tool to target offenders operating in high-crime areas. Enforcement activity can target disorderly activity in general (i.e., aggressive order maintenance) or target particular gangs or groups known to be involved in criminal activity in the area. Additionally, civil remedies, such as nuisance abatement, can be a useful tool for addressing problem properties.§ While these enforcement efforts can reduce crime and disorder, the department should be cognizant of the effects an aggressive enforcement-oriented approach may have on citizen views about police actions.29

§ Civil remedies rely on civil law rather than criminal law. For more on civil actions, see Using Civil Actions Against Property to Control Crime Problems (Response Guide No. 11).

Third, responses often involve community building and engagement. These kinds of interventions use community policing principles and often focus on efforts to build informal social control and increase the participation of residents, business owners, faith leaders, and community groups in crime-prevention programs. Ongoing work with the SPI-funded project in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, focuses on increasing presence but without an enforcement orientation. Instead, officers work to build informal social control in hot spots by building closer relationships with residents and business owners and using these relationships to encourage groups to take the lead in reducing crime.30

Problem-oriented policing thus offers a flexible framework for efforts to bring about long-term crime reduction in chronic hot spots.31 Prior studies suggest situational programs may be especially effective at addressing underlying contributors to crime opportunities, and may therefore help reduce crime in the long term more effectively than increasing presence alone.32

Example: Problem-oriented policing with preliminary analysis in hot spots in Boston

An example of a problem-oriented hot spot policing intervention with a preliminary analysis comes from an SPI–funded study of the Safe Streets Team program in Boston, Massachusetts.33 The analysis demonstrated remarkable concentration among gun crime micro hot spots. From 1980 to 2008, 88.5 percent of the street units in the city did not experience a single shooting event. However, just 65 street units experienced 10 or more shooting events. The Safe Streets Team program involved 6 officers and a sergeant assigned to 13 of the micro hot spots. These officers received additional training and were required to use problem-oriented policing to guide response development and delivery.

The teams developed 396 problem-solving activities (some used multiple times) across the 13 treatment areas. These responses were tailored to the specific problems at each hot spot. The most common responses are described in Table 1. In all hot spots, there was a combination of situational or environmental responses designed to change conditions that contributed to crime opportunities, enforcement activity concentrated on high-rate offenders contributing to problems in each location,
and community outreach activities designed to both increase community involvement in crime prevention and provide activities for youth.

The intervention was associated with a reduction in aggravated assaults (more than 15 percent), violent crime (more than 17 percent), and robberies (more than 19 percent) relative to comparison areas that were as similar as possible to the intervention sites.

Problem-Oriented Responses from Problem-Specific Analysis

The responses reviewed above should not be viewed as the only ways to develop problem-oriented hot spot responses. Indeed, the appropriate response can be determined only after a detailed, problem-specific analysis. The response should be tailored specifically to address the underlying problem or problems and the conditions contributing to them at each hot spot.

The most successful hot spot interventions thus consider and address not just the clustering of crime in a particular small geographic area, but also the type of behavior (e.g., the crime types most common in the hot spot), the time of day incidents are most likely to occur, and the people involved in these incidents (offenders or victims).†

† See https://popcenter.asu.edu/content/problem-analysis-triangle-0

Table 1: Examples of Responses from Safe Streets Team in Boston



Number of Times Used

Removed graffiti



Removed trash from street/park



Secured/razed abandoned building



Added/fixed lighting



Inspection/regulatory action on bar or liquor store



Focused enforcement in drug market area



Order maintenance to reduce social disorder



Focused enforcement on gang



Focused enforcement on robbery crew



Focused enforcement on burglars



Planned and held a community event

Community outreach/social service


Recreational opportunities for youth

Community outreach/social service


Street outreach to homeless

Community outreach/social service


Provided school supplies/toys to children

Community outreach/social service


The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing has a number of resources for conducting a problem-oriented hot spot intervention, including the Tool Guides, the Problem-Specific Guides, and the Response Guides. These all provide additional guidance on responses that may be appropriate based on the dynamics of a particular problem.‡

‡ s See https://popcenter.asu.edu/pop-guides

Example: Problem-oriented policing with problem-specific analysis in convenience stores in Glendale, Arizona

An SPI–funded intervention in Glendale, Arizona, used a problem-oriented approach to address convenience store crime and disorder.34 After identifying convenience store crime as a major citywide problem, officers trained in problem-oriented policing conducted a detailed analysis of the problem. Their preliminary analysis suggested that convenience store incidents were highly concentrated at a small number of Circle K convenience stores (Figure 6). The analysis suggested that those store locations also tended to have more crime than other nearby convenience stores. Property crime was especially common at these locations.

A more detailed analysis included crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) assessments to assess how the environment at these hot spot convenience store locations might contribute to crime opportunities. Officers also conducted surveillance to better understand the dynamics at these locations. The CPTED assessments suggested that issues both inside the stores (e.g., inadequate staffing, placing attractive items near the door) and outside the stores (e.g., poor lighting, failure to address disorderly activity) likely contributed to the high problem levels. 

Based on this analysis, the Glendale team developed a three-pronged response: providing CPTED-based recommendations to the corporate management, developing a crime prevention publicity campaign aimed at reducing youth beer thefts, and increased enforcement and surveillance at high-crime locations during high risk times of day.

The intervention was associated with a 42 percent decline in calls for service at targeted stores, which was larger than the drop in nontargeted convenience stores.

Figure 6: Number of Highly Concentrated Circle K Crime Locations

Example: Offender-focused hot spot policing in Philadelphia

The initial SPI-funded initiative in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, directly compared three different hot spot interventions: foot patrol, problem-oriented policing, and an offender-focused program in a randomized experiment.35 Each intervention group contained 20 hot spots, with seven hot spots serving as control locations for each intervention type. Results suggested the offender-focused program had the greatest effect on reducing violent crime.

While the offender-focused intervention did not fully follow the SARA model, it incorporated analysis and an emphasis on the people contributing to crime problems in hot spots, as well as a strong evaluation component. The intervention involved close collaboration between district-level teams that worked to apprehend chronic offenders and intelligence analysts, who helped identify high-rate offenders contributing to problems in each hot spot. The offender-focused team surveilled the offenders and worked with patrol officers to monitor their activities. Offenders who committed crimes were served with a warrant and arrested. This focus on “hot people” in high-crime places seemed to be successful in reducing crime in these locations and may be an especially efficient way for police to focus enforcement activities in hot spots.

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