Hot spot policing is a strategy that involves the targeting of resources and activities to those places where crime is most concentrated. The strategy is based on the premise that crime and disorder is not evenly spread within neighbourhoods but clustered in small locations.
Focusing resources and activities in hot spots aims to prevent crime in these specific areas and potentially, reduce overall crime levels in the wider geographic area.
Hotspot policing is not defined by the use of specific interventions or tactics, but by whether activity is targeted to specific high crime locations. Activities could include increased police patrols and law enforcement or problem solving.
This narrative is based on one review of 19 studies.
Overall, the evidence suggests that hot spots policing has reduced crime.
When authors calculated the overall effect of all 19 studies on crime, a small, statistically significant effect was found, suggesting that hot spots policing led to reductions in crime. The 19 studies employed a variety of interventions in the hot spots and measured their effects on a range of crime types.
Importantly, the review tested for the effects of displacement effects (crime and disorder moving to neighbouring areas) and diffusion of benefits (crime and disorder reducing in neighbouring areas as well as in the hot spots) and found a small but statistically significant overall diffusion of benefits.
The review was sufficiently systematic that most forms of bias that could influence the study conclusions can be ruled out.
It had a well-designed search strategy, included unpublished literature, accounted for potential publication bias, and used appropriate statistical methods in the analysis of effect size. The authors also conducted further analysis of possible displacement (moving the crime to nearby locations), diffusion of benefits (reducing crime in nearby locations in addition to the targeted hotspot) and how different context moderate the effects.
The review provides a general statement of the assumed theory of the possible mechanism through which hot spots policing might reduce crime. However, because different problems occur, and different interventions can be applied, within a hotspot, the mechanism by which they work will vary.
It is assumed that crime can be reduced more efficiently by concentrating resources and activities to deviant place. If victims and offenders are prevented from being in the same place at the same time through the effective manipulation of the situations and settings that give rise to criminal opportunities, police can reduce crime.
However, the review did not explicitly test this assumption.
The review analysed variation in effect by crime type and the programme design.
Hot spots policing showed different levels of effectiveness for different crime types – it was more effective for drug offences, violent crime and disorder than it was for property crime. When the authors compared the effect of taking a problem-orientated policing (POP) approach to hot spots policing with increasing traditional policing tactics (e.g. directed patrols, increased enforcement) in hot spots, they found POP was twice as effective. Taking a POP approach increased the effectiveness of hot spots policing for all crime types, but was notably more effective for property crime and disorder offences. POP was also more likely to reduce crime in surrounding areas to the hot spot location, when compared to increased traditional policing.
The review contained limited information about how hot spots policing was implemented. The specific activities undertaken as part of a hotspots policing strategy varied between studies, dependent upon the nature of the intervention (e.g. from drugs enforcement operations to POP approaches to tackling violent crime) . The authors did make concerted efforts to document implementation challenges amongst the studies.
Interventions were not implemented as intended due to staffing issues in three of the studies. Assigning officers to too many crime hot spots and shortage of officers (due to peaks in service demand, operational requirements or redeployment, for example) were reported to undermine the effectiveness of the interventions.
Officer resistance to the programme was found to threaten the integrity of the intervention in two studies. Mitigations against this included changes to leadership, the use of an implementation accountability system and additional training for officers.
The review noted that short implementation periods seemed to lessen the effect of the intervention. The authors also emphasised the importance of considering how different activities undertaken in hotspots may be perceived by the community to avoid adverse effects of concentrated police activity, particularly enforcement activity, but the effect of hotspot policing on community perceptions was not explored in detail.
There is no mention of the costs of the intervention, and no calculation of economic benefits within the review.
Overall, the evidence suggests that hot spots policing has reduced crime. Hot spots policing programmes that take a problem-oriented approach appear more effective than increased traditional policing (e.g. increased patrols or enforcement). The evidence suggested that hot spot policing was more effective for drug offences, violent crime and disorder than it was for property crime. Hot spots policing can also lead to a diffusion of benefits to the areas immediately surrounding the hot spot.
Braga, A., Papachristos, A. and Hureau, D. (2012) 'Hot spots policing effects on crime', Campbell Systematic Reviews, 2012:8, DOI: 10.4073/csr.2012.8 Uploaded 21/04/17