19 July 2021

What works in policing to reduce crime?

Our ‘what works in policing to reduce crime’ series, updated in Spring 2021, provides a brief overview of the most effective ways the police can tackle crime, based on the best available research evidence at the time of publishing.

While these resources were originally developed to support the newly elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC), they are of relevance to anyone who works in or with policing. Due to their popularity, they have been updated to coincide with the May 2021 PCC elections to ensure that the most up to date evidence is available to inform their work to reduce crime. 

The resources provide evidence relating to four commonly asked questions:

1.       What is the best thing the police can do to reduce crime?

There is very strong evidence to suggest that crime and antisocial behaviour is highly concentrated: that most crime is associated with only a small proportion of places (known as hotspots), repeat victims and prolific offenders. This has important implications for the targeting of police resources. Focusing police action on these people and places is an effective way to allocate resources for crime reduction. Taking a problem-solving approach, where police try to understand what is causing high volume offending and create specific solutions to tackle it, often in partnership with other agencies, has been shown to be a cost-effective way of driving down crime.

Find out more: What is the best thing the police can do to reduce crime? | What Works Centre for Crime Reduction (college.police.uk) 

2.       Shouldn't we just have more bobbies on the beat?

Research into public expectations of policing in the UK has highlighted a strong preference for increased police numbers and a highly visible police presence. However, the available research evidence is not strong enough to conclude that an increase in police officer numbers can cause a reduction in crime. Similarly, random police patrol or driving through areas when responding to other calls has been shown to have no crime reduction effect. Instead, police numbers and patrols are effective when targeted on areas where crime is concentrated. This targeted patrol, particularly when on foot, can improve public confidence in the police, perceptions of crime and feelings of safety – as well as reducing crime – when implemented alongside community engagement and problem-solving.

Find out more: Shouldn't we just have more bobbies on the beat? | What Works Centre for Crime Reduction (college.police.uk)

3.       What about zero-tolerance - isn't that how they reduced crime in New York?

Zero-tolerance policing (ZTP) is a strategy that aims to reduce minor offences and more serious crime through relentless order maintenance and aggressive law enforcement, against even minor disorder and incivilities. ZTP is most commonly associated with New York Police Department (NYPD) during the 1990s, a period when crime fell dramatically in New York City. However, the New York police chief at the time has said that zero-tolerance does not describe what happened, and that community policing and an organisational focus on crime reduction and quality of life issues were key. There is limited evidence that a true ZTP approach or related approaches, such as CompStat, can alone reduce crime.

Find out more: What about zero-tolerance - isn't that how they reduced crime in New York? | What Works Centre for Crime Reduction (college.police.uk)

4.       How should the police get a grip on demand?

To deliver sustained reductions in demand and tackle longer-term problems, police need to implement what the evidence identifies as the most effective policing approaches, such as problem solving policing. A range of data can be used to help forces develop a detailed understanding of police demand, and inform decisions about how and where to prioritise resources. Our resources include information that can be used to inform decisions around managing demand.  

Find out more: How should the police get a grip on demand? | What Works Centre for Crime Reduction (college.police.uk)

Where else can I find out more about What Works to reduce crime?
The Crime Reduction Toolkit provides the best-available evidence about the impact of interventions designed to reduce crime, including those focused on prevention, diversion and reducing reoffending. Each intervention is described, along with a summary of what the best available research tells us about its impact on reducing crime, how it works, where it works, how to implement it and how much it costs. The toolkit also reports on the quality of the research to help you to understand how confident you can be about the findings. 

Some of our most recently added interventions include:


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