Hot Spots Policing Effects on Crime

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Hot Spots Policing Effects on Crime

Category: Crime, Homicide, Injury|Journal: Campbell Systematic Reviews (full text)|Author: A Braga, A Papachristos, D Hureau|Year: 2012

This Campbell systematic review examines the effects of focusing police crime prevention efforts on crime ‘hot spots’, and whether focused police actions at specific locations result in crime displacement (i.e. crime moving around the corner) or diffusion (i.e. crime reduction in surrounding areas) of crime control benefits. The review includes 19 studies covering 25 cases. Seventeen of the studies were conducted in the USA.

Investing police agencies’ limited resources on hot spot policing in a small number of high-activity crime places will prevent crime in these and surrounding areas, reducing total crime. Problem oriented policing approach allows for developing tailored responses to specific recurring problems in high activity crime spots. Implementing situational prevention strategies that reduce police reliance on aggressive enforcement strategies may also have positive benefits for police-community relations. The reactions of local communities to hot spot policing must be considered. Residents may welcome efforts to reduce crime. But if policing programmes are seen as heavy-handed, or focus too much on particular population groups, they may end up driving a wedge between the police and those they are trying to help.



In recent years, crime scholars and practitioners have pointed to the potential benefits of focusing crime prevention efforts on crime places. A number of studies suggest that there is significant clustering of crime in small places, or “hot spots,” that generate half of all criminal events. A number of researchers have argued that many crime problems can be reduced more efficiently if police officers focused their attention to these deviant places. The appeal of focusing limited resources on a small number of high-activity crime places is straightforward. If we can prevent crime at these hot spots, then we might be able to reduce total crime.



To assess the effects of focused police crime prevention interventions at crime hot spots. The review also examined whether focused police actions at specific locations result in crime displacement (i.e., crime moving around the corner) or diffusion (i.e., crime reduction in surrounding areas) of crime control benefits.


Search Strategy

A keyword search was performed on 15 online abstract databases. Bibliographies of past narrative and empirical reviews of literature that examined the effectiveness of police crime control programs were reviewed and forward searches for works that cited seminal hot spots policing studies were performed. Bibliographies of past completed Campbell systematic reviews of police crime prevention efforts and hand searches of leading journals in the field were performed. Experts in the field were consulted and relevant citations were obtaine


Selection Criteria

To be eligible for this review, interventions used to control crime hot spots were limited to police enforcement efforts. Suitable police enforcement efforts included traditional tactics such as directed patrol and heightened levels of traffic enforcement as well as alternative strategies such as aggressive disorder enforcement and problem-oriented policing. Studies that used randomized controlled experimental or quasi-experimental designs were selected. The units of analysis were limited to crime hot spots or high-activity crime “places” rather than larger areas such as neighborhoods. The control group in each study received routine levels of traditional police enforcement tactics.


Data Collection and Analysis

19 studies containing 25 tests of hot spots policing interventions were identified and full narratives of these studies were reported. Ten of the selected studies used randomized experimental designs and nine used quasi-experimental designs. A formal meta-analysis was conducted to determine the crime prevention effects in the eligible studies. Random effects models were used to calculate mean effect sizes.



20 of 25 tests of hot spots policing interventions reported noteworthy crime and disorder reductions. The meta-analysis of key reported outcome measures revealed a small statistically significant mean effect size favoring the effects of hot spots policing in reducing citizen calls for service in treatment places relative to control places. The effect was smaller for randomized designs but still statistically significant and positive. When displacement and diffusion effects were measured, unintended crime prevention benefits were associated with the hot spots.


Authors’ Conclusions

The extant evaluation research provides fairly robust evidence that hot spots policing is an effective crime prevention strategy. The research also suggests that focusing police efforts on high-activity crime places does not inevitably lead to crime displacement and crime control benefits may diffuse into the areas immediately surrounding the targeted locations.