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Community-Oriented Policing and Problem-Oriented Policing

In 1979, Hermon Goldstein observed from several studies conducted at the time on standard policing practices that law enforcement agencies seemed to be more concerned about the means rather than the goals of policing. He argued that law enforcement agencies should shift away from the traditional, standard model of policing and that police become more proactive, rather than reactive, in their approaches to crime and disorder (Hinkle et al., 2020; Weisburd et al., 2010). Goldstein’s work set the stage for the development of two new models of policing: community-oriented policing (COP) and problem-oriented policing (POP).

COP is a broad policing strategy that relies heavily on community involvement and partnerships, and on police presence in the community, to address local crime and disorder. POP provides law enforcement agencies with an analytic method to develop strategies to prevent and reduce crime and disorder, which involves problem identification, analysis, response, and assessment (National Research Council, 2018).

Although COP and POP differ in many ways, including the intensity of focus and diversity of approaches (National Research Council, 2004), there are several important similarities between them. For example, COP and POP both represent forms of proactive policing, meaning they focus on preventing crime before it happens rather than just reacting to it after it happens. Further, both COP and POP require cooperation among multiple agencies and partners, including community members (National Research Council, 2018). In addition, POP and COP overlap in that each involves the community in defining the problems and identifying interventions (Greene, 2000).

Although few studies focus on youth involvement in COP and POP, youths can play an important role in both strategies. In COP, youths often are part of the community with whom police work to identify and address problems. Youths can be formally involved in the process (i.e., engaging in local community meetings) or informally involved in efforts to strengthen the relationship between the police and members of the community. For example, a police officer on foot patrol may decide to engage with youths in the community through casual conversation, as part of a COP approach (Cowell and Kringen, 2016). Or police might encourage youth to participate in activities, such as police athletic leagues, which were designed to prevent and reduce the occurrence of juvenile crime and delinquency, while also seeking to improve police and youth attitudes toward each other (Rabois and Haaga, 2002). Using POP, law enforcement agencies may specifically focus on juvenile-related problems of crime and disorder. For example, the Operation Ceasefire intervention, implemented in Boston, MA, is a POP strategy that concentrated on reducing homicide victimization among young people in the city (Braga and Pierce, 2005).

This literature review discusses COP and POP in two separate sections. In each section, definitions of the approaches are provided, along with discussions on theory, examples of specific types of programs, overlaps with other policing strategies, and outcome evidence.

Specific research on how police and youth interact with each other in the community will not be discussed in this review but can be found in the Interactions Between Youth and Law Enforcement literature review on the Model Programs Guide.  

Community-Oriented Policing Definition

Community-oriented policing (COP), also called community policing, is defined by the federal Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services as “a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systemic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime” (Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services, 2012:3). This policing strategy focuses on developing relationships with members of the community to address community problems, by building social resilience and collective efficacy, and by strengthening infrastructure for crime prevention. COP also emphasizes preventive, proactive policing; the approach calls for police to concentrate on solving the problems of crime and disorder in neighborhoods rather than simply responding to calls for service. This model considerably expands the scope of policing activities, because the targets of interest are not only crimes but also sources of physical and social disorder (Weisburd et al., 2008).

After gaining acceptance as an alternative to traditional policing models in the 1980s, COP has received greater attention and been used more frequently throughout the 21st century (Greene, 2000; National Research Council, 2018; Paez and Dierenfeldt, 2020). The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 articulated the goal of putting 100,000 additional community police officers on the streets and established the federal Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services. Research from 2013 suggests that 9 out of 10 law enforcement agencies in the United States that serve a population of 25,000 or more had adopted some type of community policing strategy (Reaves, 2015).

COP comprises three key components (Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services, 2012):

  • Community Partnerships. COP encourages partnerships with stakeholders in the community, including other government agencies (prosecutors, health and human services, child support services and schools); community members/groups (volunteers, activists, residents, and other individuals who have an interest in the community); nonprofits/service providers (advocacy groups, victim groups, and community development corporations); and private businesses. The media also are an important mechanism that police use to communicate with the community.
  • Organizational Transformation. COP emphasizes the alignment of management, structure, personnel, and information systems within police departments to support the philosophy. These changes may include increased transparency, leadership that reinforces COP values, strategic geographic deployment, training, and access to data.
  • Problem-Solving. Proactive, systematic, routine problem-solving is the final key component of COP. COP encourages police to develop solutions to underlying conditions that contribute to public safety problems, rather than responding to crime only after it occurs. The SARA model (which stands for Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment) is one major conceptual model of problem-solving that can be used by officers (for a full description of the SARA model, see Problem-Oriented Policing below).

At the heart of COP is a redefinition of the relationship between the police and the community, so that the two collaborate to identify and solve community problems. Through this relationship, the community becomes a “co-producer” of public safety in that the problem-solving process draws on citizen expertise in identifying and understanding social issues that create crime, disorder, and fear in the community (Skolnick and Bayley, 1988; Gill et al., 2014; National Research Council, 2018).

COP is not a single coherent program; rather, it encompasses a variety of programs or strategies that rest on the assumption that policing must involve the community. Elements typically associated with COP programs include the empowerment of the community; a belief in a broad police function; the reliance of police on citizens for authority, information, and collaboration; specific tactics (or tactics that are targeted at particular problems, such as focused deterrence strategies) rather than general tactics (or tactics that are targeted at the general population, such as preventive patrol); and decentralized authority to respond to local needs (Zhao, He, and Lovrich, 2003). One Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA) survey of MCCA members found that some of the most common COP activities were officer representation at community meetings, bicycle patrols, citizen volunteers, foot patrols, police “mini-stations” (see description below), and neighborhood storefront offices (Scrivner and Stephens, 2015; National Research Council, 2018).

Community members who engage in COP programs generally report positive experiences. For example, residents who received home visits by police officers as part of a COP intervention reported high confidence in police and warmth toward officers, compared with residents who did not receive visits (Peyton et al., 2019). Notably, however, those who participate in COP–related activities, such as community meetings, may not be representative of the whole community (Somerville, 2008). Many individuals in communities remain unaware of COP activities, and those who are aware may choose not to participate (Adams, Rohe, and Arcury, 2005; Eve et al., 2003). Additionally, it can be difficult to sustain community participation. While police officers are paid for their participation, community members are not, and involvement could take time away from family and work (Coquilhat, 2008).

Specific Types of COP Programs

Because COP is such a broad approach, programs that involve the community may take on many different forms. For example, some COP programs may take place in a single setting such as a community center, a school, or a police mini-station. Other COP–based programs, such as police foot patrol programs, can encompass the entire neighborhood. The following are different examples of specific types of COP programs and how they can affect youth in a community.

School Resource Officers (SROs) are an example of a commonly implemented COP program in schools. SROs are trained police officers who are uniformed, carry firearms and a police department badge, and have arrest powers. They are tasked with maintaining a presence at schools to promote safety and security (Stern and Petrosino, 2018). The use of SROs is not new; SRO programs first appeared in the 1950s but increased significantly in the 1990s as a response to high-profile incidents of extreme school violence and the subsequent policy reforms (Broll and Howells, 2019; Lindberg, 2015). SROs can fulfill a variety of roles. They are intended to prevent and respond to school-based crime; promote positive relationships among law enforcement, educators, and youth; and foster a positive school climate (Thomas et al., 2013).

The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), the largest professional organization of SROs, formally defines the SRO roles using a “triad model,” which aligns with community policing models (May et al., 2004), and includes the three primary functions of SROs: 1) enforcing the law; 2) educating students, school staff, and the community; and 3) acting as an informal counselor or mentor (Broll and Howells, 2019; Fisher and Hennessy, 2016; Javdani, 2019; Thomas et al., 2013). There may be significant variability in how these roles and responsibilities are balanced, as they are usually defined through a memorandum of understanding between the local law enforcement agency and the school district (Fisher and Hennessy, 2016). Even with the SRO responsibilities formally spelled out, there may still be tensions and ambiguities inherent to the SRO position based on their positioning at the intersection of the education system and the juvenile justice system, which often have competing cultures and authority structures (Fisher and Hennessy, 2016). As members of the police force, the SROs may view problematic behaviors as crimes, whereas educators view them as obstacles to learning. Another ambiguity is that as an informal counselor/mentor, the SRO is expected to assist students with behavioral and legal issues, which may result in a conflict of interest if the adolescent shares information about engaging in illegal activities (Fisher and Hennessy, 2016).

Evaluation findings with regard to the effectiveness of the presence of SROs in schools have been inconsistent. In terms of school-related violence and other behaviors, some studies have found that SROs in schools are related to decreases in serious violence (Sorensen, Shen, and Bushway, 2021; Zhang, 2019), and decreases in incidents of disorder (Zhang, 2019). Others have found increases in drug-related crimes (Gottfredson et al., 2020; Zhang, 2019) associated with the presence of SROs in schools, and other studies have shown no effects on bullying (Broll and Lafferty, 2018; Devlin, Santos, and Gottfredson, 2018). In terms of school discipline, one meta-analysis (Fisher and Hennessy, 2016) examined the relationship between the presence of SROs and exclusionary discipline in U.S. high schools. Analysis of the seven eligible pretest–posttest design studies showed that the presence of SROs was associated with rates of school-based disciplinary incidents that were 21 percent higher than incident rates before implementing an SRO program. However, in another study, of elementary schools, there was no association found between SRO presence and school-related disciplinary outcomes, which ranged from minor consequences, such as a warning or timeout, to more serious consequences such as suspension from school (Curran et al., 2021).

Further, several studies have been conducted on the effects of SROs on students’ attitudes and feelings. One example is a survey of middle and high school students (Theriot and Orme, 2016), which found that experiencing more SRO interactions increased students’ positive attitudes about SROs but decreased school connectedness and was unrelated to feelings of safety. Conversely, findings from a student survey, on the relationship between awareness and perceptions of SROs on school safety and disciplinary experiences, indicated that students’ awareness of the presence of SROs and their perceptions of SROs were associated with increased feelings of safety and a small decrease in disciplinary actions. However, students belonging to racial and ethnic minority groups reported smaller benefits related to SROs, compared with white students (Pentek and Eisenberg, 2018).

Foot Patrol is another example of a program that uses COP elements. Foot patrol involves police officers making neighborhood rounds on foot. It is a policing tactic that involves movement in a set area for the purpose of observation and security (Ratcliffe et al., 2011). The primary goals of foot patrol are to increase the visibility of police officers in a community and to make greater contact and increase rapport with residents. Officers sometimes visit businesses on their beat, respond to calls for service within their assigned areas, and develop an intimate knowledge of the neighborhood. Additionally, police officers on foot patrols may offer a level of “citizen reassurance” to community members and may decrease a resident’s fear of crime by bringing a feeling of safety to the neighborhood (Wakefield, 2006; Ratcliffe et al., 2011; Walker and Katz, 2017). Another duty of foot patrol officers is to engage youth in the community, and some are instructed to go out of their way to engage vulnerable youth. For example, if an officer sees a group of youths hanging out on a street corner, the officer may stop and initiate casual conversation in an effort to build a relationship (Cowell and Kringen, 2016).

Though foot patrols limit the speed at which an officer can respond to a call (compared with patrol in a vehicle), research has found that community members are more comfortable with police being in the neighborhood on foot. Residents are more likely to consider an officer as “being there for the neighborhood” if they are seen on foot (Cordner, 2010; Piza and O’Hara, 2012).

While there are mixed findings regarding the effectiveness of foot patrols on crime (Piza and O’Hara, 2012), improved community relationships are one of the strongest benefits. Research has shown that foot patrol improves the relationships between community members and police officers through increasing approachability, familiarity, and trust Ratcliffe et al. 2011; Kringen, Sedelmaier, and Dlugolenski, 2018). Foot patrols can also have a positive effect on officers. Research demonstrates that officers who participate in foot patrol strategies have higher job satisfaction and a higher sense of achievement (Wakefield, 2006; Walker and Katz, 2017).

Mini-Stations are community-forward stations that allow police to be more accessible to members of a community. Mini-stations (also known as substations, community storefronts, and other names) can be based in many places—such as local businesses, restaurants, or community centers—and can be staffed by police officers, civilian employees, volunteers, or a combination of these groups, and have fewer officers stationed in them (Maguire et al., 2003). These stations allow officers to build on existing relationships with businesses in the area and give citizens easier access to file reports and share community concerns. Additionally, they are a means to achieving greater spatial differentiation, or a way for a police agency to cover a wider area, without the cost of adding a new district station (Maguire et al., 2003). Residents can also go to mini-stations to receive information and handouts about new policing initiatives and programs in the community. Police mini-stations also increase the overall amount of time officers spend in their assigned patrol areas. The concept of mini-stations stems from Japanese kobans , which gained prominence in the late 1980s. Officers who worked in kobans became intimately familiar with the neighborhood they served and were highly accessible to citizens (usually within a 10-minute walk of residential homes) [Young, 2022].

Mini-stations can also be helpful to youth in the community. For example, Youth Safe Haven mini-stations are mini-stations that are deployed in 10 cities by the Eisenhower Foundation. These mini-stations were first developed in the 1980s and are located in numerous youth-related areas, including community centers and schools (Eisenhower Foundation, 2011). In addition to crime outcomes (such as reduced crime and fear of crime), goals of youth-oriented mini-stations include homework help, recreational activities, and providing snacks and social skills training. Older youths can be trained to be volunteers to assist younger youths with mentoring and advocacy. There are mixed findings regarding mini-stations and their effect on crime rates, but research has shown that adults and older youths who participate in mini-station community programs (or have children who participate) are more likely to report crime, and younger youths are more comfortable speaking with police (Eisenhower Foundation, 1999; Eisenhower Foundation, 2011).

Theoretical Foundation

COP approaches are usually rooted in two different theories of crime: broken windows theory and social disorganization theory (Reisig, 2010; National Research Council, 2018). Both focus on community conditions to explain the occurrence of crime and disorder.

Broken Windows Theory asserts that minor forms of physical and social disorder, if left unattended, may lead to more serious crime and urban decay (Wilson and Kelling, 1982). Visual signs of disorder (such as broken windows in abandoned buildings, graffiti, and garbage on the street) may cause fear and withdrawal among community members. This in turn communicates the lack of or substantial decrease in social control in the community, and thus can invite increased levels of disorder and crime (Hinkle and Weisburd, 2008). In response, to protect the community and establish control, the police engage in order maintenance (managing minor offenses and disorders). Four elements of the broken windows strategy explain how interventions based on this approach may lead to crime reduction (Kelling and Coles, 1996). First, dealing with disorder puts police in contact with those who commit more serious crimes. Second, the high visibility of police causes a deterrent effect for potential perpetrators of crime. Third, citizens assert control over neighborhoods, thereby preventing crime. And finally, as problems of disorder and crime become the responsibility of both the community and the police, crime is addressed in an integrated fashion. COP programs rooted in broken windows theory often use residents and local business owners to help identify disorder problems and engage in the development and implementation of a response (Braga, Welsh, and Schnell, 2015).

Social Disorganization Theory focuses on the relationship between crime and neighborhood structure; that is, how places can create conditions that are favorable or unfavorable to crime and delinquency (Kubrin and Weitzer, 2003). Social disorganization refers to the inability of a community to realize common goals and solve chronic problems. According to the social disorganization theory, community factors such as poverty, residential mobility, lack of shared values, and weak social networks decrease a neighborhood’s capacity to control people’s behavior in public, which increases the likelihood of crime (Kornhauser, 1978; Shaw and McKay, 1969 [1942]). Researchers have used various forms of the social disorganization theory to conceptualize community policing, including the systemic model and collective efficacy (Reisig, 2010). The systemic model focuses on how relational and social networks can exert social controls to mediate the adverse effects of structural constraints, such as concentrated poverty and residential instability. The model identifies three social order controls with decreasing levels of influence: 1) private, which includes close friends and family; 2) parochial , which includes neighbors and civic organizations; and 3) public, which includes police (Bursik and Grasmick, 1993; Hunter, 1985). Community policing efforts based on the systemic model can increase informal social controls by working with residents to develop stronger regulatory mechanisms at the parochial and public levels (Kubrin and Weitzer, 2003; Resig, 2010). Collective efficacy, which refers to social cohesion and informal social controls, can mitigate social disorganization. Community policing can promote collective efficacy by employing strategies that enhance police legitimacy in the community and promote procedurally just partnerships, to encourage residents to take responsibility for public spaces and activate local social controls (Resig, 2010).

Outcome Evidence

Although there are numerous programs that incorporate COP, there are limited examples of COP programs that directly target youth, and fewer that have been rigorously evaluated (Forman, 2004; Paez and Dierenfeldt, 2020). The following programs, which are featured on CrimeSolutions , are examples of how COP has been implemented and evaluated in different cities.

The Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS , developed in 1993, incorporates aspects of both community and problem-oriented policing (see Problem-Oriented Policing, below). The CAPS approach has been implemented by dividing patrol officers into beat teams and rapid response teams in each of the districts. Beat teams spend most of their time working their beats with community organizations, while rapid response teams concentrate their efforts on excess or low-priority 911 calls. Meetings occur monthly for both teams, and they receive extensive training. This structure enables officers to respond quickly and effectively to problems that they have not been traditionally trained to handle but have learned how to do by receiving training, along with residents, in problem-solving techniques. Civic education, media ads, billboards, brochures, and rallies have been used to promote awareness of the program in the community (Skogan, 1996; Kim and Skogan, 2003).

To evaluate the effects of the CAPS program, one study (Kim and Skogan, 2003) examined the impact on crime rates and 911 calls. Data were collected from January 1996 to June 2002, using a time-series analysis. The study authors found statistically significant reductions in crime rates and 911 calls in police beats that implemented the CAPS program, compared with police beats that did not implement the program.

Some studies have found that foot-patrol interventions make varying impacts on different types of street violence. Operation Impact , a saturation foot-patrol initiative in the Fourth Precinct of Newark, NJ, was selected as the target area based on an in-depth analysis of the spatial distribution of street violence. The initiative primarily involved a nightly patrol of 12 officers in a square-quarter-mile area of the city, which represented an increase in police presence in the target area. Officers also engaged in proactive enforcement actions that were expected to disrupt street-level disorder and narcotics activity in violence-prone areas. One study (Piza and O’Hara, 2012) found that the target area that implemented Operation Impact experienced statistically significant reductions in overall violence, aggravated assaults, and shootings, compared with the control area that implemented standard policing responses. However, there were no statistically significant differences between the target and control areas in incidents of murder or robbery.

With regard to community-based outcomes, other studies have shown that COP programs have demonstrated positive results. A COP intervention implemented in New Haven, CT , consisted of a single unannounced community home visit conducted by uniformed patrol officers from the New Haven Police Department. During the visits, the patrol officers articulated their commitment to building a cooperative relationship with residents and the importance of police and residents working together to keep the community safe. One evaluation found that residents in intervention households who received the COP intervention reported more positive overall attitudes toward police, a greater willingness to cooperate with police, had more positive perceptions of police performance and legitimacy, had higher confidence in police, reported higher scores on perceived warmth toward police, and reported fewer negative beliefs about police, compared with residents who did not receive home visits. These were all statistically significant findings. However, there was no statistically significant difference in willingness to comply with the police between residents in households that received home visits, compared with those who did not (Peyton et al., 2019).

Problem-Oriented Policing Definition

Problem-oriented policing (POP) is a framework that provides law enforcement agencies with an iterative approach to identify, analyze, and respond to the underlying circumstances that lead to crime and disorder in the community and then evaluate and adjust the response as needed (Braga et al., 2001; Hinkle et al., 2020; National Research Council, 2004). The POP approach requires police to focus their attention on problems rather than incidents (Cordner and Biebel, 2005). Problems, in this model, are defined “as chronic conditions or clusters of events that have become the responsibility of the police, either because they have been reported to them, or they have been discovered by proactive police investigation, or because the problems have been found in an investigation of police records” (National Research Council, 2004:92).

The POP strategy contrasts with incident-driven crime prevention approaches, in which police focus on individual occurrences of crime. Instead, POP provides police with an adaptable method to examine the complicated factors that contribute and lead to crime and disorder, and develop customized interventions to address those factors (National Research Council, 2018).

As noted previously, the idea behind the POP approach emanated several decades ago (Goldstein, 1979) from observations that law enforcement agencies seemed to be more concerned about the means rather than the goals of policing, or “means-over-ends syndrome” (Goldstein, 1979; Eck, 2006; MacDonald, 2002). In 1990, this work was expanded to systematically define and describe what it meant to use POP approaches in policing. During the 1990s, law enforcement agencies in the United States and other countries (such as Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom) began to implement POP strategies (Scott, 2000).

The traditional conceptual model of problem-solving in POP, known as the SARA model, consists of the following four steps (Weisburd et al., 2010; Hinkle et al., 2020; National Research Council, 2004):

  • Scanning. Police identify problems that may be leading to incidents of crime and disorder. They may prioritize these problems based on various factors, such as the size of the problem or input from the community.
  • Analysis. Police study information about the identified problem or problems, using a variety of data sources, such as crime databases or surveys of community members. They examine information on who is committing crimes, victims, and crime locations, among other factors. Police then use the information on responses to incidents — together with information obtained from other sources — to get a clearer picture of the problem (or problems).
  • Response. Police develop and implement tailored strategies to address the identified problems by thinking “outside the box” of traditional police enforcement tactics and creating partnerships with other agencies, community organizations, or members of the community, depending on the problem. Examples of responses in POP interventions include target hardening, area cleanup, increased patrol, crime prevention through environmental design measures, multiagency cooperation, and nuisance abatement.
  • Assessment. Police evaluate the impact of the response through self-assessments and other methods (such as process or outcome evaluations) to determine how well the response has been carried out and what has been accomplished (or not accomplished). This step may also involve adjustment of the response, depending on the results of the assessment.

The SARA model was first defined by a POP project conducted in Newport News, VA, during the 1980s. The Newport News Task Force designed a four-stage problem-solving process . A case study of the project revealed that officers and their supervisors identified problems, analyzed, and responded to these problems through this process, thus leading to the SARA model (Eck and Spelman, 1987).

Since the creation and development of SARA, other models have been established, in part to overcome some noted weaknesses of the original model, such as an oversimplification of complex processes or a process in which problem-solving is nonlinear. These other models include the following 1) PROCTOR (which stands for PROblem, Cause, Tactic or Treatment, Output, and Result); 2) the 5I’s (Intelligence, Intervention, Implementation, Involvement, and Impact); and 3) the ID PARTNERS (which stands for I dentify the demand; D rivers; P roblem; A im, R esearch and analysis; T hink creatively; N egotiate and initiate responses; E valuate; R eview; and S uccess) [Sidebottom and Tilley, 2010]. However, compared with these models, the SARA model appears to be used more often by agencies that apply a POP approach to law enforcement (Sidebottom and Tilley, 2010; Borrion et al., 2020).

A POP approach can be used by law enforcement agencies to address youth-related issues, including offenses committed by youths (such as gun violence, vandalism, graffiti, and other youth-specific behaviors such as running away from home or underage drinking.

For example, in the 2019–20 school year, about one third of public schools experienced vandalism (Wang et al., 2022). If a police agency wanted to tackle the problem of school vandalism , often committed by youth, they could apply the SARA model to determine the scope of the problem, develop an appropriate response, and conduct an overall assessment of efforts. A problem-oriented guide, put together by the Problem-Oriented Policing Center at Arizona State University, outlines the steps that law enforcement agencies can take to use the SARA model and address the issues of vandalism committed specifically at schools (Johnson, 2005).

Thus, during the scanning step of the SARA model, to identify the problem police would focus on the specific problem of school vandalism by examining multiple sources of data, including information gathered from both police departments and school districts. During the analysis step, police would ask about the specific school vandalism problems they are targeting, such as 1) how many and which schools reported vandalism to the police, 2) which schools were vandalized, 3) what are the characteristics (such as the age, gender, school attendance rate) of any youth identified as committing the vandalism, and 4) on what days and times the vandalism occurred. The analysis step also should include information from various data sources, including official reports to the police of school vandalism incidents, interviews with SROs, and information from students at the school (Johnson, 2005).

Once police have analyzed the school vandalism problem and have a clear picture of the issue, they would then move on to the response step. The response depends on what police learn about the vandalism problem at schools. For example, if police find that vandalism occurs because youths have easy access to school grounds, especially after school hours, they might suggest a response that improves building security. Finally, during the assessment stage, police would determine the degree of effectiveness of their response to school vandalism through various measures of success, such as the reduction in the number of incidents of vandalism, the decrease in the costs for repair of damaged property, and the increase of incidents (when they do occur) in which the person or persons who engaged in vandalism are identified and apprehended (Johnson, 2005).

Overlap of POP With Other Policing Strategies

POP shares several similarities and overlapping features with other policing models, such as focused deterrence strategies and hot-spots policing. Hot-spots policing involves focusing police resources on crime “hot spots,” which are specific areas in the community where crime tends to cluster. Hot-spots policing interventions tend to rely mostly on traditional law enforcement approaches (National Research Council, 2004; Braga et al., 2019). Focused deterrence strategies (also referred to as “pulling levers” policing) follow the core principles of deterrence theory. These strategies target specific criminal behavior committed by a small number of individuals who repeatedly offend and who are vulnerable to sanctions and punishment (Braga, Weisburd, and Turchan, 2018).

While POP, focused deterrence, and hot spots policing are three distinct policing strategies, there can be an overlap in techniques. For example, a POP approach can involve the identification and targeting of crime hot spots, if the scanning and analysis of the crime problems in a community reveal that crime is clustering in specific areas. Further, a hot-spots policing intervention may use a problem-oriented approach to determine appropriate responses to address the crime in identified hot spots. However, POP can go beyond examination of place-based crime problems, and hot-spots policing does not require the detailed analytic approach used in POP to discern which strategy is appropriate to prevent or reduce crime (Hinkle et al., 2020; National Research Council, 2018; Gill et al., 2018). Similarly, POP involves targeting resources to specific, identified problems, in a similar way that focused deterrence strategies target specific crimes committed by known high-risk offenders. However, focused deterrence strategies tend to rely primarily on police officers to implement programs, whereas POP may involve a variety of agencies and community members (National Research Council, 2004).

Although POP, focused deterrence, and hot-spots policing differ in some distinct ways (such as intensity of focus and involvement of other agencies), these strategies may often overlap (National Research Council, 2004).

POP draws on theories of criminal opportunity to explain why crime occurs and to identify ways of addressing crime, often by altering environmental conditions (Reisig, 2010). While much criminological research and theory are concerned with why some individuals offend in general, POP strategies often concentrate on why individuals commit crimes at particular places, at particular times, and against certain targets (Braga, 2008; Goldstein, 1979; Eck and Spelman, 1987; Eck and Madensen, 2012). Thus, POP draws on several theoretical perspectives that focus on how likely individuals (including those who may commit a crime and those who may be victimized) make decisions based on perceived opportunities. These include rational choice theory, routine activities theory , and situational crime prevention (Braga, 2008; Braga et al., 1999; Eck and Madensen, 2012; Hinkle et al., 2020; McGarrell, Freilich, and Chermak, 2007). These three theories are considered complements to one another (Tillyer and Eck, 2011).

Rational Choice Theory focuses on how incentives and constraints affect behavior (Cornish and Clark 1986; Gull, 2009). In criminology, rational choice theory draws on the concepts of free will and rational thinking to examine an individual’s specific decision-making processes and choices of crime settings by emphasizing their motives in different situations. The starting point for rational choice theory is that crime is chosen for its benefits. Thus, rational choice theory informs POP by helping to examine and eliminate opportunities for crime within certain settings. Eliminating these opportunities should help to intervene with a potential offender’s motives to commit a crime (Karğın, 2010).

Routine Activity Theory , formulated by Cohen and Felson (1979), is the study of crime as an event, highlighting its relation to space and time and emphasizing its ecological nature (Mir ó–Llinares , 2014). It was originally developed to explain macro-level crime trends through the interaction of targets, offenders, and guardians (Eck, 2003). The theory explains that problems are created when offenders and targets repeatedly come together, and guardians fail to act. Since its formulation, routine activity theory has expanded. In terms of POP, routine activity theory implies that crime can be prevented if the chances of the three elements of crime (suitable target, motivated offender, and accessible place) intersecting at the same place and at the same time are minimized (Karğın, 2010). The SARA problem-solving methodology allows law enforcement agencies to examine and identify the features of places and potential targets that might generate crime opportunities for a motivated offender and develop solutions to eliminate these opportunities, thereby preventing future crime (Hinkle et al., 2020).

Situational Crime Prevention was designed to address specific forms of crime by systematically manipulating or managing the immediate environment with the purpose of reducing opportunities for crime. The goal is to change an individual’s decisionmaking processes by altering the perceived costs and benefits of crime by identifying specific settings (Clarke, 1995; Tillyer and Eck, 2011). Situational crime prevention has identified a number of ways to reduce opportunity to commit crime, such as: 1) increase the effort required to carry out the crime, 2) increase the risks faced in completing the crime, 3) reduce the rewards or benefits expected from the crime, 4) remove excuses to rationalize or justify engaging in criminal action, and 5) avoid provocations that may tempt or incite individuals into criminal acts (Clarke 2009). Certain POP strategies make use of situation crime prevention tactics during the response phase, such as physical improvements to identified problem locations. These may include fixing or installing street lighting, securing vacant lots, and getting rid of trash from the streets (Braga et al., 1999).

Although the POP approach is a well-known and popular approach in law enforcement, there have been a limited number of rigorous program evaluations, such as randomized controlled trials (National Research Council 2018; Gill et al. 2018), and even fewer evaluations specifically centered on youth. 

One meta-analysis (Weisburd et al., 2008) reviewed 10 studies, which examined the effects of problem-oriented policing on crime and disorder. These included various POP interventions and took place in eight cities across the United States (Atlanta, GA; Jersey City, NJ; Knoxville, TN; Oakland, CA; Minneapolis, MN; Philadelphia, PA; San Diego, CA; and one suburban Pennsylvania area.) and six wards in the United Kingdom. The studies evaluated interventions focused on reducing recidivism for individuals on probation or parole; interventions on specific place-based problems (such as drug markets, vandalism and drinking in a park, and crime in hot spots of violence); and interventions that targeted specific problems such as school victimization. Findings across these studies indicated that, on average, the POP strategies led to a statistically significant decline in measures of crime and disorder.

The following programs, which are featured on CrimeSolutions, provide a brief overview of how POP has been implemented and evaluated in the United States. Programs with examined youth-related outcomes or a specific focus on youth are noted; however, most of the research on POP interventions does not focus on youth.

Operation Ceasefire in Boston (first implemented in 1995) is a problem-oriented policing strategy that was developed to reduce gang violence, illegal gun possession, and gun violence in communities. Specifically, the program focused on reducing homicide victimization among young people in Boston (Braga and Pierce, 2005). The program involved carrying out a comprehensive strategy to apprehend and prosecute individuals who carry firearms, to put others on notice that carrying illegal firearms faces certain and serious punishment, and to prevent youth from following in the same criminal path. The program followed the steps of the SARA model, which included bringing together an interagency working group of criminal justice and other practitioners to identify the problem (scanning); using different research techniques (both qualitative and quantitative) to assess the nature of youth violence in Boston ( analysis ); designing and developing an intervention to reduce youth violence and homicide in the city, implementing the intervention, and adapting it as needed ( response ); and evaluating the intervention’s impact ( assessment ). An evaluation of the program found a statistically significant reduction (63 percent) in the average number of youth homicide victims in the city following the implementation of the program. There were also statistically significant decreases in citywide gun assaults and calls for service (Braga et al., 2001). Similarly, another study found a statistically significant reduction (24.3 percent) in new handguns recovered from youth (Braga and Pierce, 2005).

Another program implemented in the same city, the Boston Police Department’s Safe Street Teams (SSTs) , is an example of a place-based, problem-oriented policing strategy to reduce violent crime and includes some components targeting youth. Using mapping technology and violent index crime data, the Boston Police Department identified 13 violent crime hot spots in the city where SST officers could employ community- and problem-oriented policing techniques such as the SARA model. SST officers implemented almost 400 distinct POP strategies in the crime hot spots, which fell into three broad categories: 1) situational/environment interventions, such as removing graffiti and trash or adding or fixing lighting, designed to change the underlying characteristics and dynamics of the places that are linked to violence; 2 ) enforcement interventions, including focused enforcement efforts on drug-selling crews and street gangs, designed to arrest and deter individuals committing violent crimes or contributing to the disorder of the targeted areas; and 3) community outreach/social service interventions, designed to involve the community in crime prevention efforts. Examples of these activities included providing new recreational opportunities for youth (i.e., basketball leagues), partnering with local agencies to provide needed social services to youth, and planning community events. One evaluation (Braga, Hureau, and Papachristos, 2011) found that over a 10-year observation period areas that implemented the SSTs interventions experienced statistically significant reductions in the number of total violent index crime incidents (17.3 percent), in the number of robbery incidents (19.2 percent), and in the number of aggravated assault incidents (15.4 percent), compared with the comparison areas that did not implement the interventions. However, there were no statistically significant effects on the number of homicides or rape/sexual assault incidents. The study also did not examine the impact on youth-specific outcomes.

The Problem-Oriented Policing in Violent Crime Places (Jersey City, N.J.) intervention used techniques from hot spots policing and POP to reduce violent crime in the city. The program and evaluation design followed the steps of the SARA model. During the scanning phase, the Jersey City Police Department and university researchers used computerized mapping technologies to identify violent crime hot spots. During the analysis phase, officers selected 12 pairs of places for random assignment to the treatment group, which received the POP strategies, or to the control group. During the response phase, the 11 officers in the department’s Violent Crime Unit were responsible for developing appropriate POP strategies at the hot spots. For example, to reduce social disorder, aggressive order maintenance techniques were applied, including the use of foot and radio patrols and the dispersing of groups of loiterers. During the assessment phase, the police department evaluated the officers’ responses to the problems, and either adjusted the strategies or closed down the program to indicate that the problem was alleviated. An evaluation found statistically significant reductions in social and physical incivilities (i.e., disorder), the total numbers of calls for service, and criminal incidents at the treatment locations that implemented POP techniques, compared with the control locations (Braga et al., 1999).

COP and POP are two broad policing approaches that, while sharing many characteristics, are still distinct—owing to the focus of their respective approaches. COP’s focus is on community outreach and engagement and does not necessarily rely on analysis methods such as the SARA model. For POP, the primary goal is to find effective solutions to problems that may or may not involve the participation of the community (Gill et al., 2014).

Though COP and POP may differ in their approaches, the end goal is the same in both models. Both are types of proactive policing that seek to prevent crime before it happens. COP and POP also both rely on cooperation from numerous different parties and agencies, including community members (National Research Council, 2018). The two models are similar enough that they often overlap in implementation. For example, the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) incorporates elements from both models. Using aspects of COP, police officers divide into beat teams and spend most of their time working with community organizations. With regard to POP, CAPS trains officers and residents to use problem-solving techniques that stem from its theoretical basis (Skogan, 1996; Kim and Skogan, 2003).

There are, however, limitations in the research examining the effectiveness of these models. For example, evaluation studies on COP and POP tend to focus on results related to crime and disorder; other outcomes, such as collective efficacy, police legitimacy, fear of crime, and other community-related outcomes are often overlooked or not properly defined (Hinkle et al., 2020; Gill et al., 2014). Exploring other community-related outcomes would be useful, as community involvement is an important component to both models. Further, some researchers have noted specific limitations to the implementation of COP and POP interventions. With regard to COP programs, for example, the definition of “community” is sometimes lacking. This can be an important factor to define, as community may mean something different across law enforcement agencies (Gill et al., 2014). Regarding POP programs, it has been noted that the rigor of the SARA process is limited and that law enforcement agencies may take a “shallow” approach to problem-solving (National Research Council, 2018:193; Borrion et al., 2020). To date, the research on both models has lacked focus on youth; only a few evaluations have focused on youth in either in the implementation process or in examined outcomes (Braga et al., 2001; Gill et al., 2018). Despite these limitations, however, the outcome evidence supports the effectiveness of COP and POP interventions to reduce crime and disorder outcomes.

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About this Literature Review

Suggested Reference: Development Services Group, Inc. January  2023. “Community-Oriented Policing and Problem-Oriented Policing.” Literature review. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.  https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/model-programs-guide/literature-reviews/community-oriented-problem-oriented-policing

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Problem-Oriented Policing

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Problem Solving Policing

Problem-oriented policing is an alternative approach to crime reduction that challenges police officers to understand the underlying situations and dynamics that give rise to recurring crime problems and to develop appropriate responses to address these underlying conditions. Problem-oriented policing is often given operational structure through the well-known SARA model that includes a series of iterative steps: Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment. Police officers often find it difficult to implement problem oriented policing properly with deficiencies existing in all stages of the process. The existing evaluation evidence shows that problem-oriented policing generates noteworthy crime and disorder reduction impacts. These crime reduction impacts are generated even when problem-oriented policing is not fully implemented; this confirms the robustness of the problem-oriented approach in addressing crime and disorder problems.


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When is problem-oriented policing most effective? A systematic examination of heterogeneity in effect sizes for reducing crime and disorder

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Joshua C Hinkle, David Weisburd, Cody W Telep, Kevin Petersen, When is problem-oriented policing most effective? A systematic examination of heterogeneity in effect sizes for reducing crime and disorder, Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice , Volume 18, 2024, paae053, https://doi.org/10.1093/police/paae053

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This article presents results from a systematic review and meta-analysis of problem-oriented policing (POP). The results show an overall 33.8% relative reduction in crime/disorder in treatment groups relative to controls, which adds to evidence that POP is an effective strategy that police leaders should adopt. There is, however, a great deal of variation in effect sizes, and moderator analyses were conducted to examine when POP may work best. Preliminary findings suggest POP may have larger impacts when responses are broader and involve more partner agencies/groups, when more of the agency is involved in the program, and when targeting property crime and disorder. Importantly, our findings also show that shallower implementations of POP still had significant impacts and suggest that POP should be implemented even if an agency cannot initially carry out in-depth problem-solving. Future research should supplement meta-analyses with narrative reviews to further identify what makes POP most effective.

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National Academies Press: OpenBook

Proactive Policing: Effects on Crime and Communities (2018)

Chapter: summary.

Proactive policing, as a strategic approach used by police agencies to prevent crime, is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. It developed from a crisis in confidence in policing that began to emerge in the 1960s because of social unrest, rising crime rates, and growing skepticism regarding the effectiveness of standard approaches to policing. In response, beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, innovative police practices and policies that took a more proactive approach began to develop. This report uses the term “proactive policing” to refer to all policing strategies that have as one of their goals the prevention or reduction of crime and disorder and that are not reactive in terms of focusing primarily on uncovering ongoing crime or on investigating or responding to crimes once they have occurred. Specifically, the elements of proactivity include an emphasis on prevention, mobilizing resources based on police initiative, and targeting the broader underlying forces at work that may be driving crime and disorder. This contrasts with the standard model of policing, which involves an emphasis on reacting to particular crime events after they have occurred, mobilizing resources based on requests coming from outside the police organization, and focusing on the particulars of a given criminal incident.

Proactive policing is distinguished from the everyday decisions of police officers to be proactive in specific situations and instead refers to a strategic decision by police agencies to use proactive police responses in a programmatic way to reduce crime. Today, proactive policing strategies are used widely in the United States. They are not isolated programs used by a select group of agencies but rather a set of ideas that have spread across the landscape of policing.

TABLE S-1 Four Approaches to Proactive Policing

The United States has once again been confronted by a crisis of confidence in policing. Instances of perceived or actual police misconduct have given rise to nationwide protests against unfair and abusive police practices. Although this report is not intended to respond directly to the crisis of confidence in policing that can be seen in the United States today, it is nevertheless important to consider how proactive policing strategies may bear upon this crisis. It is not enough to simply identify “what works” for reducing crime and disorder; it is also critical to consider issues such as how proactive policing affects the legality of policing, the evaluation of the police in communities, potential abuses of police authority, and the equitable application of police services in the everyday lives of citizens.

To that end, the National Institute of Justice and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to review the evidence and discuss the data and methodological gaps on (1) the effects of different forms of proactive policing on crime; (2) whether they are applied in a discriminatory manner; (3) whether they are being used in a legal fashion; and (4) community reaction. The Committee on Proactive Policing: Effects on Crime, Communities, and Civil Liberties was appointed by the National Academies to carry out this task.

The committee made a decision to prioritize proactive policing strategies that are commonly applied in U.S. police agencies; cutting-edge strategies that, though not yet widely adopted, represent important new methods for preventing crime; and strategies that raise concerns about biased or abusive outcomes. In the context of this report, proactive policing is regarded as a strategic concern and refers to the policy decisions of departments regarding the means and goals of policing and not to the individual actions of officers.

Proactive policing has taken a number of different forms over the past two decades, and these variants often overlap in practice. The four broad approaches for proactive policing described in this report are (1) place-based interventions, (2) problem-solving interventions, (3) person-focused interventions, and (4) community-based interventions. Table S-1 summarizes the four approaches and the strategies they encompass. The rest of this summary discusses the consequences of these approaches for law and legality, crime and disorder, community reactions, and racial bias and disparities.


However effective a policing practice may be in preventing crime, it is impermissible if it violates the law. The most important legal constraints on proactive policing are the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause (of the Fourteenth Amendment), and related statutory provisions.

Although proactive policing strategies do not inherently violate the Fourth Amendment, any proactive strategy could lead to Fourth Amendment violations 1 to the degree that it is implemented by having officers engage in stops, searches, and arrests that violate constitutional standards. This risk is especially relevant for stop, question, and frisk (SQF); 2 broken windows policing; 3 and hot spots policing interventions 4 if they use an aggressive practice of searches and seizures to deter criminal activity.

In addition, in conjunction with existing Fourth Amendment doctrine, proactive policing strategies may limit the effective strength or scope of constitutional protection or reduce the availability of constitutional remedies. For example, when departments identify “high crime areas” pursuant to place-based proactive policing strategies, courts may allow stops by officers of individuals within those areas that are based on less individualized behavior than they would require without the “high crime” designation. In this way, geographically oriented proactive policing may lead otherwise identical citizen-police encounters to be treated differently under the law.

The Equal Protection Clause guarantees equal and impartial treatment of citizens by government actors. It governs all policies, decisions, and acts taken by police officers and departments, including those in furtherance of proactive policing strategies. As a result, Equal Protection claims may arise with respect to any proactive policing strategy to the degree that it discriminates against individuals based on their race, religion, or national origin, among other characteristics. Since most policing policies today do not expressly target racial or ethnic groups, most Equal Protection challenges require proving discriminatory purpose in addition to discriminatory effect in order to establish a constitutional violation.

Specific proactive policing strategies, such as SQF and “zero tolerance” versions of broken windows policing, have been linked to violations of both the Fourth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause by courts in private litigation and by the U.S. Department of Justice in its investigations


1 The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

2 When carried out as a proactive policing strategy, an SQF program relies upon the legal authority granted by court decisions to engage in frequent stops in which suspects are questioned about their activities, frisked if possible, and often searched, usually with consent.

3 In broken windows policing, the police seek to prevent crime by addressing disorder and less serious crime problems. Such police interventions are expected to reinforce and enhance informal social controls within communities.

4 Hot spots policing efforts focus on “micro” units of geography where crime is concentrated. Microgeographic areas are commonly defined to include a single street or a cluster of street segments.

of police departments. Ethnographic studies and theoretical arguments further support the idea that proactive strategies that use aggressive stops, searches, and arrests to deter criminal activity may decrease liberty and increase Fourth Amendment and Equal Protection violations. However, empirical evidence is insufficient—using the accepted standards of causality in social science—to support any conclusion about whether proactive policing strategies systematically promote or reduce constitutional violations [ Conclusion 3-1 ]. In order to establish a causal link, studies would ideally determine the incidence of problematic behavior by police under a proactive policy and compare that to the incidence of the same behavior in otherwise similar circumstances in which a proactive policy is not in place.

However, even when proactive strategies do not lead to constitutional violations, they may raise concerns about deeper legal values such as privacy, equality, autonomy, accountability, and transparency [ Conclusion 3-2 ]. Even procedural justice policing and community-oriented policing, neither of which are likely to violate legal constraints on policing (and, to the extent that procedural justice operates as intended, may make violations of law less likely), may, respectively, undermine the transparency about the status of police-citizen interactions and alter the structure of decision making and accountability in police organizations.


The available scientific evidence suggests that certain proactive policing strategies are successful in reducing crime and disorder. This important conclusion provides support for a growing interest among American police in innovating to develop effective crime prevention strategies. At the same time, there is substantial heterogeneity in the effectiveness of different proactive policing interventions in reducing crime and disorder. For some types of proactive policing, the evidence consistently points to effectiveness, but for others the evidence is inconclusive. Evidence in many cases is also restricted to localized crime prevention impacts, such as specific places, or to specific individuals. Relatively little evidence-based knowledge exists about whether and to what extent the approaches examined in this report will have crime prevention benefits at the larger jurisdictional level (e.g., a city as a whole or even large administrative areas such as precincts within a city), or across all offenders. Furthermore, the crime prevention outcomes that are observed are generally observed only in the short term, so the evidence seldom addresses long-term crime prevention outcomes.

It is important to note here that, in practice, police departments typically implement crime reduction programs that include elements typical of several prevention strategies (as combining elements from multiple strategies may produce more positive outcomes for police agencies). Given this

hybridization of tactics in practice, the committee’s review of the evidence was often hindered by the overlapping character of the real-world proactive policing interventions evaluated in many of the published research studies.

The available research evidence suggests that hot spots policing strategies generate statistically significant crime reduction effects without simply displacing crime into immediately surrounding areas, though there is an absence of evidence on either the long-term impacts of hot spots policing strategies on crime or on possible jurisdictional outcomes (e.g., on crime in a city or in large administrative areas such as precincts). Hot spots policing studies that do measure possible displacement effects tend to find that these programs generate a diffusion of crime control benefits into immediately adjacent areas [ Conclusion 4-1 ].

Another place-based strategy is “predictive policing,” which uses sophisticated computer algorithms to predict changing patterns of future crime. At present, there are insufficient rigorous empirical studies to draw any firm conclusions about either the efficacy of crime prediction software or the effectiveness of associated police operational tactics. It also remains difficult to distinguish a predictive policing approach from hot spots policing [ Conclusion 4-2 ].

A technology relevant to improving police capacity for proactive intervention at specific places is closed circuit television (CCTV), which can be used either passively or proactively. The results from studies examining the introduction of CCTV camera schemes are mixed, but they tend to show modest outcomes in terms of property crime reduction at high-crime places for passive monitoring approaches [ Conclusion 4-3 ]. However, with regard to the proactive use of CCTV, there are insufficient studies to draw conclusions regarding its impact on crime and disorder reduction [ Conclusion 4-4 ].

Despite its popularity as a crime-prevention strategy, there are surprisingly few rigorous program evaluations of problem-oriented policing. Much of the available evaluation evidence consists of non-experimental analyses that find strong associations between problem-oriented interventions and crime reduction. Randomized experimental evaluations generally show smaller, but statistically significant, crime reductions generated by problem-oriented policing programs. Program evaluations also suggest that it is difficult for police officers to fully implement problem-oriented policing. Many problem-oriented policing projects are characterized by weak problem analysis and a lack of non-enforcement responses to targeted problems. Nevertheless, even these limited applications of problem-oriented policing have been shown by rigorous evaluations to generate statistically significant short-term crime prevention impacts. These studies do not address possible jurisdictional impacts of problem-oriented policing and generally do not

assess the long-term impacts of the evaluated interventions on crime and disorder [ Conclusion 4-5 ].

Third party policing, which leverages nonpolice “third parties” (e.g., public housing agencies, property owners, parents, health and building inspectors, and business owners) who are believed to offer significant new resources for preventing crime and disorder, also draws upon the insights of problem solving. Though there are only a small number of program evaluations, the impact of third party policing interventions on crime and disorder has been assessed using randomized controlled trials and rigorous quasi-experimental designs. The available evidence suggests that third party policing generates statistically significant short-term reductions in crime and disorder; there is more limited evidence of long-term impacts. However, little is known about possible jurisdictional outcomes [ Conclusion 4-6 ].

With regard to person-focused interventions, a growing number of quasi-experimental evaluations suggest that focused deterrence programs generate statistically significant short- and long-term areawide crime-reduction impacts. Crime-control impacts have been reported by controlled evaluations testing the effectiveness of focused deterrence programs in reducing gang violence and street crime driven by disorderly drug markets and by non-experimental studies that examine repeat individual offending. It is noteworthy that the size of the effects observed are large, though many of the largest impacts are in studies with evaluation designs that are less rigorous [ Conclusion 4-7 ].

A more controversial person-focused intervention is SQF. Non-experimental evidence regarding the crime-reduction impact of SQF, when implemented as a general citywide crime-control strategy, is mixed [ Conclusion 4-8 ]. A separate body of controlled evaluation research examining the effectiveness of SQF (combined with other self-initiated enforcement activities by officers) in targeting places with serious gun crime problems and focusing on high-risk repeat offenders reports consistent statistically significant short-term crime-reduction effects; jurisdictional impacts, when estimated, are modest. There is an absence of evidence on the long-term impacts of focused uses of SQF on crime [ Conclusion 4-9 ].

The committee also reviewed the crime-prevention impacts of community-based crime-prevention strategies, including community-oriented policing, procedural justice policing (which seeks to impress upon citizens and the wider community that the police exercise their authority in legitimate ways), and broken windows policing. Although a large number of studies of community-oriented policing programs were identified, many of these programs were implemented in tandem with tactics typical of other approaches, such as problem solving. This is not surprising, given that typical implementations of community-oriented policing used by police departments often have included problem solving as a key programmatic

element. The studies also varied in their outcomes, reflecting the broad range of tactics and practices that are included in community-oriented policing programs, and many of the studies were characterized by weak evaluation designs. With these caveats, the committee did not identify a consistent crime-prevention benefit for community-oriented policing programs [ Conclusion 4-10 ].

There is currently only a very small evidence base from which to support conclusions about the impact of procedural justice policing on crime prevention. Existing research does not support a conclusion that procedural justice policing impacts crime or disorder outcomes. At the same time, because the evidence base is small, the committee also cannot conclude that such strategies are ineffective [ Conclusion 4-11 ].

The impacts of broken windows policing are mixed across evaluations, again complicating the ability of the committee to draw strong inferences. However, the available program evaluations suggest that aggressive, misdemeanor arrest–based approaches to control disorder generate small to null impacts on crime [ Conclusion 4-12 ]. In contrast, controlled evaluations of place-based approaches that use problem-solving interventions to reduce social and physical disorder provide evidence of consistent short-term crime-reduction impacts. Little is known about long-term or areawide impacts [ Conclusion 4-13 ].


There is broad recognition that a positive relationship with the police has value in its own right, irrespective of any influence it may have on crime or disorder. Democratic theories assert that the police, as an arm of government, are to serve the community and should be accountable to it in ways that elicit public approval and consent. Given this premise and the recent conflicts between the police and the public, the committee thought it very important to assess the impacts of proactive policing on issues, such as fear of crime, collective efficacy, and community evaluation of police legitimacy.

Place-based, person-focused, and problem-solving interventions are distinct from community-based proactive strategies in that they do not directly seek to engage the public to enhance legitimacy evaluations and cooperation. In this context, the concerns regarding community outcomes for these approaches have often focused not on whether they improve community attitudes toward the police but rather on whether the focus on crime control leads inevitably to declines in positive community attitudes. Community-based strategies, in contrast, specifically seek to reduce fear, increase trust and willingness to intervene in community problems, and increase trust and confidence in the police.

There is only an emerging body of research evaluating the impact of

place-based strategies on community attitudes, including both quasi-experimental and experimental studies. However, the consistency of the findings suggests that place-based proactive policing strategies rarely have negative short-term impacts on community outcomes. (There is virtually no evidence on the long-term and jurisdiction-level impacts of place-based policing on community outcomes.) At the same time, the existing evidence does suggest that such strategies rarely improve community perceptions of the police or other community outcome measures [ Conclusion 5-1 ].

The research literature on community impacts of problem-solving interventions is larger. Although much of the literature relies on quasi-experimental designs, a few well-implemented randomized experiments also provide information on community outcomes. Studies show consistent small-to-moderate positive short-term impacts of problem-solving strategies on community satisfaction with the police; there is very little evidence available on the long-term and jurisdiction-level impacts of problem-solving strategies on community outcomes [ Conclusion 5-2 ]. Because problem-solving strategies are so often implemented in tandem with tactics typical of community-based policing (i.e., community engagement), it is difficult to determine what role the problem-solving aspect plays in community outcomes, compared to the impact of the community engagement element. At the same time, there is little consistency found in problem-solving policing’s impacts on perceived disorder/quality of life, fear of crime, and perceived police legitimacy. However, the near absence of backfire effects in the evaluations of problem-solving strategies suggests that the risk of harmful community effects from problem-solving strategies is low [ Conclusion 5-3 ].

The body of research evaluating the impact of person-focused strategies on community outcomes is relatively small, even in comparison with the evidence base on problem-solving and place-based strategies. (Also, the long-term and jurisdictionwide community consequences of person-focused proactive strategies remain untested.) These studies involve qualitative or correlational designs that make it difficult to draw causal inferences about typical impacts of these strategies. Correlational studies show strong negative associations between exposure to such strategies and the attitudes and orientations of individuals who are the subjects of aggressive law enforcement interventions (SQF and proactive traffic enforcement) [ Conclusion 5-4 ]. The studies that measure the impact on the larger community show a more complicated and unclear pattern of outcomes.

The available empirical research on community-oriented policing’s community effects focuses on citizen perceptions of police performance (in terms of what they do and the consequences for community disorder), satisfaction with police, and perceived legitimacy. The evidence suggests that community-oriented policing contributes modest improvements to the community’s view of policing and the police in the short term. (Very

few studies of community-oriented policing have traced its long-term effects on community outcomes or its jurisdictionwide consequences.) This occurs with greatest consistency for measures of community satisfaction and less so for measures of perceived disorder, fear of crime, and police legitimacy. Evaluations of community-oriented policing rarely find “backfire” effects from the intervention on community attitudes. Hence, the deployment of community-oriented policing as a proactive strategy seems to offer prospects of modest gains at little risk of negative consequences [ Conclusions 6-1 and 6-2 ].

Broken windows policing is often evaluated directly in terms of its short-term crime control impacts. The logic model for broken windows policing seeks to alter the community’s levels of fear and collective efficacy as a method of enhancing community social controls and reducing crime in the long run. While this is a key element of the broken windows policing model, the committee’s review of the evidence found that these outcomes have seldom been examined. The evidence was insufficient to draw any conclusions regarding the impact of broken windows policing on community social controls [ Conclusion 6-3 ]. Studies of the impacts of broken windows policing on fear of crime do not support the model’s claim that such programs will reduce levels of fear in the community, at least in the short run.

While there is a rapidly growing body of research on the community impacts of procedural justice policing, it is difficult to draw causal inferences from these studies. In general, the studies show that perceptions of procedurally just treatment are strongly associated with subjective evaluations of police legitimacy and cooperation with the police. However, the extant research base was insufficient for the committee to draw conclusions about whether procedurally just policing causally influences either perceived legitimacy or cooperation [ Conclusion 6-4 ].

Although this committee finding may appear to be at odds with a growing movement to encourage procedurally just behavior among the police, the committee thinks it is important to stress that a finding that there is insufficient evidence to support the expected outcomes of procedural justice policing is not the same as a finding that such outcomes do not exist. Moreover, although the application of procedural justice to policing is relatively new, there is a more extensive evidence base on procedural justice in social psychology and organizational management, as well as on procedural justice with other legal authorities such as the courts. Those studies are often designed in ways that make causal inferences more compelling, and results in those areas suggest meaningful impacts of procedural justice on legitimacy of the institutions and authorities involved. Thus, the application of procedural justice ideas to policing has promise, although further studies are needed to examine the degree to which the success of such implemen-

tations in other social contexts can be replicated in the arena of policing [ Conclusion 6-5 ].


Concerns about racial bias loom especially large in discussions of policing. The interest of this report was to assess whether and to what extent proactive policing affects racial disparities in police-citizen encounters and racial bias in police behavior. Recent high-profile incidents of police shootings and abusive police-citizen interaction caught on camera have raised questions regarding basic fairness, racial discrimination, and the excessive use of force of all forms against non-Whites, and especially Blacks, in the United States. In considering these incidents, the committee stresses that the origins of policing in the United States are intimately interwoven with the nation’s history of racial prejudice. When the laws of the United States were designed to produce and maintain racial stratification, it was the job of police officers and sheriff’s deputies to enforce those laws. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, as the country moved away from de jure systems of racial hierarchy, law enforcement tactics under the “War on Crime” and “War on Drugs” were characterized, if not by racial prejudice, then by racially disparate consequences. Although in recent decades, police have often made a strong effort to address racially biased behavior, there remain wide disparities in the extent to which non-White people and White people are stopped or arrested by police. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Justice has identified continued racial disparities and biased behavior in policing in a number of major police agencies.

As social norms have evolved to make overt expressions of bigotry less acceptable, psychologists have developed tools to measure more subtle forms of biased behavior. A series of studies in field settings with police suggest that negative racial attitudes may influence police behavior—although there is no direct research on proactive policing. There is a further growing body of research identifying how these psychological mechanisms may affect behavior, and what types of situations, policies, or practices may exacerbate or ameliorate racially biased behaviors. In a number of studies, social psychologists have found that race may affect decision making, especially under situations where time is short and such decisions need to be made quickly. More broadly, social psychologists have identified dispositional (i.e., individual characteristics) and situational and environmental factors that are associated with higher levels of racially biased behavior.

Proactive strategies often facilitate increased officer contact with residents particularly in high-crime areas involve contacts that are often enforcement-oriented and uninvited, and may allow greater officer discretion compared to standard policing models. These elements align with

broad categories of possible risk factors for racially biased behavior by police officers. For example, when contacts involve stops or arrests, police may be put in situations where they have to “think fast” and react quickly. Social psychologists have argued that such situations may be particularly prone to the emergence of what they call “implicit biases.”

Inferring the role of racial animus or other dispositional and situational risk factors in contributing to disparate impacts is a challenging question for research. There are likely to be large racial disparities in the volume and nature of police–citizen encounters when police target high-risk people or high-risk places, as is common in many proactive policing programs (though focused policing approaches may also reduce overall levels of police intrusion) [ Conclusion 7-1 ]. However, studies that benchmark citizen–police interactions against simple population counts or broad measures of criminal activity do not yield conclusive information regarding the potential for racially biased behavior in proactive policing efforts. Identifying an appropriate benchmark would require detailed information on the geography and nature of the proactive strategy, as well as localized knowledge of the relative importance of the problem.

Such benchmarks are not currently available, and existing evidence does not establish conclusively whether and to what extent the racial disparities associated with concentrated person-focused and place-based enforcement are indicators of statistical prediction, racial animus, or other factors that may motivate biased behavior. However, the history of racial justice in the United States, in particular in the area of criminal justice and policing, as well as ethnographic research that has identified disparate impacts of policing on non-White communities, makes the investigation of the causes of racial disparities a key research and policy concern [ Conclusion 7-2 ].

Per the charge to the committee, this report reviewed a relatively narrow area of intersection between race and policing. This focus, though, is nested in a broader societal framework of possible disparities and behavioral biases across a whole array of social contexts. These factors can affect proactive policing in, for example, the distribution of crime in society and the extent of exposure of specific groups to police surveillance and enforcement. However, it was beyond the scope of this study to review them systematically in the context of the committee’s work.


Proactive policing has become a key part of police efforts to do something about crime in the United States. This report supports the general conclusion that there is sufficient scientific evidence to support the adoption of some proactive policing practices, certainly if the primary policy goal is to reduce crime. Proactive policing efforts that focus on high concentra-

tions of crimes at places or among the high-rate subset of offenders, as well as practices that seek to solve specific crime-fostering problems, show consistent evidence of effectiveness without evidence of negative community outcomes. Community-based strategies have also begun to show evidence of improving the relations between the police and public.

At the same time, there are key gaps in the knowledge base. As was discussed earlier, few studies to date have examined long-term outcomes, and there is typically little or no information about the larger areawide or jurisdictional impacts of these approaches. There are also significant gaps in the evidence that do not allow one to identify with reasonable confidence the effects of proactive policing on other outcomes. For example, existing research provides little guidance as to whether police programs to enhance procedural justice will improve community perceptions of police legitimacy or community cooperation with the police. Little is known about the impacts of proactive policing on the legality of police behavior and on racially biased behavior; these are critical issues that must be addressed in future studies.

Much has been learned over the past two decades about proactive policing programs. But, now that scientific support for these approaches has accumulated, it is time for greater investment in understanding what is cost-effective, how such strategies can be maximized to improve the relationships between the police and the public, and how they can be applied in ways that do not lead to violations of the law by the police.

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Proactive policing, as a strategic approach used by police agencies to prevent crime, is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. It developed from a crisis in confidence in policing that began to emerge in the 1960s because of social unrest, rising crime rates, and growing skepticism regarding the effectiveness of standard approaches to policing. In response, beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, innovative police practices and policies that took a more proactive approach began to develop. This report uses the term "proactive policing" to refer to all policing strategies that have as one of their goals the prevention or reduction of crime and disorder and that are not reactive in terms of focusing primarily on uncovering ongoing crime or on investigating or responding to crimes once they have occurred.

Proactive Policing reviews the evidence and discusses the data and methodological gaps on: (1) the effects of different forms of proactive policing on crime; (2) whether they are applied in a discriminatory manner; (3) whether they are being used in a legal fashion; and (4) community reaction. This report offers a comprehensive evaluation of proactive policing that includes not only its crime prevention impacts but also its broader implications for justice and U.S. communities.


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Research Will Shape the Future of Proactive Policing

National Institute of Justice Journal

Proactive policing — strategies and tools for stopping crime before it occurs — appears to be here to stay, but important challenges persist. Some relate to constructing more reliable measures of effectiveness — for instance, how to measure a strategy’s impact on crime when residents are reluctant to report it. Others are inherent in the approach, such as how to harmonize preventive strategies with community interests and protection of residents’ legal rights.

Research already in hand has persuaded leading criminologists that certain types of proactive policing, such as aspects of hot spots policing, can curb crime, especially in the near term and in targeted areas. Particularly in larger cities, law enforcement is leveraging powerful computer-based algorithms that analyze big data to isolate crime breeding grounds (place-based policing) and to pinpoint those likely to commit future offenses (person-based policing).

Where proactive policing theory and practice will lead law enforcement in coming years, researchers note, will depend in part on efforts to address research-related concerns such as:

  • A need for wider use of more exacting research designs, such as randomized controlled trials (RCTs), to better evaluate the merits and replicability of promising policing methods.
  • A need for more accurate measures of program success or failure, given recognition of the insufficiency of conventional measures. (For example, a low rate of calls for police service could reflect residents’ reluctance to report crime, rather than low crime.)
  • Continued progress in convincing law enforcement leaders to advance high-utility research by executing protocols with fidelity to the model and adopting scientifically sound best practices.

At the same time, proactive policing approaches face the challenge of maintaining or strengthening law enforcement’s connections with the community — by continually building trust and working to institutionalize respect for residents’ legal rights while targeting persons who commit violent offenses. One concern related to community interests is the potential for data analysis algorithms to skew proactive policing activities in communities.    

If past is prologue, NIJ will remain a principal driver of proactive policing research nationally by funding and managing empirical studies along the spectrum of proactive policing approaches. As NIJ Director David B. Muhlhausen observed in a January 2018 column, “The promise of proactive policing strategies makes it critical that we understand their effectiveness through rigorous and replicable research.” [1]

Muhlhausen acknowledged the impact of a recent comprehensive study of proactive policing by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, funded in part by NIJ. The November 2017 National Academies final report, Proactive Policing: Effects on Crime and Communities, concluded after scouring the field of research that certain proactive policing methods are succeeding at reducing crime. [2] At the same time, the National Academies pointed to extensive gaps in proactive policing research as well as evidence that certain once-promising proactive policing approaches have not proved to be effective.

Calling recent decades a “golden age” of policing research, the National Academies report urged intensified research assessing the promise of proactive policing. “Much has been learned over the past two decades about proactive policing practices,” the report states. “But, now that scientific support for these approaches has accumulated, it is time for greater investment in understanding what is cost effective, how such strategies can be maximized to improve the relationships between the police and the public, and how they can be applied in ways that do not lead to violations of the law by police.”

Defining Proactive Policing

The term “proactive policing” encompasses a number of methods designed to reduce crime by using prevention strategies. By definition, it stands in contrast to conventional “reactive” policing, which for the most part responds to crime that has occurred. The National Academies report underscored that the intended meaning of proactive policing is broad and inclusive: “This report uses the term ‘proactive policing’ to refer to all policing strategies that have as one of their goals the prevention or reduction of crime and disorder and that are not reactive in terms of focusing primarily on uncovering ongoing crime or on investigating or responding to crimes once they have occurred. Specifically, the elements of proactivity include an emphasis on prevention, mobilizing resources based on police initiative, and targeting the broader underlying forces at work that may be driving crime and disorder.”

The report identified four categories within proactive policing: place-based, person-focused, problem-oriented, and community-based. Exhibit 1 presents descriptions of these classifications and the primary policing strategies that fall under each.

Notes from Table

[table note 1] National Institute of Justice, “ How to Identify Hotspots and Read a Crime Map ,” May 2010.

[table note 2] National Institute of Justice, “ Predictive Policing ,” June 2014.

[table note 3] National Institute of Justice, CrimeSolutions, “ Practice Profile: Focused Deterrence Strategies .”

[table note 4] National Institute of Justice, CrimeSolutions, “ Program Profile: Stop, Question, and Frisk in New York City .”

[table note 5] National Institute of Justice, CrimeSolutions, “ Practice Profile: Problem-Oriented Policing .”

[table note 6] Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Community Policing Defined (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, April 2009), 3.

[table note 7] Tom Tyler, “What Are Legitimacy and Procedural Justice in Policing? And Why Are They Becoming Key Elements of Police Leadership?” in Legitimacy and Procedural Justice: A New Element of Police Leadership, ed. Craig Fisher (Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum, 2014), 5, 9.

[table note 8] Tyler, “What Are Legitimacy and Procedural Justice in Policing?,” 9-10.

[table note 9] Robert J. Sampson and Stephen W. Raudenbush, Disorder in Urban Neighborhoods—Does It Lead to Crime ?, Research in Brief (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, February 2001), NCJ 186049; and George L. Kelling, “Broken Windows” and Police Discretion , Research Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, October 1999), NCJ 178259.

In the field, however, the lines between categories of proactive policing are often blurred. For example, William Ford, an NIJ physical scientist and senior science advisor, pointed out that a hot spots policing program — focusing resources on small, concentrated crime zones — may employ aspects of one or more other proactive policing approaches such as focused deterrence, community policing, or problem-oriented policing. That complexity can complicate evaluations of any one policing method.

History and NIJ’s Role

To discern NIJ’s role in proactive policing research going forward, Ford said, “Attention must be paid to the past, because we paved that ground.”

Early iterations of experimental proactive policing were innovative foot patrols focused on preventing crime and assessing the impact of patrolling squad cars. In the early 1970s, the Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment yielded the fresh insight that routine patrolling in police cars was of limited value in preventing crime and making residents feel safer.

In the 1980s, studies of the source of 911 calls in Minneapolis helped lay the cornerstone of place-based policing, including hot spots techniques.

See the related article “From Crime Mapping to Crime Forecasting: The Evolution of Place-Based Policing”

In the 1990s, community policing took root, said Joel Hunt, NIJ senior computer scientist. By the 2000s, computers were supplanting push pins and wall-mounted crime maps. Data-driven policing strategies — typically employing algorithm-controlled electronic maps — began to emerge in the same decade, with extensive NIJ support. Focused deterrence, a strategy designed to discourage crime by confronting high-risk individuals and convincing them that punishment will be certain, swift, and severe, is a product of the current decade.

Collectively, research to date has discerned a stronger overall crime-reduction effect from place-based strategies — such as certain hot spots policing approaches — than from person-based strategies such as focused deterrence, Hunt noted. However, a recent meta-analysis of focused deterrence strategies by Anthony A. Braga, David Weisburd, and Brandon Turchan found that interventions that targeted gangs/groups and high-risk individuals were most effective in reducing crime. [3] The authors concluded that “the largest impacts are found for programs focused on the most violent offenders.” [4]

One example of a person-focused program initially falling short of expectations is the Strategic Subjects List pilot program implemented by the Chicago Police Department in 2013. The list consisted of 426 individuals calculated to be at highest risk of gun violence. The design called for interventions aimed at reducing violence by and toward those on the list, with a resultant reduction in the city homicide rate. An NIJ-sponsored study by RAND Corporation researchers found, however, that the Chicago pilot effort “does not appear to have been successful in reducing gun violence.” [5]

New NIJ funding is aimed at clarifying the factors informing commercial algorithms that drive certain proactive approaches, Hunt said. Work also continues on police legitimacy — establishing trust in the community’s eyes — and procedural justice, which falls under community policing.

Pushing for More Rigorous Research Methodologies

The National Academies and NIJ agree on the need for enhanced experimental program evaluations through rigorous RCTs. However, the conclusion by the National Academies that focused deterrence policy is effective is solely based on a number of quasi-experiments. RCTs randomly divide an experiment’s subjects into groups that receive the experimental treatment and control groups that do not. There is broad agreement that RCTs are generally the best methodology for establishing causality. To improve the scientific rigor of policing research, NIJ’s 2018 policing research solicitation made it clear that projects employing RCTs would be favored going forward.

As NIJ Director Muhlhausen explained during the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology, “RCTs are a powerful tool in understanding what works and is scalable across contexts. When we know what works, we can fund what works.”

RCTs are valued as more reliable scientific methods not only for evaluating whether new policing methods work and can be replicated, but also for testing previous findings of less precise methods. For example, with support from NIJ and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, researchers employed RCTs to assess the effectiveness of a focused deterrence program model previously used to break up a drug market in a small Southern city. The original research, employing a quasi-experimental technique limited to that single site, found the treatment to be effective. But the subsequent RCT, using seven different areas, did not validate that finding: The treatment was found to be ineffective in three of five sites where implemented, while two sites were unable to implement it, researchers reported in 2017. [6]

NIJ scientists caution that RCTs, for all their benefits, are not a magic bullet for all experimental settings. “There are limits on situations in which they can be administered effectively,” said Hunt. For example, he said, “I can’t randomize where incidents occur, only the treatment, and then only in some cases.” Further, police chiefs can be reluctant to give a perceived treatment “benefit” to one group while denying it to control groups, Hunt added. RCTs can also be complex, partly because after the random assignment of subjects, researchers must examine key variables to ensure that treatments and control groups are properly split on those variables (e.g., age, race, and gender). RCTs can also be relatively costly to administer. However, RCTs are still the best research design available for establishing causality. NIJ strives to do RCTs wherever possible.

Representative Research in Process

NIJ’s 2017 grant solicitation statement in the policing strategies and practices area called for research on place- or person-based projects that can reduce crime “with minimal negative collateral consequences,” such as heightened community distrust of law enforcement. The 2017 solicitation thus embodied the NIJ five-year strategic plan’s emphasis on evaluating community engagement strategies and building community trust and confidence in law enforcement.

Two projects funded by NIJ in 2017 focus on evaluating the community impact of hot spots policing and problem-oriented policing initiatives, including development of new measures of law enforcement effectiveness. They are:

  • A study of the impact of different strategies within hot spots on citizens’ perceptions of police in a Midwestern university town. The purpose is to demonstrate that police-community relations and police legitimacy can be strengthened, even in a hot spots policing environment.
  • A 30-month RCT study of 100 hot spots in two medium-size Southeastern cities. The study is using community surveys designed to move “beyond unreported crime to also measure perceptions of safety, police legitimacy, and collective efficacy” (an overall community-police relations measurement). On the law enforcement side, the study team is also examining officer morale, officers’ perceptions of their roles, police-community relations, and the program’s impact on law enforcement policies and practice.

The 30-month study, with its call for new measures of the impact and effectiveness of policing methods, reflects a concern that simplistic measures of law enforcement success, such as number of arrests or citizen calls for service, are often misleading.

Demystifying Policing Algorithms

Algorithms inform law enforcement strategies by sorting and analyzing sometimes massive amounts of crime data to identify the highest risk places and individuals. NIJ currently supports research measuring the effectiveness and efficiency of commercial algorithms that are marketed to law enforcement agencies for crime mapping and related approaches. At the same time, NIJ scientists are comparing a naive algorithm model to contest entries from the Real-Time Crime Forecasting Challenge. (A naive model is one that assumes what happened before is what will happen next; e.g., the model forecasts that crime will occur this month in the place it occurred last month.)

Hunt, who is leading that in-house study, said commonplace scientific concerns with algorithm-dependent law enforcement strategies include the quality of data going in, how the data are introduced to the algorithm, and “what we do with the numbers at the back end.” Hunt observed that a crime data sample — and thus data-dependent algorithm output — can be biased when, for instance, community members no longer report crime.

Indeed, fewer than half of all violent and property crimes are reported to the police, according to the latest National Crime Victimization Survey. [7] Similarly, homicide clearance rates have reached near-record lows in several major U.S. cities due to increasing gang violence, witness intimidation, and a lack of community cooperation with law enforcement. [8] “Mutual cooperation between the police and the community is essential to solving crimes,” said NIJ Director Muhlhausen. “Unfortunately, some community members refuse to cooperate with criminal investigations, even though law enforcement is legitimately trying to serve and protect their community.”

Hunt said NIJ is pushing for greater transparency on the scientific foundations of support for commercial policing algorithms — that is, less of a “black box” approach by vendors. Academic researchers YongJei Lee, SooHyun O, and John E. Eck, the three members of a team that was among the winners of NIJ’s 2016 Real-Time Crime Forecasting Challenge, wrote that a lack of transparency and a “lack of theoretical support for existing forecasting software” are common problems with proprietary hot spots forecasting products. [9]

Procedural Justice

The National Academies report on proactive policing pointed to procedural justice as one of the methods lacking adequate research evidence to support — or to preclude — its effectiveness. NIJ is working to grow that evidence base through projects such as an ongoing police-university research partnership in a medium-size Mid-Atlantic city, funded in 2016. The research was designed to use surveys and other techniques to gauge police and citizen perceptions of procedural justice issues and to forge a better understanding of the benefits of procedural justice training, body-worn cameras, and the mechanisms of public cooperation, trust, and satisfaction.

One recent NIJ-supported study casts new doubt on the effectiveness of procedural justice training in a specific police application. The Seattle Police Department conducted training to “slow down” the thought processes of police officers during citizen encounters to reduce negative outcomes. The selected officers were deemed to be at risk because (1) they had worked in hot spots or other high-crime city areas, and (2) they had been involved in incidents in which they were injured or used force, or where a complaint had been filed about the officer or the incident.

As reported in NIJ’s CrimeSolutions.ojp.gov, a central web resource to help practitioners and policymakers learn what works in justice-related programs and practices, the Seattle Police procedural justice training initiative was rated as having “no effects,” positive or negative, on procedural justice in the community. [10] The rating was based on a study [11] utilizing an RCT of the program. The RCT found no statistically significant differences between the treatment group and the control group in the percentage of incidents resulting in an arrest, the number of times force was used, the number of incidents resulting in citizen complaints, and other key measures.

One challenge for research on justice-focused policing methods such as procedural justice and police legitimacy — as important as they may be to the ultimate goal of respecting citizens’ rights under law — has been distinguishing their impact from that of routine policing. Brett Chapman, an NIJ social science analyst, said of procedural justice generally that although the work is important, one “challenge is trying to demonstrate how it is dramatically different from what police have been doing for years.”

Research Quality Depends on Execution

Even if an experimental design is flawless, outcome quality can depend on agency cooperation and performance. For example, an NIJ-sponsored 2012 research report on a randomized trial of broken windows policing in three Western cities concluded that the results were negatively affected by problematic execution by the responsible law enforcement agencies. [12]

NIJ operates a national initiative designed to build law enforcement agency research competence. The Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) Scholars program develops the research capability of midcareer law enforcement professionals from agencies committed to infusing science into their policy and practice. LEADS scholars learn the latest research developments and carry that knowledge to the field.

Proactive Policing and the Fourth Amendment

On the street, the impact of proactive policing methods that involve law enforcement confronting suspects will be measured against the rule of law, including the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure. The boundaries concerning unlawful treatment of suspects by law enforcement are not always distinct. In 2000, the Supreme Court held in Illinois v. Wardlow [13] that police may conduct a street stop of a suspect with a lower threshold of reasonable suspicion if the stop occurs in a high-crime area. Thus, an individual’s particular location may effectively reduce his or her rights in a law enforcement interaction. Implicit in that location-specific adjustment of suspects’ rights is the Court’s recognition that, in those crime-prone areas, innocent citizens are at heightened risk of becoming victims of crime.

Rachel Harmon, a University of Virginia law professor, and a colleague pointed out in “Proactive Policing and the Legacy of Terry,” [14] “So long as police focus on high crime areas, they can effectively lower the behavior-based suspicious activity demanded for each stop.” Yet as scholar Andrew Guthrie Ferguson and a colleague observed in 2008, [15] the Supreme Court has not defined a high-crime area for Fourth Amendment purposes.

Whether or to what extent a law enforcement strategy can exist in harmony with Fourth Amendment protections will depend on program particulars. In Floyd v. City of New York , [16] a federal district court held in 2013 that New York City’s stop and frisk policy at the time represented unconstitutional profiling and barred the practice. But the Floyd proscription was limited to excessive aspects of stop and frisk in New York.

David L. Weisburd, an author of the National Academies study and the executive director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, noted but took exception to a narrative he sees being advanced by some scholars and commentators that deterrence-based policing strategies make constitutional violations inevitable. In a 2016 paper in the University of Chicago Legal Forum specifically referencing hot spots policing, Weisburd posited “that hot spots policing properly implemented is likely to lead to less biased policing than traditional strategies. Moreover, there is little evidence that hot spots policing per se leads to abusive policing practices.” [17]

Rachel Harmon and her colleague sounded a similar theme, relative to stop and frisk policies, in her 2017 article referenced above: “Although the proactive use of stops and frisks may make constitutional violations more likely, it seems feasible to design a proactive strategy that uses stops and frisks aggressively and still complies with constitutional law.” [18]

The Harmon article further argued that proactive strategies such as hot spots and preventive policing can avoid constitutional peril “by narrowing proactive policing geographically rather than demographically.” Thus, in Harmon’s view, “the same focused strategies that are most likely to produce stops that satisfy the Fourth Amendment may also be the most likely to be carried out effectively and without discrimination.” [19]

Weisburd, in his 2016 paper, identified a need for new proactive programming that aspires to broad justice impacts. He called for “a new generation of programs and practices that attempts to maximize crime control and legitimacy simultaneously.” [20] The contemporary NIJ-supported, community-focused research noted above seeks new pathways for harmonizing proactive policing strategies with progress on community justice values

About this Article

This article was published as part of NIJ Journal issue number 281 , released October 2019.

[note 1] David B. Muhlhausen, “ Director’s Message: Proactive Policing — What We Know and What We Don’t Know, Yet ,” National Institute of Justice, January 17, 2018.

[note 2] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Proactive Policing: Effects on Crime and Communities (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2018).

[note 3] Anthony A. Braga, David Weisburd, and Brandon Turchan, “Focused Deterrence Strategies to Reduce Crime: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Empirical Evidence,” Criminology & Public Policy 17 no. 1 (2018): 205-250.

[note 4] Braga et al., p. 239.

[note 5] Jessica Saunders, Priscillia Hunt, and John S. Hollywood, “Predictions Put Into Practice: A Quasi-Experimental Evaluation of Chicago’s Predictive Policing Pilot,” Journal of Experimental Criminology 12 no. 3 (2016): 347, 366, doi:10.1007/s11292-016-9272-0.

[note 6] Jessica Saunders, Michael Robbins, and Allison J. Ober, “Moving from Efficacy to Effectiveness: Implementing the Drug Market Intervention Across Multiple Sites,” Criminology & Public Policy 16 no. 3 (2017).

[note 7] Rachel E. Morgan and Jennifer L. Truman, Criminal Victimization, 2017 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2018), NCJ 252472.

[note 8] Aamer Madhani, “Unsolved Murders: Chicago, Other Big Cities Struggle; Murder Rate a 'National Disaster,’” USA Today , August 10, 2018.

[note 9] YongJei Lee, SooHyun O, and John E. Eck, “ A Theory-Driven Algorithm for Real-Time Crime Hot Spot Forecasting ,” NIJ award number 2016-NIJ-Challenge-0017, October 2017, 1.

[note 10] Program Profile: Procedural Justice Training Program (Seattle Police Department) , posted April 29, 2019.

[note 11] Emily Owens, David Weisburd, Karen L. Amendola, and Geoffrey P. Alpert, “Can You Build a Better Cop?” Criminology & Public Policy 17 no. 1 (2018): 41-87.

[note 12] Christine Femega, Joshua C. Hinkle, and David Weisburd, “Why Getting Inside the ‘Black Box’ Is Important: Examining Treatment Implementation and Outputs in Policing Experiments,” Police Quarterly 20 no. 1 (2017).

[note 13] 528 U.S. 119.

[note 14] Rachel Harmon and Andrew Manns, “Proactive Policing and the Legacy of Terry,” Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 15 no. 1 (2017): 49-71.

[note 15] Andrew Guthrie Ferguson and Damien Bernache, “The ‘High-Crime Area’ Question: Requiring Verifiable and Quantifiable Evidence for Fourth Amendment Reasonable Suspicion Analysis,” American University Law Review 57 no. 6 (2008): 1587-1644.

[note 16] 959 F. Supp. 2d 540 (S.D. N.Y. 2013).

[note 17] David Weisburd, “Does Hot Spots Policing Inevitably Lead to Unfair and Abusive Police Practices, or Can We Maximize Both Fairness and Effectiveness in the New Proactive Policing?,” The University of Chicago Legal Forum (2016): 661.

[note 18] Harmon and Manns, “Proactive Policing and the Legacy of Terry,” 59.

[note 19] Harmon and Manns, “Proactive Policing and the Legacy of Terry,” 61.

[note 20] Weisburd, “Does Hot Spots Policing … ,” 686.

About the author

Paul A. Haskins is a social science writer and contractor with Leidos.

Cite this Article

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Graduation celebration: empowering youth through the g.r.e.a.t. program.

CHICAGO — Special Agent in Charge Christopher Amon of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Chicago Field Division announced today the graduation of over 120 participating Bradley West Elementary students who successfully completed the Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program. The graduation celebrates the development amongst the students of essential life skills and positive relationships between law enforcement and local community youth.

The G.R.E.A.T. Youth and Community Outreach program was launched by The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 1991 to proactively combat violent crime in coordination with local law enforcement. G.R.E.AT. uses community-oriented policing tactics and outreach in a weekly classroom setting to increase positive perceptions about law enforcement, one student at a time.

In Bradley West Elementary, the G.R.E.A.T. program instructors, ATF Special Agent Cindy Bernd and Bradley Police Officer Matt Baxter, have focused on helping eliminate delinquency, youth violence and gang membership over a period of four months teaching weekly.

“ATF nationally and in close collaboration with our local law enforcement partners, in this case the Bradley Police Department, have been serving as G.R.E.A.T. instructors for over three decades,” said Special Agent in Charge Amon. “Watching our youth who participate in this program implement their newly developed skills is rewarding for not only for the community, but the local law enforcement as well.”

“We are very excited about welcoming back the Gang Resistance Education Training program (G.R.E.A.T.) to our school system," remarked Chief Donald Barber of the Bradley Police Department. "Officer Baxter along with Agent Cindy Bernd and the support of the ATF organization are a great fit. Not only does it build on our already sound foundations within the elementary school district, but we are a firm believer that the more we increase the active participation and partnerships with our youth, the more we increase the value of our community.”

The G.R.E.A.T. curriculum includes violence prevention, conflict resolution techniques, decision-making, goal setting and problem-solving. The elementary school curriculum is a six-week interactive session for fourth and fifth graders with an emphasis on family involvement. Students are taught how to set goals, resist peer pressure, respect differences, resolve conflicts and understand how gangs can negatively impact their quality of life. They also learn the importance of becoming responsible members of their communities.

This training is also part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make local neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department of Justice launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in local communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities and measuring the results.

Information on the G.R.E.A.T. program, its mission and impact on communities can be found at the G.R.E.A.T. Home website and by reviewing the G.R.E.A.T. fact sheet .

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    Problem-oriented policing, on the other hand, aims at solving persistent community problems by identifying, analyzing, and responding to the underlying circumstances that create incidents. The Newport News Police Department, a moderate-sized agency, was selected by the National Institute of Justice to serve as a pilot test of problem-oriented ...

  21. Black people overwhelmingly want to maintain—or increase—police

    According to their data, 81 percent of black Americans who say they are afraid or very afraid of cops want to maintain or increase police spending, while 78 percent of those respondents want to ...

  22. ATF Press Release

    G.R.E.AT. uses community-oriented policing tactics and outreach in a weekly classroom setting to increase positive perceptions about law enforcement, one student at a time. ... goal setting and problem-solving. The elementary school curriculum is a six-week interactive session for fourth and fifth graders with an emphasis on family involvement ...