What Is Hot Spots Policing?

Over the past two decades, a series of rigorous evaluations has suggested that police can be effective in addressing crime and disorder when they focus on small units of geography with high rates of crime. These areas are typically referred to as hot spots, and policing strategies and tactics focused on these areas are usually referred to as hot spots policing or place-based policing.

This place-based focus stands in contrast to traditional notions of policing and crime prevention more generally, which have often focused primarily on people. Police, of course, have never ignored geography entirely. Police beats, precincts, and districts determine the allocation of police resources and dictate how police respond to calls and patrol the city. With place-based policing, however, the concern is with much smaller units of geography than those on which the police have typically focused. Places here refer to specific locations within the larger social environments of communities and neighborhoods, such as addresses, street blocks, or small clusters of addresses or street blocks. Crime prevention effectiveness is maximized when police focus their resources on these microunits of geography.

Hot spots policing covers a range of police responses that all share in common a focus of resources on the locations where crime is highly concentrated. Just as the definition of hot spots varies across studies and contexts (from addresses to street segments to clusters of street segments), so do the specific tactics police use to address high-crime places. There is not one way to implement hot spots policing. The approaches can range rather dramatically across interventions (Braga, Papachristos, and Hureau, 2012).

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design

According to this perspective, areas within a city emit “cues” about their characteristics that offenders use to select suitable targets. Urban settings can discourage crime and limit the number of targets that are perceived as “suitable” by motivated offenders through a physical design which incorporates cues that show how the living space is well maintained, well cared for, and hence well controlled. Under such conditions, the potential offenders realize that they will be (1) easily recognized; and (2) not tolerated (Newman, 1972).

In this chapter, we covered hot spots policing from history to identification to implications of locating where hot spots exist. At this point, you should have an increased understanding of what hot spots are, how crime analysts locate and identify hot spots, and the role of tactical crime analysts in hot spots policing. In Chapter 13, you will learn more about strategic crime analysis.

Questions for Discussion

  • 1 Could you make a case for the use of place in crime analysis and the use of hot spots policing as a factor in the reduction of crime in the United States?
  • 2 What is the difference between individual theories of crime causation and geographic theories of crime causation?

Important Terms

Broken udndows theory: Theory proposed by Wilson and Kelling that links disorder and incivility within a community to subsequent occurrences of serious crime. Serious crime, in this theory, is the final result of a lengthy chain of events emanating from disorder.

Crime opportunity theory: Theory which suggests that when offenders want to commit a crime, they look for an opportunity or a practical target.

Crime pattern: Group of two or more crimes reported to or discovered by police that are unique because they meet certain conditions, such as sharing at least one common factor.

Crime pattern theory: Theory that integrates crime within a geographic context, thus demonstrating how the environments that people live in and pass through influence criminality.

Dot map: Shows a particular place, a residence or store, for instance, where crime problems have occurred.

Ellipse and choropleth maps: Used when the hot spots cover broader areas and include neighborhoods.

Environmental criminology: Various theories of crime and place.

Geographical information system (GIS): System designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of spatial or geographical data. In criminal justice, geographical information systems help to create crime maps to visualize data and identify patterns and hot spots.

Grid thematic mapping: Used to cope with the problems associated with different sizes and shapes of geographical regions. Uniform grids (or quadrats) can be drawn in a GIS as a layer over the study area and thematically shaded.

Hot spot: When a crime pattern occurs in a relatively small area, it is referred to as a hot spot or a cluster.

Hot spots policing: Policing which covers a range of police responses that all share in common a focus of resources on the locations where crime is highly concentrated.

Kernel density estimation: Spatial analysis technique that is seen by many as the most popular and suitable for visualizing crime data.

Line maps: Used when hot spots are along streets.

Nearest-neighbor index (NNI): Test that compares the actual distribution of crime data with a randomly distributed data set of the same sample size.

Point pattern analysis: One approach to identifying a high-crime area is using a point map; a map of points can demonstrate patterns of points that are clustered, uniform, or randomly distributed.

Polygon map: Cartographic display of regularly or irregularly shaped polygons and their attributes.

Routine activities theory: Developed by Cohen and Felson, a theory that seeks to explain the occurrence of crime events as the confluence of four circumstances: a motivated offender; a desirable target; the target and offender being in the same place at the same time; and intimate handlers, guardians, or place managers being absent or ineffective.

Sitnational crime prevention theory: Theory which suggests that crime and public disorder can be prevented by reducing opportunities for crime.

Social disorganization theory: Theory which suggests that crime occurs when community relationships and local institutions fail or are absent. Contemporary versions of social disorganization theory assume that strong networks of social relationships prevent crime and delinquency.

Spatial autocorrelation: Has to do with statistical techniques which assume that criminal events that occur in different locations (yet in close proximity) are related.

Theories of crime and place: Theories that provide an understanding of crime in its physical or spatial environment.

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