Hot spots policing strategies focus on small geographic areas or places, usually in urban settings, where crime is concentrated. As a result, hot spots policing has been found to reduce crime without displacement. But aggressive hot spots tactics could have long-term negative effects on legitimacy perceptions, which are key to democratic policing and have been linked to citizen compliance with the law. The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (p. 15) stressed the need to “specifically look at the potential for collateral damage of any given [crime fighting] strategy on community trust and legitimacy.” Procedural justice (PJ) involves fair and respectful treatment of citizens by police. It has been argued that use of procedurally just approaches will increase legitimacy and reduce crime. The hotspots study is the first to rigorously test these assumptions in the context of a field experiment in proactive policing.
This study provides important guidance for agencies regarding present approaches to crime hot spots. It responds to the President’s Task Force (p. 40) conclusion that “Police interventions must be implemented with strong policies and training in place, rooted in an understanding of procedural justice.” The project identifies whether the use of procedural justice training can enhance both the crime control effectiveness of hot spots policing, and its ability to achieve effectiveness while encouraging positive legitimacy evaluations. The study also serves as an important next step in integrating evidence-based practices in hot spots policing with knowledge about the ways in which police can increase levels of procedural justice to enhance citizen perceptions of police legitimacy.
The study began with a multisite trial in 3 phases to address 2 key questions: Can the development of a hot spots policing program with a strong procedural justice (PJ) component affect officer behavior and enhance citizen perceptions of police legitimacy? Can the program improve the effectiveness of hot spots policing, leading to greater long-term crime reduction? 40-50 crime hot spots in 4 agencies (160-200 total) were identified and divided between a standard hot spots policing condition and an enhancing PJ in hot spots condition. Outcomes were measured with systematic social observations, official crime data, in-person resident surveys and surveys of individuals who have police contact.
This study has relevance for agencies striving to reduce crime and enhance community perceptions of legitimacy, which as recent events have made clear, are both important issues for departments nationwide. A major goal of the project is to better understand if and how police departments can simultaneously achieve both fairness and effectiveness. Echoing the President’s Task Force (p. 53) conclusions: “The goal is not only effective, efficient policing but also procedural justice and fairness.”
This project is funded fully by The Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
Senior Research Associate
Police services, Hotspots, President’s Task Force, 21st Century Policing, crime hot spots, Police Legitimacy