A National Academy of Sciences panel praises such tactics as “hot spots policing,” problem-oriented policing and “focused deterrence.” There were mixed results for “stop-question-frisk” tactics and broken-windows policing, and “the lack of data on the role of racial bias in proactive policing was startling.”
Several strategies used by police to prevent crimes have proved successful at crime reduction, at least in the short term, and most of them do not harm communities’ attitudes toward police, concluded a report issued Thursday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
The committee that produced the study said there is insufficient evidence to draw strong conclusions on the role of racial bias in the use of proactive policing strategies.
“The committee felt that the lack of data on the role of racial bias in proactive policing was startling,” said criminologist David Weisburd of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University, committee chair. “It’s critically important that we understand not simply the impacts of proactive policing on racial outcomes, but also how race may impact the adoption of specific types of proactive policing.”
The report examined so-called proactive policing practices, which differ from traditional reactive approaches that focus on responding to crime after the fact and on answering citizen requests for police service.
Most evidence on the tactics involve localized impacts of crime prevention and on short-term crime-prevention effects. “Hot spots policing,” in which officers target locations where crime is concentrated, produces short-term crime reduction effects without simply displacing crime into surrounding areas, the committee found.
Such programs also have beneficial crime reduction effects in adjacent areas. Several studies suggest that “problem-oriented policing programs” also lead to short-term reductions in crime.
The problem-oriented policing concept seeks to identify and analyze the underlying causes of crime problems and to respond using a variety of methods and tactics, from improving lighting and repairing fences to cleaning up parks and improving recreational opportunities for youth.
The committee also looked at the “focused deterrence” tactic, which it said show consistent impact in reducing gang violence, street crime driven by disorderly drug markets, and repeat offending by individuals.
Focused deterrence attempts to deter crime among repeat offenders by understanding underlying dynamics that lead to crime and by using what the committee called a “blended strategy of law enforcement, community mobilization, and social service actions.”
There were mixed results from controversial “stop-question-frisk” stops in which suspects are questioned, frisked, and often searched. The panel said that the tactic had short-term crime reduction effects when it targets high-risk repeat offenders in places experiencing violence or serious gun crimes.
There was less evidence on the long term impact of using “stop-question-frisk.”
The committee found that so-called broken windows policing, a strategy of addressing small instances of disorder before they overwhelm a neighborhood, has little or no impact on crime when used aggressively to increase misdemeanor arrests. There has been short-term crime reduction using “place-based, problem-solving practices to reduce social and physical disorder,” the panel said.
On the issue of race, the committee acknowledged that there are likely to be large racial disparities in the volume and nature of police-citizen encounters. The evidence so far does not “establish conclusively whether and to what extent such racial disparities are indicators of statistical prediction, racial animus, implicit bias, or other causes,” the committee said.
More research on the topic is urgently needed, said the experts, to better understand the “potential negative consequences of proactive policing, and so that communities and police departments may be better equipped to align police behaviors with values of equity and justice.”
Looking at community-oriented policing generally, the committee said it helps lead to modest improvements in the public’s view of policing in the short term.
The study was financed by the U.S. Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
In addition to Weisburd, the study committee included Hassan Aden of the Virginia-based Aden Group; Anthony Braga of Northeastern University; Jim Bueermann of the Police Foundation; Philip Cook of Duke University; Phillip Atiba Goff of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Center for Policing Equity; and Rachel Harmon of the University of Virginia Law School.
Also on the committee: Amelia Haviland of Carnegie Mellon University; Cynthia Lum of George Mason University; Charles Manski of Northwestern University; Stephen Mastrofski of George Mason University; Tracy Meares of Yale Law School; Daniel Nagin of Carnegie Mellon University; Emily Owens of the University of California Irvine; Stephen Raphael of the University of California Berkeley; Jerry Ratcliffe of Temple University; and Tom Tyler of Yale Law School.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.