Essay: Research Design Paper: Hot Spot Policing

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  • Research Design Paper: Hot Spot Policing
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Hot Spot policing has been proven effective in reducing disorder-related crime in locations where it is prevalent. There is significant evidence to support the effectiveness of this program. This strategy is based on the broken windows theory of crime which explains that crime is prevalent in areas with high levels of physical and social disorder (Office of Justice Programs, 2011). The theory suggests that reducing disorder in high-crime areas will reduce crime, especially nuisance crime, and improve the conditions in the area. Throughout the course of this paper, I will plan an evaluation of Florence Police Academy’s new hot spot policing program. I will start by describing the program and prior research, create a research design plan for their outcome evaluation, and explain the strengths and limitations of this plan.

The Hot Spots Policing Strategy was first implemented in 2005 to reduce crime by improving both social and physical order in their high-crime areas (Office of Justice Programs, 2011). By restoring order in these areas, disorder-related crimes were decreased significantly. The overall goal of the program was to reduce crime across the entire city of Lowell by implementing these practices in high-crime areas. There are three approaches used to reduce disorder-related crime. The first strategy is increased misdemeanor arrests. This consists of more “stop and frisks”, and foot patrol officers searching for suspicious individuals. This way, they can target public disorder violations such as public drunkenness and drug dealing. By taking these high-risk individuals off the streets, there will be less occurrences of disorder-related crime. The second strategy is situational prevention which focuses on social and physical disorders. By installing more lights, increasing video surveillance, clearing loiterers, evicting problem residents, and clearing abandoned buildings and lots, police can restore order by removing those troublesome individuals from the area. This requires collaboration between police, business owners and local community organizations. The third strategy deals with social services actions which helps police increase social order with the help of social service agencies. This includes providing homeless shelters, recreational facilities for youth, and providing mental health services to those in need. These opportunities will create opportunities for high-risk individuals, so they can help the police restore social order (Office of Justice Programs, 2011).

By combining all of these strategies along with collaboration with the surrounding businesses and organizations, the Lowell Police Department can use hot spot policing to reduce crime in the overall area. The target areas are those of high crime in the city and offenders of disorder-related crimes. By deploying police units to clean up these areas of the city, the overall amount of crime will decrease. The next section of this research paper will cover various research studies that support the validity of using the hot spot strategy.

There is extensive research that supports the hot spot strategy as a beneficial process in the city. For example, Braga and Bond (2008) conducted a randomized controlled trial on the effectiveness of the hot spot strategy on disorder-related crime in Lowell, Massachusetts. They used the Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment (SARA) strategy to locate the hot spots in the area. Over the course of 1 year, they found 34 hot spot areas and randomly assigned each hot spot to a control or a treatment group, resulting in 17 treatments and 17 control groups. Local police assigned units to each group in order to test out the program. They used the Problem-Oriented Policing strategy which consisted of progressive, order-maintenance policing and a range of situational and social-service interventions in order to reduce crime. This policing consisted of foot and motor patrols, field investigations, and disorder enforcement. The outcomes used for evaluation were citizen calls for service, observed disorder such as loitering, and public drinking, and displacement/diffusion effects observing changes in crime in the surrounding areas. The results of the study concluded that there was an overall decrease in crime in the treatment areas as opposed to the control areas. There was a 19.8% decrease in citizen calls for service in treatment areas including a 41.8% reduction in robbery calls, social disorder was alleviated at 82.4% of treatment areas, and 76.5% of treatment areas for physical disorder. However, there was no significant displacement present in any of the treatment or control areas. There were inconsistent numbers and types of calls for service in the surrounding areas, so the positive results were not significant.

Haberman (2016) also did a research study the effectiveness of hot spot policing strategies by interviewing police commanders and learning about the current strategies they use. From the results, they could conclude whether the current strategies were useful in non-experimental police situations. This study used observations of police strategy meetings and interviews to understand what police officers thought they were doing correctly, and how effective the current strategies turned out to be. Sherman and Weisburd (1995) discovered that increasing police in high crime areas such as drug corners, or having them visit a hot spot for 15 minutes every two hours proved to be very effective. In this article, the “black box” (491) problem concerns the tactics that police units actually use in hot spot areas. Because each unit behaved differently in real-life situations, it is hard to determine whether their tactics were effective, or it was just the increase of police numbers in problem areas that reduced crime. Rational evidence-based policy was used in this study to determine if, how, and why different actions reduce crime. Commanders of the Philadelphia Police Department were interviewed by the researcher along with field observations of PPD strategy meetings (492). The sample included the 6 PPD commanders with the largest number of hot spots in their jurisdictions. The study focused on violent crime hot spots in the summer, which is when more violent crimes occur. Field notes and transcripts were analyzed and placed under a code to specify the type of crime problem discussed, hot spot tactics that were used, or relevant data questions. The results showed that police commanders mostly focused on increasing police presence and enforcement in high crime areas (507). They fought to reduce crime by focusing on high-risk offenders in high crime areas, and educating citizens on how to protect themselves from things like robbery and theft. The results also showed that police commanders are highly theoretical and calculated with their actions. They seek to discourage offenders by taking action against them heavily, and believe that there are multiple theoretical mechanisms that can be used to prevent crime. Although some critics may worry about their actions being prejudicial, the police units proved that the commanders’ strategies worked.

Weisburd (2005) used a case study analysis of two randomized hot spot experiments in order to gather eight lessons regarding the implementation and development of place-based randomized trials and experimental methods. He seeks to certify that the use of randomized experiments in criminal justice, especially those used to analyze hot spot policing, are effective. Critics argue that experimental randomization in criminal justice imposes too many limitations, leads to implementation failures, and presents serious ethical problems (221). Contrary to these beliefs, hot spot policing trials have established some credibility to the effectiveness of randomized experimentation. The research in this article seeks to explain how hot spot experiments solved implementation problems, overcame ethical dilemmas, and what accounts for the policy relevance of these studies. The randomized clustered sampling was necessary for hot spot policing in order to reduce the amount of ethical concerns. Hot spot areas are often sparked by crisis in the area, increasing the need for more police units. In order to understand why certain areas become hot spots, researchers seek to find out why some people become criminals as opposed to others, and what environmental factors contribute to an area becoming a high crime area. Sherman and Weisburd (1995) explored the practical implications of the hot spots policing approach and discovered that deploying more patrols in the small percentage of high crime areas could potentially displace crime to other areas. The National Institute of Justice also did a series of experiments and with the Drug Market Analysis Program engaged business owners and citizens in crime control efforts (228). The results of this study showed a decrease in disorder related calls for service, and also very little displacement of crimes to other areas. Comparing these studies drew the conclusion that randomized sampling could actually be effective in criminal justice, thanks to examples of hot spot policing strategies.

After analyzing these articles, I can create a design plan to evaluate the outcome of hot spot policing. Following the methods of Braga and Bond (2005) and Haberman (2016), I will create a plan in order to determine if hot spot policing is effective in reducing crime in the Florence Police Academy’s jurisdiction.

I will conduct a randomized controlled sample of hot spot areas in Florence by first determining which areas have the highest amount of crime, and selecting the highest 20 areas for my evaluation. I will randomly assign each spot as a controlled or a treatment area, without notifying the units of my choices. The FPD commanders will assign a unit to two hot spots, and controlled spots will implement their current strategies while the treatment areas will adopt the hot spot strategies presented to their commanding officers. I will also assign two FPD units to the last two remaining hot spots in order to determine the effects of an increase in police presence on crime. Like Haberman’s (2016) research, I will observe the interactions between units and citizens in both a controlled and a treatment area, and sit in on the first and last police strategy meetings. At the end of my evaluation, I will interview a commander from each unit to get feedback on the effectiveness of the program and strategies used. I will also interview a few business owners and citizens from a random treatment and controlled hot spot area, gathering feedback on how effective they thought the FPD’s strategies were. The data collected will include observation and interview notes, frequency and category of citizen calls for service, the number of criminal arrests during the experimental period, and the percent increase of calls within a 5-mile radius of the hot spots. This way, I can understand from both sides of the experiment how effective hot spot strategies proved to be, which strategies were more effective, if crime rates spread in surrounding areas, and what the police can do to improve service and reduce citizen calls for service.

My design strategy presents a few limitations for the FPD. Because I can’t be in multiple places at once, I will either have to observe different units in different spots each day, or have other researchers assist me in collecting data. There is also the factor of citizen and business participation, whether or not they will have an effect on reducing crime by their own terms. As Weisburd (2005) mentioned, this type of study could receive negative backlash because of ethical concerns such as prejudice against citizens in hot spot areas. Thus, I have to do as much as I can to reduce negative views of the police by citizens in these areas. There are some factors that cannot be determined such as the productivity of police units during the study, and the cooperation they will get from the citizens in the area. Some of these issues can be resolved by simply speaking to business owners and citizens in hot spot areas and discussing their concerns and what they expect from the FPD in terms of protection.

After implementing this design plan for my evaluation, I will be able to draw a conclusion about the effectiveness of my hot spot policing plan in the Florence Police Department’s jurisdiction. The randomized sample strategy used in my design will reduce the chance of inaccurate and skewed results. By having both controlled and treatment hot spot areas, I can examine whether or not the new strategies are successful in reducing crime as opposed to what the police are currently using. Interviewing the commanding officers before and after the experiment will allow them to reflect on the use of the new strategies, and form a conclusion on whether hot spot policing is more effective than what they were using before. They will also be able to give feedback on other strategies they think will be effective in future research. My evaluation should prove that hot spot policing strategies are effective in reducing crime rates in the Florence Police Department’s jurisdiction. I expect crime rates in the treatment areas to be reduced significantly, less citizen calls for service, a reduction in the number of repeat offenders, and for there to be little to no displacement of crime to the surrounding areas. My design plan will be able to effectively test my strategies against the ones that already exist in order to verify that hot spot policing works and my plan effectively reduced crime in the Florence area.


Office of Justice Programs. (2011, December). Program Profile: Hot Spots Policing (Lowell, Mass.). National Institute of Justice.

Braga, Anthony A., and Brenda J. Bond. (2008). “Policing Crime and Disorder Hot Spots: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Criminology 46(3):577–607.

Haberman, Corey P. (2016). A View Inside the “Black Box” of Hot Spot Policing from a Sample of Police Commanders. Police Quarterly, Vol 19(4), 488-517.

Weisburd, David. Hot Spots Policing Experiments and Criminal Justice Research: Lessons from the Field. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Vol. 599, Place Randomized Trials: Experimental Tests of Public Policy (May, 2005), pp. 220-245

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