The Hot Spots Policing strategy was implemented in 2005 by the Lowell (Mass.) Police Department and was intended to improve social and physical order in high-crime areas in Lowell. By improving social order in high-crime areas, the strategy seeks to reduce disorder-related crime. The ultimate goal is to improve order in these specific areas to create broad crime-reduction results across the greater area.
The program concentrates on reducing disorder in locations in Lowell identified to have high levels of crime.
The strategy includes the use of several techniques aimed to improve physical and social disorder in hot spots of crime. The program uses three approaches to reduce disorder-related crime, based on a general policing disorder strategy:
- Increased misdemeanor arrests. This component entails the use of aggressive order maintenance techniques by police, including increased arrests for public order violations. Some examples are making arrests for public drinking, arresting drug dealers, conducting “stop and frisks” of suspicious individuals, and conducting foot patrol in high-crime areas. This component is intended to take high-risk individuals off the street and to reduce disorder-related crime.
- Situational prevention strategies. This component entails a variety of measures broadly designed to improve physical and social disorder in target areas by police. This includes the installation of improved street lighting, implementation of video surveillance, dispersing groups of loiterers, performing code inspections, cleaning up vacant lots, razing abandoned buildings, and evicting problem residents. These activities are intended to go beyond simply arresting violators and to promote a generalized sense of order in problem areas. Such techniques require partnerships between and among police and city agencies, local business owners, and tenant associations.
- Social service actions. This component entails assistance from social service agencies to help police increase social order. This includes providing youth with recreational opportunities, working with local shelters to provide housing for homeless individuals, and connecting problem tenants to mental health services. These activities are intended to create opportunities for high-risk individuals in targeted locations to assist police efforts to promote social order.
This strategy requires collaboration with many community agencies and businesses, as well as the assistance of geospatial analysts to identify hot spots of crime.
The strategy is based on the broken windows theory of crime, which postulates that crime is likely to flourish in areas with high levels of physical and social disorder. It entails the use of broken windows policing, also known as disorder policing, to produce a crime-reduction effect by improving order in problem areas. The program is based on the idea that, by reducing overall disorder, conditions will improve and crime will be reduced. The program uses a problem-oriented policing approach to concentrate specifically on the reduction of nuisance crime, in combination with a hot spots policing approach to target specific high-crime areas.
Citizen Calls for Service
Braga and Bond (2008) found that the total number of calls for service dropped 19.8 percent in treatment areas, relative to control areas—a statistically significant reduction.
The magnitude of effects was inconsistent across all categories of crime calls, but results indicate substantial reductions in calls in treatment places relative to calls in control places. There was a statistically significant 14 percent reduction in disorder/nuisance calls in treatment areas relative to control areas. There was a statistically significant 41.8 percent reduction in robbery calls in treatment areas relative to control areas. There was a statistically significant 34.2 percent reduction in nondomestic assault calls in treatment areas relative to control areas. There was a statistically significant 35.5 percent reduction in burglary/breaking-and-entering calls in treatment areas relative to control areas. There was a (statistically insignificant) 10.7 percent reduction in larceny/theft calls in treatment areas relative to control areas.
The regression analysis of total mediated effects of key program elements indicated an estimated 21.5 percent reduction in total calls for treatment areas, relative to control areas. Based on the analysis of each component's isolated impact, the implementation of situational prevention strategies appeared to produce the strongest effects on reductions in calls for service.
Social disorder was alleviated at 14 of 17 (82.4 percent) treatment places, relative to control places. There was a 71.6 percent reduction in observed loitering in treatment areas, compared with a 12.9 percent reduction in control areas. There was a 73.1 percent reduction in observed public drinking in treatment areas, compared with a 7.3 percent increase in control areas. There was a 61.9 percent reduction in observed drug selling in treatment areas, compared with an 11.5 percent reduction in control areas. There was a 52.4 percent reduction in observed homeless individuals in treatment areas, compared with a 10.5 percent increase in control areas. These results were found to be statistically significant.
Physical disorder was alleviated at 13 of 17 (76.5 percent) treatment places, relative to control places. There was a 26.8 percent reduction in observed street segments with trash in treatment areas, compared with an 11.4 percent increase in control areas. There was a 23.1 percent reduction in observed structures with graffiti in treatment areas, compared with a 1.8 percent increase in control areas. There was a 62.5 percent reduction in observed damaged structures in treatment areas, compared with a 25 percent reduction in control areas. There was a 71.4 percent reduction in observed unkempt vacant lots in treatment areas, compared with no discernible change in control areas. There was a 100 percent reduction in observed abandoned cars in treatment and control areas. There was a 66.7 percent reduction in observed unsecured abandoned buildings in treatment areas, compared with no change in control areas. These results were found to be statistically significant.
It was found that that calls for service were not significantly displaced into areas surrounding treatment places, relative to areas immediately surrounding the control places. All call categories experienced varying nonsignificant increases in the treatment catchment areas, relative to control catchment areas. However, these increases were not significant enough to outweigh statistically significant reductions in crime seen in treatment areas.