Late during the first decade of the 21st century, violent crime levels rose to epic proportions in Philadelphia, PA. As of 2008, there had been more than a hundred shootings recorded in the city each month since 2002. Further, crime data indicated that a noticeable and consistent cycle of increased violent crime occurred during summer months. Violent crime had become so rampant that the community had begun to view it as a public health threat, placing pressure on law enforcement to address the issue. In response, the Philadelphia Police Department developed the Philadelphia Foot Patrol strategy, which used proactive, nonthreatening, and community-oriented approaches to local policing. The strategy combined these approaches with techniques borrowed from hot spots policing, disseminating foot patrol to specific high-crime locations. The overall goal was to create significant reductions in violent crime by increasing officer presence in high-crime locations, specifically during the summer months.
The strategy concentrated on implementing foot patrol at certain addresses, street segments, and clusters of microspatial units with high levels of violent crime in Philadelphia.
The strategy emphasized increasing police visibility and presence in high-crime locations and thus did not concentrate on specific activities of officers while on patrol. During the implementation of the strategy, officers engaged in various types of activities while patrolling assigned locations. Some officers engaged in extensive community-oriented work, speaking to community members and visiting child care centers and juvenile hangouts. Other officers took a more crime-oriented approach to their patrol assignment, stopping vehicles at stop signs and intersections, and interviewing pedestrians. In sum, the strategy used a meticulous analysis of the distribution of violent crime across locations, to successfully employ visible presence of officers in the most problematic areas.
Proper implementation of the strategy relied on coordinating various divisions within the Philadelphia Police Department to accurately identify high-crime locations and coordinate the assignment of officers to designated areas. It was also necessary for patrol officers to maintain a visible presence in assigned patrol locations.
The Philadelphia Foot Patrol strategy used a spatially oriented approach that borrowed ideas from several complementary criminological theories, including rational choice, routine activities, and environmental criminology. Spatially oriented crime control programs aim to make changes in areas that provide crime opportunities in order to create constraints on criminal behavior. Such an approach includes a concentration on deterrence in specific areas, to increase certainty of disruption, apprehension, and arrest using enhanced visibility of police. The rational choice theory posits that the decision to commit a crime is made rationally by an offender, that it is a deliberate decision made after judging that the potential benefits of the crime outweigh the potential risks. The routine activities theory posits that a criminal act occurs when there is a convergence of a suitable target in the absence of a capable guardian. In theory, this complements rational choice because, when the opportunity to commit crime is presented, the offender is more likely to make the choice to offend. The role of place is introduced by environmental criminology, also known as crime pattern theory, which suggests that a reduction in offending will occur if characteristics of an environment are altered to make the location less appealing to criminals. Through a combination of rational choice, routine activities, and environmental criminology, a theory arises that making changes to an environment can have a significant impact on a potential criminal’s decision to commit crimes in that area. Therefore, the foot patrol strategy followed from the premise that increasing officer visibility in high-crime locations would render such locations less optimal for criminal offending, leading to a deterrent effect and a reduction in violent crime.
Reported Violent Crime
Ratcliffe and colleagues (2011) found that the target areas experienced a relative 23 percent statistically significant reduction in reported violent crime in comparison with the control areas. These effects were most noticeable in target areas with the highest levels of preintervention violent crime, as target areas in the top 40 percent on pretreatment violent crime counts had significantly less violent crime during the operational period. These findings suggest that targeted foot patrols in violent crime hot spots can significantly reduce violent crime levels, as long as a threshold level of violence exists initially.
Displacement and Diffusion Effects
An analysis of displacement and diffusion effects indicated a reduction of 90 crimes in the target areas, which was offset by an increase of approximately 37 offenses occurring in buffer zones surrounding target areas—leading to an overall net effect of 53 violent crimes prevented across the city of Philadelphia. The analysis indicates significant evidence of displacement of violent crime to nearby locations; however, these effects were outweighed by direct benefits seen in target areas.
Incident Type Frequency
The frequency of all incident types increased during the operational period, compared with pretreatment levels. Results indicate that the foot patrol officers (as identified by their radio call signs) contributed substantially to the rise in proactive police activity observed in treatment areas. In treatment areas, pedestrian stops by police officers increased by 64 percent, vehicle stops increased by 7 percent, police disruptions of disturbances increased by 47 percent, disruptions of narcotics incidents increased by 15 percent, and disruptions of disorder incidents increased by 57 percent. Finally, arrests increased by 13 percent. Based on these increases, it can be inferred that the proactive activities used in walking patrol increased the enforcement of minor violations. It is possible that such proactive policing techniques helped increase police visibility in treatment locations, thereby contributing to reductions in violent crime.