Calibrating Police Activity Across Hot Spot and Non-Hot Spot Areas

Published date01 September 2021
Date01 September 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Calibrating Police
Activity Across Hot
Spot and Non-Hot
Spot Areas
Christopher S. Koper
Xiaoyun Wu
, and Cynthia Lum
Maximizing crime prevention through large-scale implementation of hot spot policing
requires a more refined understanding of how to calibrate police activity across high
and low-risk areas. This study investigates these issues based on the experience of a
large urban police agency that substantially reduced proactive activities across a large
area due to resource cutbacks while also shifting a larger share of its declining
proactive work into prioritized micro hot spots. Time series models were used to
estimate the effects of these changes on crime-related calls in hot spots and non-hot
spot areas. Hot spots required higher levels of proactivity (expressed as rates per
day or per crime) to control crime, and serious crime rose in these locations
following modest reductions in proactivity. In areas outside hot spots, minor and
property crimes rose, but only after reductions of one-half to two-thirds in proactive
work. Violence was unaffected in these areas, and they did not experience acceler-
ated growth in crime relative to prioritized hot spots. These results help to illumi-
nate minimum levels of police activity that may be necessary to control crime in
places of varying risk. They also suggest that police can reduce proactive work by
substantial amounts in lower risk areas to place more emphasis on hot spots. Better
understanding of these issues is central to widespread, systematic operationalization
of hot spot policing as a means to reduce crime across large areas.
Department of Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, United States
Corresponding Author:
Christopher S. Koper, Department of Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason University,
4400 University Drive, MS 6D12, Fairfax, VA 22030, United States.
Police Quarterly
2021, Vol. 24(3) 382–406
!The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611121995809
proactive policing, hot spots, urban crime, time series
“Hot spot” policing—i.e., policing focused on small geographic places or areas
where crime is concentrated—has been one of the most important policing
innovations of recent decades (Weisburd & Braga, 2019). The use of crime
mapping to identify hot spots is common among police agencies (Burch, 2012;
Reaves, 2010; Weisburd & Lum, 2005), and police cite hot spot enforcement as a
leading approach to the reduction of violence and other crime problems (Police
Executive Research Forum, 2007, 2008; also see Koper, 2014). Numerous eval-
uation studies also show that police interventions of various sorts focused on
hot spots reduce crime at these locations (for reviews, see Braga et al., 2019;
Lum & Koper, 2017; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and
Medicine (NAS), 2018; National Research Council (NRC), 2004; Telep &
Weisburd, 2012).
However, adapting hot spot policing from small-scale tests to system-wide
implementation across large areas or an entire jurisdiction (i.e., “scaling up” this
practice as described by Sherman et al., 2014) requires further understanding of
how to optimize police activity across different areas based on their risk levels.
In particular, practitioners need clearer guidance on the varying levels of police
dosage that may be necessary to manage both hot spots and lower risk areas
across a jurisdiction. Having more direct evidence on this issue would inform
assessments of how much policing is needed in hot spots and the degree to which
policing can be diverted from low risk areas to accommodate needs in hot spots
without facilitating crime displacement to low risk areas or otherwise under-
mining deterrence and prevention in those areas. Without such understanding, it
is not clear whether implementing a more widespread, systematic, and sustained
preventive emphasis on hot spots in everyday police operations can produce
large-scale aggregate reductions in crime (Nagin & Sampson, 2019; Sherman
et al., 2014; Weisburd et al., 2017; Weisburd & Telep, 2014). This study
addresses selected aspects of this problem using data from a U.S. city that
experienced substantial reductions in proactive policing activity across a large
area. Although not a formal test of a scaled-up hot spot policing effort, the
study examines key dosage issues raised above that are implicit in the scaling up
idea. Specifically, we investigate differences in the minimum levels of proactive
policing that are necessary to prevent crime in hot spots and lower risk loca-
tions. In addition, we examine the utility of shifting a larger share of proactive
policing into hot spots under these conditions from a macro, system-wide per-
spective. We then consider the implications of the findings for efforts to design,
implement, and evaluate hot spot policing operations on a larger scale.
Koper et al. 383

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