Problem-Oriented Policing in Suburban Low-Income Housing: A Quasi-Experiment

Published date01 June 2018
Date01 June 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Policing in Suburban
Low-Income Housing:
A Quasi-Experiment
Jennifer V. Carson
Ashley P. Wellman
Informed by the literature on prior problem-oriented policing evaluations, this study
evaluated a response within a suburban public housing unit. Specifically, we examined
the Crime Response Team (CRT), a multifaceted intervention, in relation to disag-
gregated calls for service and reported crime. We utilized a quasi-experimental
design combining interrupted time-series analysis (ARIMAX) and series hazard
models in order to assess the intervention’s effect. A possible diffusion site and
two pseudointervention sites were also included for comparison purposes.
This investigation yielded largely negligible effects, which we primarily attributed to
a mismatch between administrative-led initiatives and program execution.
problem-oriented policing, place-based policing, quasi-experimental design, public
housing, mental health
Major events surrounding law enforcement, like the recent deaths of Freddie Gray
and Michael Brown, have signif‌icantly complicated the relationships that the
police have with their communities (Bylander, 2015; Kirk, 2015; Radin, 2015).
While departments have historically embraced a community-centered policing
Department of Criminal Justice, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jennifer V. Carson, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Central Missouri, 300 Humphreys,
Warrensburg, MO 64093, USA.
Police Quarterly
2018, Vol. 21(2) 139–170
!The Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611117744005
philosophy in an attempt to strengthen the of‌f‌icer–citizen relationship, such events
have made this philosophy increasingly relevant. Problem-oriented policing (POP)
strategies are often encompassed within this larger community-based strategy,
which prioritizes ef‌fectiveness over ef‌f‌iciency (Goldstein, 1979, 1990).
Although there is a great body of research focused on POP as a whole (e.g.,
Cordner & Biebel, 2005; Weisburd, Telep, Hinkle, & Eck, 2010), the literature
specif‌ically examining these techniques within a suburban community (Baker &
Wolfer, 2003; Bichler, Schmerler, & Enriquez, 2013; Connell, Miggans, &
McGloin, 2008; White & Katz, 2013), strategies targeting low-income housing
(Mazerolle, Ready, Terrill, & Waring., 2000), and those highlighting mental
health concerns as a core focus (Klein, 2002) are more limited. Perhaps even
more important, existing quantitative POP evaluations have been criticized for
their rigor (A. A. Braga & Weisburd, 2014; Cordner & Biebel, 2005; L. W.
Sherman, 1992). Consequently, it has become paramount to robustly evaluate
POP strategies, particularly outside an urban context. Invited by a department
in one such context, we assess their self-identif‌ied POP approach through a
quasi-experimental design assessing multiple outcomes. Drawing upon informal
interviews with team department personnel,
we comment on the disconnect
between popular, emerging policing techniques favored by administration and
actual program implementation. We also highlight the importance of rigorous
evaluations in instances when randomized experiments are impractical.
Place-Based Policing
Place-based policing has increasingly become the favored strategy of local law
enforcement (Police Executive Research Forum, 2008; Weisburd, Mastrofski,
McNally, Greenspan, & Willis, 2003). Such an approach has evolved from
theoretical premises, like those present in Shaw, McKay, and Hayner (1942),
that contend crime remains stable regardless of a given area’s changing residen-
tial composition. Previous work has conf‌irmed that crime and disorder are
largely centralized, with small community segments comprising a disproportion-
ately large volume of calls for service and reported crime (Eck, Jef‌frey, &
Charlene, 2000; L. Sherman, Gartin, & Buerger, 1989; Weisburd & Green,
2000). As Weisburd, Bushway, Lum, and Yang (2004) reaf‌f‌irmed in their
pinnacle study of crime concentration, the same 1% of Seattle street segments
had the highest level of criminal events for 14 years straight. The Weisburd and
colleagues’ study and others like it (e.g., Grof‌f et al., 2015; Grof‌f, Weisburd, &
Yang, 2010; Piza & O’Hara, 2014; Weisburd, 2015) support the premise
that aggregate city crime rates and trajectories over time can be inf‌luenced by
‘‘microgeographic hot spots.’’
Such hot spots have routinely been utilized by law enforcement to systemat-
ically target crime. In fact, research f‌inds that between 70% and 90% of agencies
are using hot spots to guide police response (Police Executive Research Forum,
140 Police Quarterly 21(2)
2008; Weisburd et al. 2003) and that these strategies have had signif‌icant crime
control benef‌its (A. Braga, Papachristos, & Hureau, 2014). Certain techniques
have even produced a ‘‘dif‌fusion of benef‌its,’’ which occurs when locations
surrounding a treatment area experience benef‌icial intervention results
(Bowers, Johnson, Guerette, Summers, & Poyton, 2011; Clarke & Weisburd,
1994). Interestingly, these positive outcomes are more likely when interventions
are guided by what has increasingly become a vital approach to contemporary
policing; namely, POP (A. Braga et al., 2014).
Problem-Oriented Policing
Envisioning citizens as a key component of crime intervention (Goldstein, 1979),
POP emerged with an emphasis on identifying specif‌ic, contextual problems to
guide the prescribed means of policing (Goldstein, 1979; MacDonald, 2002).
First def‌ined by Goldstein (1979, 1990), POP requires law enforcement to
identify, research, and explore alternative solutions to a given problem, often
having to rely on noncriminal justice–related resources. POP shifts the focus
from a reactive response to that of a more proactive one, thus resulting in
more prescriptive and preventative interventions.
Scan, Analyze, Respond, and Assessment Model
To be more proactive and less reactive, law enforcement has come to expand
responses to include a holistic set of solutions systematically implemented
(Skogan, DuBois, Comey, Kaiser, & Lovig, 2000). While community and POP
often involve signif‌icant creativity, of‌f‌icers are expected to approach problems in
a structured and disciplined way, often turning to the Scan, Analyze, Respond,
and Assessment (SARA) model (J. Eck & Spelman, 1987). SARA requires
of‌f‌icers to identify and prioritize problems, analyze the problems to design
appropriate responses, implement the interventions, and assess what worked
and what did not (J. E. Eck & Spelman, 1987).
Inherent in this model, third parties such as community members, landlords,
and business owners partner with law enforcement to help to implement
solutions (Buerger & Mazerolle, 1998; Goldstein, 1979). Cordner and Biebel
(2005) note SARA is heavily reliant on the actions of patrol of‌f‌icers, thus
making the successful utilization of this rigid and time-intensive model dif‌f‌icult.
While police question the time it takes to commit to a SARA-guided interven-
tion, other skeptics raise concerns that law enforcement of‌f‌icers do not have the
skills or knowledge to properly perform the tasks inherent to such a model
(Cordner & Biebel, 2005).
Also vital to the success of these SARA-guided POP initiatives is buy-in and
support from community members. The goal of many of these interventions is
for the community to develop a sense of ownership and being to implement
Carson and Wellman 141

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