Why Getting Inside the “Black Box” Is Important

Date01 March 2017
Published date01 March 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Why Getting Inside
the Black Box
Is Important:
Examining Treatment
Implementation and
Outputs in Policing
Christine Famega
, Joshua C. Hinkle
and David Weisburd
We propose that the causes of the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of police inter-
ventions can be better understood with an increased focus on the measurement of
treatment implementation and outputs, as opposed to the more common black
boxconceptualizations of police interventions and outcome-only evaluations used
in most experimental studies. We present findings from a randomized, experimental
evaluation of broken windows policing at hotspots in three California cities. Our
analysis suggests that variation in the treatment delivered to target street segments
within and between cities limited the ability of the study to detect potential treat-
ment impacts and was due in part to the failure of the police agencies to take
ownership of the science of the intervention.
broken windows, experimental methods, evaluation research, hot spots, policing
California State University – San Bernardino, CA, USA
Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, USA
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA
The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
Corresponding Author:
Christine Famega, Department of Criminal Justice, California State University – San Bernardino, 5500
University Pkwy, San Bernardino, CA 92407, USA.
Email: cfamega@csusb.edu
Police Quarterly
2017, Vol. 20(1) 106–132
!The Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611116664336
There is now ample evidence that increased police patrol directed at hotspots is
more ef‌fective in reducing crime and disorder than random, undirected (routine
preventive) patrol (Braga, Papachristos, & Hureau, 2014; Weisburd & Eck,
2004). However, two issues remain less clear. First, we know little about the
causes of ef‌fectiveness, or conversely inef‌fectiveness. Aside from increased
police presence (dosage and frequency) or the use of problem-solving
approaches, which specif‌ic police actions are most ef‌fective in reducing crime
and disorder and under what conditions? Second, what actions should police
leaders take to “create and maintain the causes” of successful strategies
(Sherman et al., 2014, p. 96)?
In this article, we address two obstacles that have impeded the progress being
made in understanding both of these issues: (a) the research and evaluation
methodologies being used to study police interventions and (b) the lack of
“ownership of police science” in police agencies (Neyroud & Weisburd, 2014;
Weisburd & Neyroud, 2011). We suggest that through addressing the f‌irst obsta-
cle, police academics and researchers can better ascertain the extent to which the
second may have impacted the ef‌fectiveness of an evaluated strategy. In turn, an
increased focus on eliminating these obstacles is necessary to increase our knowl-
edge about both how police strategies are ef‌fective or inef‌fective, and how police
can implement interventions in ways that they are likely to have impact.
We begin by brief‌ly discussing a common shortcoming of police evaluation
research. We then present f‌indings from a randomized, experimental evaluation
of broken windows policing at hotspots (Weisburd, Hinkle, Famega, & Ready,
2011) to illustrate how the research methodology for evaluations of police inter-
ventions is important in assessing whether the police really took ownership of an
Getting Inside the Black Boxin Policing Experiments
In 1998, Lawrence Sherman advocated for evidence-based policing—that police
practices should be based on scientif‌ic evidence about what works best. He
proposed that more randomized experiments examining the outcomes of police
work (e.g., crime rates, repeat victimization, etc.) were needed, as well as
ongoing outcomes research about the results achieved by applying (or ignoring)
basic research in practice (Sherman, 1998). Today, randomized, experimental
designs have generally become accepted as the best method for generating
valid evidence about the ef‌fectiveness of criminal justice programs, practices,
and strategies (Weisburd & Hinkle, 2012). The statistical benef‌its of randomizing
subjects or places into treatment and control groups eliminates the possibility of
confounding variables, as everything af‌fecting the outcomes of interest aside
from the intervention should vary randomly across the two groups (Boruch,
McSweeny, & Soderstom, 1978; Campbell & Stanley, 1963; Riecken et al.,
1974; Weisburd, 2003).
Famega et al. 107

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