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Targeted policing in high-crime areas reduces youth violence, research finds

Targeting police resources and high-visibility patrols on high-crime areas can help protect children from becoming involved in violence, according to a new analysis of UK and international evidence.

In the latest update to their flagship Toolkit, the Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) revealed today that an approach known as hot spots policing on average reduces violent crime by 14% and overall offending by 17%. The findings are backed by the results from recent police trials, with one police force seeing violent crime drop by as much as 74% on days when patrols took place.

The charity also found that policing in this way on average reduced drug offences by 30% and property crime by 16%. These benefits aren’t just limited to the targeted locations, with studies suggesting hot spots policing can make a difference in the surrounding areas too. 

What is hot spots policing?

Hot spots policing identifies locations where crime is most concentrated and focuses policing resources and activities on them. For example, by increasing uniformed police presence and high-visibility patrols, actively monitoring CCTV and targeting known, repeat offenders.

The approach has already been used to make a real difference across England. In Southend-on-Sea, when Essex Police undertook foot patrols for 15 minutes in ‘hot spots’ areas, they saw a reduction in violent crime of 74% on days when patrols took places.  In Peterborough, targeted patrols by Police Community Support Officers to ‘hot spots’ led to 39% less crime and a 20% reduction in calls to emergency services. And when West Midlands Police increased patrols in high-crime areas of Birmingham, locations saw a 14% reduction in street crimes and anti-social behaviour.

The YEF Toolkit’s new research builds on what we already know. It uses 44 high-quality studies from the UK and internationally to show that we’re right to be optimistic about hot spots policing as a promising way to keep vulnerable children and young people safe from harm.

More about the YEF Toolkit

Hot spots policing is a new strand that the YEF has added to its Toolkit.  The free online resource summarises the best available research on what works – and what doesn’t – to reduce youth violence. Each approach included in the Toolkit (e.g. hot spot policing) is ranked according to its impact on preventing serious violence (from ‘High’ to ‘Harmful’ or ‘Unknown’) and is given a score to indicate the quality of the associated research.

The Youth Endowment Fund Toolkit ranks hot spots policing as having a ‘moderate’ impact on violent crime.  This is based on an analysis of 44 UK and international research studies. Included in the Toolkit are a number of other approaches used by the police to prevent young people becoming involved in violence. The most impactful is focused deterrence, which is estimated to have a ‘high’ impact, reducing crime by 33%. Other approaches include pre-court diversion (estimated to have a ‘moderate’ impact, reducing reoffending by 13%)and police in schools(where there’s insufficient evidence to estimate its impact).

Jon Yates, Executive Director at the Youth Endowment Fund, said: “To help every child live a life free from violence, the police, local authorities and other service commissioners need to invest in activities that are backed by evidence and shown to make a difference.

“Our Toolkit shows hot spots policing works. When used alongside other evidence-based approaches that protect vulnerable children from harm and exploitation, we can begin to shift the focus from reducing violence in high-crime areas to preventing it.”

Last year (2021-22), the Government’s Grip programme invested £30m to roll out hotspot policing in areas of the of the country most affected by serious violence.  This year (2022-23), the Home Office are investing a further £30m to continue this vital work.

Assistant Chief Constable Rob Griffin of Nottinghamshire Police, said: “Targeted hot-spot policing continues to pay dividends in helping us to keep people safe, prevent crime and drive down violence.

“As the latest official data has shown crime has reduced in Nottinghamshire far more than other areas, falling three times below the national average. Regular hot-spot patrols remain a key part of our success in reducing offending as well as improving our engagement with communities and young people.

“Our dedicated teams including Operation Reacher, burglary, knife crime, robbery and neighbourhood policing teams are now out and about every day in hot-spot locations across Nottinghamshire protecting the public and preventing crime as well as relentlessly pursuing offenders who break the law.”