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Hot spots policing

A police strategy that targets resources and activities to places where crime is most concentrated.

Estimated impact on violent crime:

MODERATE

Evidence quality:

1 2 3 4 5

Cost:

?

Prevention Type

  • Tertiary

Setting

  • Community

Themes

  • A safe neighbourhood (including online)

Other Outcomes

Evidence quality

  • moderate reduction in Drug offences
    1 2 3 4 5

What is it?

Locations with higher levels of crime and violence are known as ‘hot spots’. Hot spots tend to form in small locations such as sections of streets or parks, areas around train stations, shops, pubs or clubs. Research shows that 58% of all crime happens in the top 10% of places with the most serious crime.

Hot spots policing identifies locations where crime is most concentrated and focuses policing resources and activities on them. This involves using crime mapping technology to identify hot spots and may include the use of predictive software to predict where and when crimes are likely to occur. Some prediction tools will simply map locations with the most crime reported to the police, whilst others can use complex machine learning to predict crime trends. Some police forces, such as Thames Valley Police, are testing the use of a new mobile phone app that provides real-time mapping of hot spots locations to be patrolled, shares briefings and records time spent in the area.

There are two main approaches to policing hot spots:

  • Problem-oriented policing (POP), which aims to understand the root causes of crime in hot spot locations. It involves designing and implementing tailored interventions to reduce crime.
  • Increased police presence, which aims to deter offenders from committing crimes in hot spot areas by increasing either the number of visits or the amount of time police officers spend in the hot spots.

Common activities involved in both approaches could include:

  • high-visibility police patrols, including increased uniformed police presence and patrols
  • increased stop and search activity
  • actively monitored CCTV
  • targeting of known, repeat offenders
  • use of media to communicate about increased policing activity
  • increased police response to antisocial behaviour

Hot spots policing interventions are implemented for varying lengths of time, from one week to three years.

Is it effective?

On average, hot spots policing is likely to have a moderate impact on violent crime.

A review of international studies estimates that, on average, hot spots policing has reduced violent crime by 14% and overall offending by 17%.

The review also estimated that hot spots policing reduced drug offences by 30% and property crime by 16%.

The research suggests that, on average, hot spots policing has reduced violence by 14% and reduced drug offences by 30%.

These estimates of impact are based on an average drawn from studies internationally. Some recent studies in the UK have shown similar or higher reductions in violence and crime, for example:

  • ‘Operation Ark’ in Southend-on-Sea saw a reduction in violent crime of 74% in the 20 highest crime hot spots on days when patrols took place.
  • ‘Operation Style’ in Peterborough, used hot spots policing and found that crime was reduced by 39% in target areas and calls to emergency services also decreased by 20%.
  • Bedfordshire Police identified that 30% of serious violent crime in the county occurred in only 30 Local Super Output Areas (LSOAs). They targeted these areas with foot patrols lasting a minimum of 15 minutes. The evaluation showed a 38% reduction in violence and robbery.
  • ‘Operation Menas’ in London involved a double patrol team of uniformed officers patrolling bus stops three times a day, for 15 minutes. The evaluation showed mixed results. There was a 37% reduction in incident reports by bus drivers but a 25% increase in victims reporting incidents in nearby areas.  
  • West Midlands Police implemented increased patrols of between 5 and 15 minutes in targeted locations in Birmingham. Hot spots that received increased patrols saw a 14% reduction in street crimes and antisocial behaviour. Crime also decreased in areas surrounding the hot spots.

The findings also indicate that there is limited crime displacement, which means crime is unlikely to move to other locations. The studies actually suggest that hot spots policing could lead to small reductions in crime or antisocial behaviour in areas immediately adjacent to targeted hot spots.

The review of research evidence did not provide information about how long crime reductions may last for, after hot spots policing interventions end.

The review suggests that where problem-oriented policing (POP) was used, a slightly larger effect was found for reducing crime, compared to the use of traditional policing.

How secure is the evidence?

We have moderate confidence in our estimate of the average impact of hot spots policing on violent crime.

Our confidence is moderate for two reasons. Firstly, we dropped one rating because there is a lot of variation in the studies in the review. Some studies suggested that the impact was higher and others suggested it was lower, and these differences in results were not explained by the researchers.

Secondly, we dropped an additional rating because the studies did not directly measure or report the impacts of hot spots policing for children and young people alone. They only reported the impact on children and adults combined. We have used these results to estimate the impact for children and young people.

Our estimate of the effectiveness of hot spots policing on violence is based on 44 studies, none of which were undertaken in the UK. Our estimate of the effectiveness of hot spots policing on crime is based on 62 studies, four of which were undertaken in the UK. 51 studies were undertaken in the US.

How can you implement it well?

We did not find a review with rigorous information about effective implementation of hot spots policing. However, hot spots policing generally involves the following steps.

Mapping hot spots

Use software to map crime hot spots, including locations, days and times of higher crime concentrations. Hot spots should usually be very small locations, for example a section of a specific street, or a section of park.

Take a problem-solving approach

Problem-oriented policing may have a larger effect on reducing crime. This approach is similar to the SARA problem-solving model (Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment) that is widely used in policing. Problem-oriented policing usually involves:

  • identify a specific problem
  • thoroughly analyse and understand the problem
  • develop a tailored response
  • assess the effects of the response.

Collect and use data

Plan and resource this tailored response, ensuring data is collected about the time and location of visible police patrols. This could be collected through Wifi/GPS tracking or the use of a hot spots policing app.

Protect planned patrols

Police officers face lots of competing demands for their time and it can be hard to ensure that hot spots patrols take place as planned.  An evaluation of ‘Operation Ark’ in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, showed that protecting officers from redeployment to other duties during hot spots policing interventions can ensure over 98% of planned patrols are completed at the right time. This study reported a 74% reduction in violence on patrol days compared to non-patrol days.

How much does it cost?

There is limited evidence related to the costs of hot spots policing interventions. On average, the cost of hot spots policing is likely to be low.

Costs can vary dependent upon frequency of duties, and the distribution of work across police officers, Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and Special Constables.

One research study reports a high, positive return on investment, demonstrating substantial savings from the reduced costs of imprisonment from reduced offending.

Topic summary

  • Crime and violence tend to cluster in small locations known as ‘hot spots’.
  • Hot spots policing involves identifying these locations and targeting police activity and resources on them.
  • The research suggests that hot spots policing can reduce violence. It can also reduce overall offending, including drug offences and property offences.
  • The use of problem-oriented policing (POP) within the hot spots policing approach may increase the effect on crime compared to only increasing policing visibility.
  • Hot spots policing interventions are implemented for varying lengths of time, from one week to three years. Further work could provide more insights about the implementation and optimal duration of hot spots policing.

Recent studies of hot spots policing in the UK include:

Evaluation of Operation Rowan
‘Operation Rowan’: Fifteen Minutes per Day Keeps the Violence Away: a Crossover Randomised Controlled Trial on the Impact of Foot Patrols on Serious Violence in Large Hot Spot Areas

Evaluation of Operation Ark
‘Operation Ark’: Effects of One-a-Day Foot Patrols on Hot Spots of Serious Violence and Crime Harm: a Randomised Crossover Trial

Problem-oriented policing summary in the College of Policing Crime Reduction Toolkit

Hot spots policing in London
Seminar slides on policing hot spots in London, by Barak Ariel, Lawrence Sherman and Mark Newton

Review of research on concentration of crime
How concentrated is crime at places? A systematic review of research from 1970 to 2015.

Downloads

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