Policing Problem Places: Crime Hot Spots and Effective Prevention

Policing Problem Places: Crime Hot Spots and Effective Prevention

Policing Problem Places: Crime Hot Spots and Effective Prevention

Policing Problem Places: Crime Hot Spots and Effective Prevention


Both those who study crime and those who fight it agree that crime is not spread evenly across city landscapes. Rather, clusters of crime--a few "hot spots"--host a vastly disproportionate amount of criminal activity. Even within the most crime-ridden neighborhoods, crime concentrates at a few locations while other areas remain relatively crime-free. So if police focus their limited resources at these problem places-a practice known as hot spots policing-they will be better positioned to lower citywide crime rates, and do it more efficiently.

In Policing Problem Places, Anthony A. Braga and David L. Weisburd demonstrate that hot spots policing is a powerful and cost-effective approach to crime prevention. While putting police officers where crime happens most is an old and well-established idea, in practice it is often avoided or not properly implemented. Braga and Weisburd draw on rigorous scientific evidence to show how police officers should use problem-oriented policing and situational crime-prevention techniques to address the place dynamics, situations, and characteristics that cause a spot to be "hot." But the benefits of hot spots policing do not end with conserving public dollars and police resources. Illustrating how policing problem places can benefit police-community relations, especially in minority neighborhoods where residents have long suffered from high crime and poor police service, Braga and Weisburd show how police can make efforts to develop positive and collaborative relationships with residents and avoid the indiscriminant enforcement tactics that undermine the legitimacy of the police.

A vital resource for police departments everywhere,Policing Problem Placesoffers a blueprint for rethinking what police should do and how they should do it.


On Valentine’s Day 1989, in the capital of the U. S., 14 people were hit
by gunshots. Four of them were shot on one block of Drake Place, S.E.
One of the wounded, age 26, died; another, a 15-year-old girl, was
found in her apartment with 11 firearms, including a machine gun, a
shotgun and five bullet-proof vests … This one small block of Drake
Place and its adjacent public housing complex had witnessed five mur
ders in 1988. That was bad enough. But in the first seven weeks of 1989,
Drake Place was the site of 4 murders and 14 bullet woundings.

Drake Place was a “hot spot” of crime. It was so hot that the police said
they stayed away from it as much as possible, unless they got a call. … It
was so hot that every night after dark, one officer claimed there were
gun shots all night long. … It was so hot that after the St. Valentine’s
Day Massacre, the Washington, D.C. police assigned a special patrol
car to guard the block 24 hours a day/ … Drake Place may have been
one of the hottest spots of crime in the U.S. in 1989.

—Sherman, 1995: 35–36

Crime hot spots, such as Drake Place in Washington, D.C., during the late 1980s, have long been serious concerns to the police and the public. Local newspapers often include stories of community concern over drinking establishments, sex shops, or twenty-four-hour convenience stores that are seen as magnets for crime and criminals.

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