What works in policing

Crime in America.Net

One of the biggest complaints from the law enforcement community is the lack of authoritative documents distilling the best methods of crime control. If you contacted the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and ask for such documents in the past you got a rambling bibliography.

The National Institute of Justice of the US Department of Justice and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government produced an overview of recent American policing efforts and for two research organizations; they created a remarkably readable and enlightening product.

They document the “nothing works” period where one commentator in 1994 stated “One of the best kept secrets of modern life was that the police do not prevent crime. Experts know it, the police know it, and the public does not know it.”

They then offer an overview as to what “does” work which seems to be a focus on problems or places or what some of us called “hot spots” or “problem oriented policing.” In essence, you can’t be all things to all people. Concentrate your forces and efforts where they will do the most good.

And wonders of wonders, they praise community cooperation and recognize that police cannot solve the problem alone. They even cite neighborhood watch as “probably the best-known police-citizen partnership.”

Neighborhood watch was a successful modality for reducing crime and fear of crime while promoting community stability. It was allowed to die because some criminologists didn’t think it was sexy enough and distracted us from the “real” issues of solving social problems. See “So Who Killed Neighborhood Watch” at http://crimeinamerica.net/2010/07/09/so-who-killed-neighborhood-watchcrime-in-america-net/.

The document is 16 pages long with readable type and summarizes history, failures, successes and challenges. It may be the best overview document of its kind and proves that the research community can write and offer usable lessons for the rest of us.


The Changing Environment for Policing, 1985-2008, is one of a series of papers published as a result of a collaboration of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Policing in the United States was under siege in the 1980s; crime had been rising from the early 1960s and research showed that traditional police strategies were not working (e.g., hiring more police, random motorized patrolling, foot patrols, rapid response to calls for service, and routine criminal investigation).

Recent research has reconfirmed this, even though crime has declined dramatically since 1990.

The panel found that police could reduce crime when they focused operations on particular problems or places and supplemented law enforcement with other regulatory and abatement activities.

Source: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pubs-sum/230576.htm

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