There is much controversy surrounding different police tactics used across the United States and their effectiveness, particularly stop-and-frisk. A new report published by the National Academy of Sciences, Medicine and Engineering looks at proactive policing methods and evaluates the pros and cons of each.
What is Proactive Policing?
Proactive policing refers to the use of proactive response methods to reduce crime and is different from a proactive decision made by police officers in specific situations. Before the implementation of proactive policing, police departments typically operated by reacting to crimes after they occurred. In the 1980s and 1990s, emphasis shifted to the police taking more initiative to prevent crime and target its underlying causes.
The lead author of the report, a criminologist at George Mason University, worked with a panel of 15 experts that included lawyers, statisticians, other criminologists and former police chiefs. The current president of the Police Foundation, and a co-author of the report, expressed optimism that police departments would be open to using the results of their analysis of research on popular proactive policing strategies.
Results of Proactive Policing
The report aimed to assess not only the impact of proactive policing strategies on crime, but the reaction of the communities where the strategies are implemented. The authors of the report stressed that little long-term evidence is available for analysis, and that more research is needed to understand the long-term effects of proactive policing.
Several proactive policing strategies were found to have an overall positive effect, including the following:
Hot spots policing, or the practice of focusing police efforts on the locations that have the most crime. Researchers found that in addition to having a short-term crime-reduction effect, areas nearby improved as well. This strategy rarely produces a negative community outcome.
Focused deterrence includes strategies that blend law enforcement, community mobilization and social service actions to respond to crime-producing dynamics that encourage repeat offences. The impact of such strategies was shown to be consistent in reducing gang violence, street crime driven by gang markets, and repeat individual offending.
Broken windows policing is used to prevent the forces of disorder from overwhelming a neighborhood. It can also help residents of afflicted neighborhoods take back their communities. When broken windows policing is implemented through neighborhood-based, problem-oriented practices such as improving lighting and cleaning up parks, it produces consistent short-term reduction in crime.
Community-oriented policing seeks to involve the citizenry in identifying the problems in their communities and how to address them. While studies did not show a consistent crime-prevention impact for community-oriented strategies, they led to improvements in community satisfaction, and in the public’s view of policing and the police.
Stop-and-frisk strategies show consistent reductions in short-term crime when used in specific locations known to have serious gun crimes and high-risk repeat offenders. When stop-and-frisk is applied as a general city-wide measure, evidence of its impact on crime reduction is mixed. Regardless of its effectiveness, studies show that there is a negative association for communities and individuals who have experienced stop-and-frisk.
The research panel hopes the results of the analysis will be used by police departments across the U.S. to choose evidence-based strategies that can serve their communities best. Proactive policing can be both effective on crime reduction and supported by the citizens served by the police.