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Program Profile: Proactive Soft Policing at Hot Spots (Peterborough, England)

Evidence Rating: No Effects - One study No Effects - One study

Date: This profile was posted on October 31, 2018

Program Summary

This is a focused policing strategy to reduce calls for service and crime in hot spots using increased foot patrols by civilian police community support officers. The program is rated No Effects. Hot spots that were assigned civilian proactive police community support officers did not experience statistically significant reductions in calls for service or crime.

This program’s rating is based on evidence that includes at least one high-quality randomized controlled trial.

Program Description

Program Goals
Soft policing is the practice of using civilian police staff with less authority than traditional police officers to patrol hot spot crime areas. The goal is to reduce calls for service and crime with increased patrols by police community support officers (PCSOs) who aim to deter crime through visible signals of police authority (such as a uniform and a two-way radio).

Target Sites
The program was implemented in Peterborough, located in the east of England in the county of Cambridgeshire. The city has approximately 200,000 residents occupying almost 133 square miles. The demographic makeup is 81 percent white, 12 percent Asian, and approximately 3 percent black (Ariel et al. 2016).

Program Activities/Key Personnel
PCSO positions were first established by the Police Reform Act for England and Wales in 2002. PCSOs do not have the same degree of authority as traditional police officers; for example, they are not able to make arrests, investigate crimes, or carry firearms or other weapons. However, they can be involved in minor offense investigations such as those involving panhandlers and confiscating tobacco from underage adolescents.

PCSOs were supplied with a two-way radio and told to be visible in their respective hot spots, and to patrol alone, on foot, and out of sight of other police staff. Patrol times were Tuesday through Saturday between 3:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Each hotspot area received three different PCSO visits per day that lasted approximately15 minutes each.

Program Theory
Hot spots policing techniques are grounded in deterrence theory, which posits that potential offenders will be deterred from committing crime when they perceive an increased risk of detection and punishment through policies such as increased police presence. In this case, PCSOs, act as guardians within hot spots by their uniformed presence and their visibility to the public. This evaluation by Ariel and colleagues (2016) tested whether PCSOs are able to produce a deterrent effect using ‘soft’ policing methods even though they do not have the same legal authority as police officers.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Calls for Service
Ariel and colleagues (2016) found that there was no statistically significant difference in the number of calls for service to the emergency telephone number between the treatment group that implemented the proactive soft policing intervention and the control group.

There was no statistically significant difference in victim-generated crime reports between the treatment group and control group.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Ariel and colleagues (2016) conducted a randomized controlled trial to examine the impact of a soft policing strategy for reducing crime in Peterborough, England. Located in East England, in the county of Cambridgeshire, Peterborough has a population of 200,000 residents. Residents are white (81 percent), Asian (12 percent), and black (3 percent).

The study authors examined 72 hot spots, assigning 34 to the treatment group and 38 to the control group. In the treatment group, police community support officers (PCSOs) were deployed to hot spot areas. The PCSOs were instructed to employ proactive “soft” policing techniques. Specifically, PCSOs were unable to make arrests or carry weapons and were only required to be visible in their hot spot patrol areas. PCSOs were assigned to hot spots on a rotating basis to ensure that they patrolled different combinations of hots spots rather than remaining in certain few hot spots throughout the study. GPS locators were used to measure patrol time in hot spots. Because PCSOs were to spend only about 15 minutes per hot spot, the GPS tracker was set to ping every minute. By counting the number of pings, the GPS could detect how much time officers actually spent in each hot spot. The control group was assigned to use more traditional “hard” policing techniques, which consisted of regular armed police officers (i.e., regular officers) and PCSOs engaged in reactive policing by responding to emergency calls for service. Even though both groups included PCSOs and were tracked by GPS, the study compared the treatment group’s proactive and focused foot patrols (“soft” policing) with the control group’s primarily reactive (“hard” policing) approach.

Hot spots were defined as polygons with a radius of 150 meters that had had no fewer than 36 calls for service during the two-year period prior to the experiment. Calls for service were defined as calls made to the “999” emergency telephone number and included crimes such as antisocial behavior, suspicious circumstances, violence, burglary, and criminal damage. The crime outcome was defined as crime reports generated by victims as opposed to police-generated crime reports. Specifically, reported crimes such as theft, criminal damage, burglary, robbery, sexual offenses, and common assault were included as victim-generated crimes; however, crime reports that were generated by proactive police activity and investigation, such as drug offenses and stop-and-searches, were not included in the measurement of crime.

The study examined changes in the two outcome types (i.e., calls for service and reported crimes) from the pre-treatment period (the 2 years before the trial) to the post-treatment period (the 1 year period after the launch of the trial). The study reported standardized mean differences to measure treatment effects on calls for service and crime reported within the hot spot areas. No subgroup analyses were conducted.
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Ariel, Barak, Cristobal Weinborn, and Lawrence W. Sherman. 2016. “Soft Policing at Hot Spots—Do Community Support Officers Work? A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Experimental Criminology 12:277–317.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Hot Spots Policing
Used by many U.S. police departments, hot spots policing strategies focus on small geographic areas or places, usually in urban settings, where crime is concentrated. The practice is rated Effective. The analysis suggests that hot spots policing efforts that rely on problem-oriented policing strategies generate larger crime reduction effects than those that apply traditional policing strategies in crime hot spots.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
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Program Snapshot

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots

Program Type: Community and Problem Oriented Policing, Hot Spots Policing, General deterrence

Current Program Status: Active