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Utility of hot spot policing

Published: 
Friday, January 29, 2016

Are many of the crimes currently occurring in hot spots? Can hot spot policing help cut down crime? How can police and citizen use this strategy effectively?

Determining crime rates or crime severity is not a straightforward process. The general public can argue that crime is at an all-time high while the data may indicate otherwise. However, the reality is that there is a “dark figure of crime” that encompasses those that go undetected or unreported.

Regardless of the figures, no amount of crime is desirable. The general consensus is that a definitive effort must be made to reduce crime and hot spot policing can cut this virtually in half, according to scholars. 

A hot spot is considered a relatively small area where there are high crime rates. This strategy utilises the combined efforts of the police’s manpower and other resources to target these specific hot spots. It is, therefore, a proactive form of policing rather than receiving and responding to a crime report. While police response to emergency calls is necessary, the aim of hot spot policing is to effectively reduce these calls.

There is no set definition or instructions for hot spot policing. Generally, it is a type of place-based policing focusing on the physical space within which vast amounts of crime occur. This is unlike the traditional approaches to policing that focuses mainly on the types of people involved. 

Its usefulness is seen in its ability to concentrate resources in these problem areas but it may take shape through various strategies. For instance, hot spot policing can simply be increasing police presence and patrols in the particular areas. On the other hand, it can involve in-depth research of these areas resulting in custom-made approaches to prevent and reduce crime. The resulting approach for one hot spot may not be suitable for a different hot spot. 

In deciding where hot spots exist statistically, simple calculations using geographical space, number of residents in an area, and number of crimes occurring over a period of time are used. 

A major benefit of hot spot policing is crime prevention. The police presence, especially in these areas, hinders the opportunities for (potential) criminals to act illicitly. It can use spatial information and technology to understand these areas and the types of crimes committed there in order to informatively act to prevent and thereby reduce criminal activity. 

Crime prevention should definitely be a goal of any approach to policing. By embarking upon a well thought out approach to hot spot policing several things can occur. 

Firstly, crime prevention and reduction as already mentioned. Specifically, the hot spot policing strategy has been found to be useful in decreasing the occurrences of robberies and drug and violent crimes. 

Secondly, the community or hot spot becomes safer for its members. Citizens will live more comfortably and freely without the fear for their loved ones and themselves. This can lead to the overall community thriving and forming cohesive bonds. 

Furthermore, providing a stable environment for youth to develop positively will now be possible. Hot spots on the other hand encourage juvenile delinquency which should be nipped early. 

A third benefit of hot spot policing is the opportunity to form positive relationships between the community and the police. This is beneficial to ensuring that the policing strategies work as they have the co-operation and trust of the public.   

Hot spot policing has been criticised as contributing to crime displacement. This involves the relocation of crimes to other areas that are not targeted by police. However, evidence for this is not strong and instead the advantages or positive effects of this approach filter through to other nearby areas that are not experiencing hot spot policing first hand. This is referred to as a “diffusion of crime control benefits.” Regardless, crime displacement must be monitored in order to have successful hot spot policing.    

While attempting to maintain being realistic, virtually all strategies at effective policing has had and will have several disadvantages as no programme or strategy is without drawbacks. 

Policing at its best will contain a number of strategies to build on and complement each other. Hot spot policing is one that can be quite beneficial but must be considered for its shortcomings as well. These can be addressed through appropriate monitoring and evaluation of the strategy itself. 

Furthermore, one approach to effectively conduct hot spot policing is to spend significant and optimal periods patrolling and randomly visiting areas with no discernible patterns. Ultimately, our nation must feel protected by and confident in our police service and hot spot policing can assist significantly in achieving this.  

Contact the Caribbean Institute for Security and Public Safety for almost 100 courses in law enforcement, corporate security, OSH/HSE, supervision and management, etc, for companies and individuals. Tel: 223-6999/361-1024, [email protected] or www.caribbeansecurityinstitute.com 

• Ms Mahabir is a graduate student in criminology and criminal justice.

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