Doesn't "Hot-Spot Policing" Just Push Criminals Down the Block? Nope. Here's Why.

Categories: Crime
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Beefed up patrols in hot spots have not caused any spillover in the city of St. Louis, says criminologist
With the city set to spend a quarter of a million dollars on "hot-spot policing," we started wondering: Does the underlying theory even make sense?

Cops used to think of crime as a sort of balloon: If you apply pressure on one small area, it just spreads out. So what's the point?

But that's not the effect hot-spot policing has already had in the city of St. Louis over the last six months or so, says Rick Rosenfeld, professor of criminology at the University of Missouri - St. Louis.

Rosenfeld would know: As the criminologist-in-residence at City Hall, he's closely monitoring an experiment that the city police have undertaken this year. 

To boil it down: The crime analysis unit at the SLMPD used mapping software to isolate several spots in St. Louis where serious gun-related crimes cluster. In half of those spots, patrols have remained the same.

But in the other half -- including spots in or near Gravois Park and O'Fallon Park -- they've beefed up patrols and pushed "self-initiated activity" -- a fancy term for officers doing pro-active stuff, like chatting up shop owners and poking their heads in vacant buildings. In short, the cops are no longer simply reacting to calls after a problem has alrleady started.

It's too early to boast in much detail, Rosenfeld warns. But so far, he says, they've seen a reduction in the enhanced-patrol areas -- and interestingly, no spillover to adjacent neighborhoods.

He explains to Daily RFT:
When you think about it, wherever there's enhanced patrol, the police have to get there by coming through the adjacent areas. Would-be offenders don't know the technical boundaries of the hotspot. So it appears that [they] are erring on the side of caution and reducing activity in the more general area.
We're reminded of Adam Gopnik's recent piece in The New Yorker on mass incarceration, in which he argues that shrinking crime may not be the gargantuan task it seems:
"Crime is a routine behavior; it's a thing people do when they get used to doing it." And therein lies its essential fragility.... Conservatives don't like this view because it shows that being tough doesn't help; liberals don't like it because apparently being nice doesn't help, either. Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.
So far, at least in our city, that seems to be true.

Neither the mayor's office nor the SLMPD is willing to give out any specifics on how they're going to spend that $250,000 on hot-spot policing, except to say that it'll mostly be used to cover officer over-time.

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The thing is, an otherwise unemployed junkie will commit about 200 crimes a year.  These are mostly petty crimes.  Cut down the crime rate in one area by 1600 crimes a year, and that's a whole lot.

egolterman topcommenter

It is like playing with two outfielders and shifting them around. Crime moves. It is not static.

This is totally inadequate. The City needs 200 more police officers now -from the $25 million

it gave up to music and sports producers (ticket tax). And 200 more next year when

it starts taking 10% off the top from not for profits that  operate profit centers: i.e. the Zoo,

Museums, Science Center and Botanical Gardens.  Hundreds of millions a year, not 10s of millions in gross revenue-tax sheltered.  Yep 400 more police officers would help a lot.


Wait a minute, go back a few paragraphs. "In half of those spots, patrols remained the same," in other words, got no additional patrols or pro-active policing. By any chance would one of those neighborhoods be Benton Park West, where the residents have been screaming for additional police protection as a previously peaceful neighborhood became the site of drive-by after drive-by? And is your "proof" that hot-spot policing doesn't push crime into other neighborhoods ignoring the huge influx of drug dealers from, yes, the area up around O'Fallon Park down into Benton Park West, the proximate cause of at least some of those drive-bys? Because if so, I hope you have something to say to everybody there who's been trying to protect their homes, let alone to everybody there who's been trying to sell a home, in the middle of an unprecedented murder wave. And, on top of that, you need to re-think your conclusions if you only looked at immediately-adjacent neighborhoods to see if the criminals just moved along, because if you ask the people of Benton Park West, that is exactly what happened.


 @jbradhicks This is all news to me; so to whom should I go to confirm the "huge influx of drug dealers" in BPW, and how will they be able to confirm these dealers migrated down from O'Fallon Park? 


 @jbradhicks Let me be clear, you might be correct about this. But I live right on the border of BPW and Gravois Park, and I haven't noticed a significant change in the last year. So where are you seeing it, roughly? 


 @NP_DailyRFT I don't actually live in that neighborhood, but I've been hearing non-stop complaints from my friends who live in the area between Gravois Park and roughly Grand and Chippewa: open street dealing, frequent shots fired. So far as they can tell, the dealers and the shooters are all new to the neighborhood, either recent renters or recent squatters in the (way too many) empty buildings down there.

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