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Research in Brief: What Works Best at Violent Crime Hot Spots? A Test of Directed Patrol and Problem-Solving Approaches in Jacksonville, Florida

By Christopher S. Koper, Associate Professor, Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, Department of Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia; Bruce Taylor, Senior Fellow, National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, Bethesda, Maryland; and Jamie Roush, Crime Analysis Unit Manager, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Jacksonville, Florida

The IACP Research Advisory Committee is proud to offer the monthly “Research in Brief” column. This column features evidence-based research summaries that highlight actionable recommendations for Police Chief magazine readers to consider within their own agencies. The goal of the column is to feature research that is innovative, credible, and relevant to a diverse law enforcement audience.

Police interventions focused on “hot spots”—small geographic places or areas where crime is concentrated—have gained widespread acceptance as an effective approach to reducing crime. However, practitioners and researchers are still learning about what types of strategies and operational dosages work best for different types of hot spots. To address this issue, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) teamed with outside researchers on a project to test the effectiveness of problem-oriented policing (POP) and directed saturation patrol at hot spots of violent crime.1

Using data from a two-and-a-half-year baseline period, crime analysts and the research team identified 83 precisely defined hot spots of street violence in Jacksonville (excluding intimate partner violence). These “micro” hot spots, which averaged 0.02 square miles in size, consisted of specific addresses, intersections, street blocks, and clusters of blocks that exhibited high and consistent concentrations of violence during the selection period. These hot spots were randomly assigned to problem-solving activities (22 locations), directed saturation patrol (21 locations), or routine/“control” operations (40 locations) for a 90-day experiment spanning from January 2009 through April 2009.

Problem-solving activities at the first group of locations were conducted by teams of supervisors, officers, and crime analysts who received training in the principles of problem-oriented and intelligence-led policing. In total, 60 officers and 4 analysts were assigned to this effort. Working in two shifts, they covered their assigned locations on a full-time basis, thus providing coverage seven days a week at each location. The officers and analysts attempted to identify and address the underlying factors driving crime in these locations, working closely with community partners where possible. Officers implemented a wide array of measures at these locations, including situational crime prevention, code enforcement and nuisance abatement, partnerships with business owners and rental property managers, community organizing, improvement of social services, aesthetic improvements, and investigation or enforcement activities.

Locations assigned to the directed saturation patrol group received additional patrols during high-crime days and times as determined by JSO crime analysts. The patrols were conducted by a mix of on-duty officers and officers on overtime. During the selected days and times, pairs of officers in separate cars worked one to three hot spots at a time for periods that ranged from less than an hour to several hours (officers assigned to multiple hot spots covered locations in close proximity). On average, the directed saturation patrol locations received 53 officer hours of additional patrol per week, leading to significant increases in field stops and other self-initiated activities in these places.

The analysis of the program’s impacts, which controlled for preintervention levels of violence, seasonal patterns, and selected characteristics of the hot spots, revealed that the problem-oriented policing intervention produced stronger and more lasting effects on violent crime. Although violence declined by up to 20 percent in the directed saturation patrol locations during the intervention period, this reduction could not be clearly distinguished from natural variation in crime over time (i.e., the result was not “statistically significant”), and violence levels rebounded after the intervention. In contrast, the problem-solving locations experienced a statistically significant 33 percent reduction in officially reported incidents of street violence during the 90-day period following the intervention, relative to trends in the control (non-intervention) locations. (Total violence and serious property crime also declined to a lesser extent.) This suggests that the problem-solving measures implemented by officers and analysts had taken hold by this time and were producing reductions in crime that may have lasted well beyond the study period.

A caveat is that calls to police about violence increased in areas within 100 to 500 feet of the problem-solving locations, though this did not lead to an increase in officially reported incidents of violence. This may indicate that crime was displaced from the target locations to the surrounding areas or that citizens became more inclined to call police about crime when exposed to the beneficial effects of problem-solving police activities in nearby locations.

This experiment provides evidence that problem-oriented policing can be an effective strategy for reducing violence at hot spots—and one that can produce lasting effects—though police should be aware of the potential for displacement or reporting effects in nearby areas and monitor these possibilities. Assigning officers to micro hot spots for extended saturation patrol, on the other hand, does not appear to be an optimal approach for reducing serious crime. While this strategy may produce some benefits, other patrol methods can be more efficient. Other studies suggest, for example, that officers can significantly reduce crime at hot spots just by making periodic 10-15 minute stops at these locations.2 Assigning patrol officers or special units to work multiple hot spots in this manner may therefore be one way to optimize patrol time and coverage across numerous hot spots.

JSO has committed itself to building on the study’s results by establishing a permanent 40-member unit that does full-time problem solving at violent crime hot spots. JSO has continued to refine this strategy through more extended POP efforts (longer than those used during the initial 90-day study), enhanced training, and ongoing assessment of results.3 JSO’s experience reflects the potential rewards of translating research into practice. ♦

Action Items:
  1. Identify precise micro hot spots. Focusing on the blocks, intersections, and clusters of blocks at highest risk will help officers to identify tangible problems at these locations while maximizing the deterrent effects of patrol.
  2. Assign teams of officers and crime analysts to study problems at hot spots and devise responses. Give appropriate emphasis to fully dissecting problems and developing both traditional and non-traditional responses. Assigning officers to this work full time can be beneficial.
  3. Use short, intermittent stops at hot spots to maximize patrol effectiveness and efficiency while avoiding unnecessarily long saturations.

1For a more detailed discussion of the study summarized here, see: Bruce Taylor, Christopher S. Koper, and Daniel J. Woods, “A Randomized Control Trial of Different Policing Strategies at Hot Spots of Violent Crime,” Journal of Experimental Criminology 7, no. 2 (June 2011): 149-181. This work was supported by a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (U.S. Department of Justice). The authors also thank Matt White, Daniel Woods, and members of JSO’s Operation Safe Streets team for their contributions to the project’s development, implementation, and analysis.
2See Christopher S. Koper, “Just Enough Police Presence: Reducing Crime and Disorderly Behavior by Optimizing Patrol Time at Hot Spots,” Justice Quarterly 12, no. 4 (December 1995): 649-672. For a field test of this strategy, see Cody W. Telep, Renée J. Mitchell, and David Weisburd, “How Much Time Should the Police Spend at Crime Hot Spots? Answers from a Police Agency Directed Randomized Field Trial in Sacramento, California,” Justice Quarterly (August 2012). An article on the Sacramento study also appeared in the February 2013 edition of Police Chief—see Renée J. Mitchell, “Hot Spot Randomized Control Works for Sacramento,” Research In Brief, The Police Chief 80 (February 2013): 12, (accessed September 11, 2013).
3See Jamie Roush and Christopher S. Koper, “From Research to Practice: How the Jacksonville, Florida Sheriff’s Office Institutionalized Results from a Problem-Oriented, Hot Spots Policing Experiment,” Translational Criminology (Winter 2012): 10-11, (accessed September 11, 2013).

Please cite as:

Christopher S. Koper, Bruce Taylor, and Jamie Roush, "What Works Best at Violent Crime Hot Spots? A Test of Directed Patrol and Problem-Solving Approaches in Jacksonville, Florida," Research in Brief, The Police Chief 80 (October 2013): 12–13.


From The Police Chief, vol. LXXX, no. 10, October 2013. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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