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Back to Archives | Back to January 2014 Contents 

Research in Brief: Hot Spot Policing at Work in Non-Urban Jurisdictions

By Tim Hegarty, Captain, Riley County, Kansas, Police Department and L. Susan Williams, PhD, Kansas State University

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.

The Riley County Police Department (RCPD) in Manhattan, Kansas, has employed geospatial crime reduction strategies on a macro level since 2010, concentrating high-visibility police activity in neighborhood-sized areas. In late 2012, the RCPD decided to refine its strategy to incorporate the latest research regarding hot spot policing at micro places—street segments no more than a city block in length. A recent experimental study by the Sacramento, California, Police Department suggested that police presence in high-crime micro places for short periods of time (12–15 minutes) results in reduced crime and calls for service.1 The RCPD developed a similar strategy for Manhattan (population 53,000), named Initiative: Laser Point, and enlisted the assistance of a research team from Kansas State University to evaluate the strategy’s effectiveness from two perspectives. First, the existing literature has not addressed whether hot spot policing works in non-urban areas like Manhattan. Second, and more importantly, little has been done to assess behavioral practices of police officers within the hot spots. The RCPD study seeks to provide practical and experimental insight to these two issues.


Hot spots for the study were identified by using historical crime data and selecting street-length segments that experienced a relatively high number of crime incidents over the previous 12 months. The pre-analysis yielded 48 hot spots that were paired up based on similar attributes, with RCPD officers themselves confirming the suitability of matched pairs. None of the hot spots adjoined another in order to avoid treatment contamination, and each pair of addresses was randomized as either a “V” (officer visibility only) or “VA” (officer visibility and activity). The hot spots were divided into three groups of 16 (8 treatment and 8 control), generally attempting to maximize the time of day in which the areas were “hot” (more prone to criminal activity). Distribution was then aligned with the three-shift organization of the RCPD’s uniformed patrol division, assigning each shift eight pairs of addresses so that each hot spot could be visited once in a 24-hour period. The group of hot spots remained the same throughout the experimental period, and their order was randomized each day by auto-generation.

To reduce officer bias, hot spots were assigned to specific patrol officers by matched pairs so that each officer visited both a V and VA hot spot, and they were instructed that each address was to be visited one time in the order that it appeared each day on the randomized list. Supervisors were encouraged to involve as many patrol officers as feasible to minimize selection bias, but they were given the freedom to make the visits happen as they saw fit. Generally, a supervisor would assign the hot spots to individual officers prior to the start of the shift, and the officers would conduct the visits as their uncommitted time allowed.

Officers visiting the V hot spots were instructed to visibly park in the area, remain there for 15 minutes, and refrain from any proactivity unless required in the line of duty. Officers assigned to the VA hot spots were instructed to visibly park, get out of the car, and proceed with activities that included public contacts and order maintenance issues such as code enforcement, illegal parking, excessive noise, or alcohol-related violations.


Action Items
  1. Request a copy of the complete Initiative: Laser Point study by contacting Captain Tim Hegarty at
  2. Develop a jurisdiction-specific hot spot policing strategy and solicit a local college or university to evaluate the strategy’s effectiveness.
  3. Attend the next Center for Evidence Based Crime Policy (CEBCP) Symposium, which will take place June 23–24, 2014, at George Mason University’s Arlington Campus:
The experiment was launched on October 2, 2012, and continued through December 31, 2012. A total of 73 individual patrol officers participated in over 3,300 micro hot spot visits, logging a total of approximately 825 hours, with those officers in the VA hot spots initiating over 7,000 individual actions during the three-month period. At the conclusion of the study, crime incidents and calls for service that took place in the 48 micro hot spots during the fourth quarter of 2009 through 2012 were analyzed in order to compare the same geographic areas during the same months for three years prior to the experimental trials. The analysis compared matched pairs across time (i.e., before versus after the experimental period) and across space (i.e., “V” versus “VA” areas).

Regarding the question of whether hot spot policing works in nonurban areas, the results of the study analysis demonstrated a statistically significant decrease in calls for service (13 percent) and Part I and Part II crimes (41 percent and 40 percent, respectively), when comparing the same geographic areas over the fourth quarter of 2011.2 These results were not entirely surprising, as previous research such as the Sacramento study, had already established that hot spot policing does work to reduce crime. The second question regarding the impact of officer behavior within a hot spot provided a more interesting answer. No statistically significant difference was observed in either Part I or Part II crimes between treatment areas; there was little distinction in the decline of crime incidents between areas where officers were active (VA) and areas where officers merely established a visible presence (V).3 This strongly suggests that at least for the study at hand, specific officer behavior (as defined here) did not result in significant differences in the reduction of crime incidents. ♦

1Cody W. Telep, Renee J. Mitchell, and David Weisburd, “How Much Time Should Police Spend at Crime Hot Spots? Answers from a Police Agency Directed Randomized Field Trial in Sacramento, California,” Justice Quarterly (published online August 13, 2012): 1–29.
2L. Susan Williams, Will Chernoff, and Tim Hegarty, “Making Gloves That Fit: Micro Hot Spot Initiatives in a Non-Urban Police Agency” (Manhattan, Kansas, 2013), 20–23.
3Ibid. 24–25.

Please cite as:

Tim Hegarty and L. Susan Williams, “Hot Spot Policing at Work in Non-Urban Jurisdictions,” Research in Brief, The Police Chief 81 (January 2014): 12–13.



From The Police Chief, vol. 81, no. 1, January 2014. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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