The argument over proactive policing can be politicized, but now the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is trying to make it more scientific. It has just released a comprehensive survey of the research that has been done on the crime-fighting effectiveness of various policing strategies.
There’s more research to draw on than people suspect. The authors say this is actually a “golden age” of methodical scientific studies of policing, and the report lays out which tactics are backed by the strongest evidence.
The findings are summarized in a handy table on Page 127. Some of the highlights:
“Hot spot” policing — targeted patrols of specific trouble spots — is backed by strong evidence. This may be of interest in Baltimore, which ended the old practice of “clearing corners” under pressure from the Justice Department.
“Stop and frisk” is more ambiguous. There’s strong evidence that it works when practiced in violent-crime hot spots, but the evidence is weaker for its effectiveness when practiced throughout an entire jurisdiction.
“Broken windows,” the notion that addressing small problems can avert more serious crimes, has strong evidence when the tactic focuses on improving a neighborhood, such as cleaning up vacant lots. But when the tactic means widespread arrests of people for certain “quality of life” infractions, the evidence is weaker.
The survey includes assessments of other tactics under the “proactive policing” rubric, including up-and-comers such as software-driven “predictive policing” (verdict: too soon to tell).