Police Research Center Targets Intensive Patrols

Cops in Houston Illustration

The Police Research Center at Sam Houston State University’s Criminal Justice Center is helping the Houston and Dallas Police Departments to develop intensive patrol strategies to curb crime at "hot spots" in the cities.

The Police Research Center is providing ongoing research to develop cost-effective patrolling strategies in high crime areas. In Dallas, the study involves the Disruption Unit. In Houston, the Center is examining hot spot response termed Houston Enhanced Action Patrol (HEAP).

"Most law enforcement agencies have been basing resource allocation decisions on a variety of factors, including crime analysis data, intuition and, to some extent (although we hate to admit it), political pressure," said Kirk Munden, Executive Assistant Chief of the Houston Police Department. "Some of these factors are appropriate, and some are entirely inappropriate, but in the absence of empirical data, this has been our reality."

The research is an outgrowth of the Major Cities Chiefs Leadership Training Program, a specialized program for chiefs and top management in the state’s 30 largest cities, including Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, El Paso and 24 others. Similar to the training received by all Texas police chiefs biennially at the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas, this program focuses upon crime control strategies and is taught by national experts. The most recent topic is using social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, as an investigative and community information tool.

As part of its research with Dallas and Houston, the center has tapped into the cities’ geographic crime reporting databases.

In Dallas, the Police Research Center helped to identify the 12 worst, crime-ridden areas in the city and gauged the effect of concentrated patrols in those areas on violent and property crimes. The study found that extra patrols were more effective in reducing property crimes rather than violent crimes in hot spots, although there was an impact upon both.

"We want to find the most cost-effective way to move the extra patrol around the jurisdiction," said Dr. Larry Hoover, director of the Police Research Center. "We know proactive, saturation patrols work. However, we do not know the optimal amount of extra patrol necessary to impact crime, nor do we know the optimal amount of time extra patrols should remain at a hot spot."

The Police Research Center is initiating a second study in Dallas that will examine near repeat shootings, which usually are retaliatory shooting based on gang rivalry or drug distribution. The study will look at the characteristic of retaliatory incident so police can develop better intervention strategies to address the issue.

In Houston, the Police Research Center initially did a study to assess the impact of HPD’s Crime Reduction Unit, which deployed 60 officers in concentrated patrols in crime hot spots in the city to interdict gangs, guns and drugs.

"We found that the unit substantially reduced property crime," Hoover said, adding, "and although we did not find a pronounced effect upon violent crime given the limitations of the available data, evidence strongly suggests that targeted violent crime went down as well."

The study measured the rate at which crime was displaced to adjoining neighborhoods, or conversely may also have reduced crime in nearby areas based on the extra patrols. It also calculated how long crime reduction lasted after the extra patrols were reassigned to other areas, and the nature of crime in the area that was most affected.

To be more cost effective, the city designed a scaled back version of the plan, HEAP, with two extra patrol officers in a smaller target area, the equivalent of half the standard beat. The center is testing the results for several variations of time spent at a given hot spot.

"Dr. Hoover, Dr, Zhao, and the members of their research team have offered us the possibility of developing a set of practical decision-making tools to help us improve the service we provide, which is especially important during periods of shrinking resources," said Munden. “Although the results are somewhat surprising and counterintuitive, the SHSU team is advancing our knowledge and will ultimately help police managers make legitimate, objective and defensible manpower allocation decisions."

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