Table of Contents
Commentary: Place-Based Delinquency Prevention: Issues and Recommendations
Jeffrey J. Roth,
Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania
Jeffrey J. Roth, Department of Criminology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Jeffrey J. Roth, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Wilson Hall, Room 200, 411 North Walk, Indiana, PA 15705; E-mail: email@example.com
Keywords: crime, delinquency prevention, juvenile crime, police, prevention programs
Communities experiencing problems with delinquent youth often expect their local police agencies to solve them. In response, police sometimes use place-focused solutions (e.g., “hot spots” policing) that focus law enforcement resources on small, problematic geographical areas. Important differences between juvenile and adult crime, however, may influence the effectiveness of place-based strategies for addressing juvenile delinquency. This paper critiques hot spots policing as a means of delinquency prevention and makes recommendations for adapting the features of such efforts to young offenders. More specifically, this article notes possible problems when applying hot spots policing to juvenile delinquency and makes recommendations for avoiding potential pitfalls when using place-focused techniques.
In recent years, police agencies have implemented a variety of place-focused efforts that are collectively known as “hot spots” policing. These tactics, which focus law enforcement resources on small, problematic geographical areas, have become popular. In one recent survey, 83% of police executives claimed they had mostly or completely implemented hot spots policing; fewer than 1% stated that they had not implemented these methods (Kochel, Mastrofski, Maguire, & Willis, 2006 as cited in Kochel, 2011). Place-focused policing is grounded in a robust body of evidence indicating that crime tends to occur in geographic clusters. For example, an assessment by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that place-focused policing has the strongest evidence base of any law enforcement approach (Weisburd, Morris, & Ready, 2008).
There is substantially less research regarding the geographic concentration of juvenile crime (Weisburd, Morris, & Groff, 2009; Weisburd, Groff, & Morris, 2011). Similarly, few studies have examined the effectiveness of preventing juvenile delinquency through place-based policing (Weisburd et al., 2008). Nevertheless, Weisburd et al. (2009) contend that “the concept of crime hot spots is also salient for juvenile crime” (p. 448).
The Crime–Place Connection
In his 2003 presidential address to the American Society of Criminology, John Laub praised criminological pioneers Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay for their work in illuminating the role of environmental factors in the etiology of delinquency (Laub, 2004). As early as 1942, Shaw and McKay noted that the residences of delinquents clustered in particular areas of Chicago. Since that time, scholars have continued to explore the relationship between crime and place, particularly among adults. There is now a large body of evidence suggesting that certain locations experience more crime than others (Groff, Weisburd, & Yang, 2010). Not only does crime occur in geographic clusters, but there is general consensus that a large majority of crimes occur in a small number of places (Weisburd, 2011). The evidence supporting this claim is so strong that Bichler, Christie-Merrall, and Sechrest (2011) concluded that there is “irrefutable evidence” that understanding crime patterns requires considering situational factors particular to specific locations (p. 490).
The geographic location of a crime cluster is often specific; even locations within the same neighborhood can have widely divergent crime rates (Groff et al., 2010). Because evidence indicates crime is closely associated with micro-geographic locations such as street segments or single addresses, recent research on the crime-place relationship has advanced the concept of “micro-places” (Weisburd, 2011, p. 154). For example, Sherman, Gartin, and Buerger (1989) found that only 3% of the addresses in Minneapolis produced 50% of the calls for police service. Similarly, Braga, Papachristos, and Hureau (2010) suggested that gun violence trends in Boston could best be understood by analyzing trends at street segments and intersections rather than larger units such as neighborhoods, police districts, or census tracts. These researchers noted that much of the spatial research on gun violence does not account for the possibility of variation between particular blocks and street corners within larger geographic units (Braga et al., 2010).
The distinction between places and micro-places has important implications for applying hot spots policing to juvenile problems, particularly because this distinction may contradict traditional ideas about high-crime communities (Braga & Weisburd, 2010). Although particular neighborhoods have a (sometimes justifiable) reputation for high crime rates, police activity that focuses on entire communities ignores the relationship between micro-places and crime. Evidence indicates that not every block in high-crime neighborhoods has high levels of crime; some blocks have a great deal of crime while others are relatively crime free (Braga et al., 2010). Groff et al. (2010) concur that crime rates vary even within neighborhoods. In brief, “bad neighborhoods” can contain “good streets,” and “good neighborhoods” may be home to “bad streets” (Groff et al., 2010). Thus, place-focused delinquency prevention should focus on these “bad streets” rather than on entire neighborhoods.
An analysis of the clustering of gun violence in Boston illustrates the importance of considering micro-places (Braga et al., 2010). Using street segments as the unit of analysis, these researchers found that a small number of micro-places in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods had a major effect on citywide trends in gun violence (Braga et al., 2010). Notably, although crime did cluster within disadvantaged communities, entire neighborhoods did not constitute gun violence hot spots. Overall, the authors found that only 5% of street segments and intersections in Boston were responsible for 74% of serious incidents of gun assault during the 29 years that the study examined, even after controlling for prior levels of gun violence (Braga et al., 2010). They also found that the location of these hot spots was very consistent over time (Braga et al., 2010).
Although there is less research on the geographic clustering of juvenile delinquency than on adult crime, evidence supports that juvenile delinquency is also concentrated in micro-places. Weisburd et al. (2009) examined juvenile arrests in Seattle, Washington over a 14-year period to assess the degree to which juvenile crime was clustered in particular places. They found that 50% of juvenile arrests occurred in less than 1% of street segments, and approximately 3% to 5% of street segments accounted for all incidents in a given year (Weisburd et al., 2009; Weisburd et al., 2011). Furthermore, during the course of the study, one-third of the arrests occurred on just 86 street segments, and the concentration of these arrests was significantly different from what would be expected by chance for each year (Weisburd et al., 2009; Weisburd et al., 2011). Not only did juvenile arrests cluster in a small number of places each year, but the location of delinquency was largely stable over time, meaning that arrests recurred in the same few places year after year (Weisburd et al., 2009; Weisburd et al., 2011).
The Nature of Delinquency Hot Spots
Two factors strongly influence the location of juvenile crime hot spots. First, because there is evidence that most offenders commit crimes close to activity centers (Cromwell, Olson, & Avary, 1991 as cited in Kautt & Roncek, 2007), the activity patterns of juveniles will shape the clustering of delinquency. Second, the characteristics of the built environment can impact the spatial distribution of juvenile crimes (Groff et al., 2010).
Youth generally have limited resources and some (particularly younger juveniles) have less access to transportation than do adults; therefore, youth are likely to visit a limited number of areas routinely (Weisburd et al., 2009). Thus, the routine activities of an area’s juveniles will influence the places where delinquency is concentrated (Weisburd et al., 2009). Young people, however, do travel considerably within urban spaces, and their activities generally take them well beyond their own neighborhoods (Wikstrom, Ceccato, Hardie, & Treiber, 2010). Such evidence suggests that locations with high rates of juvenile activity may be different from areas with many juvenile residents, and that place-focused delinquency prevention should focus on the former. In general, the lives of juveniles center around two occupations: going to school, and socializing or “hanging out.” The impact of these activities on the location of delinquency is significant, and thus they are each considered in turn.
Because schools require youth to be at particular places at specific times, they have an immense influence on the routine activities of juveniles. Schools are also places where juvenile offenders and potential victims can come into contact (Weisburd et al., 2009; Weisburd et al., 2011). Addressing crime problems within the school setting is beyond the scope of this paper. Outside of school, several studies have found that neighborhoods near public high schools have higher crime levels than other residential neighborhoods. For example, Roncek and Lobosco (1983) found higher crime rates for city blocks near public high schools. Similarly, Roncek and Faggiani (1985) found that city blocks within a one-block radius of public high schools experienced more crime than did city blocks further away. Interestingly, in Roncek and Lobosco’s (1983) research, private schools were not associated with this effect on nearby areas, perhaps because their grounds (e.g., basketball courts) were not available for use by the general public during non-school hours. In addition, some researchers suggest that relatively unsupervised travel routes mean that youth are free to offend as they commute to and from school (Felson, 1993 as cited in Kautt & Roncek, 2007).
Elementary schools also have been found to impact crime in nearby areas. Kautt and Roncek (2007) found that the presence of an elementary school (grades K-5) was associated with an increase in the number of burglaries on neighborhood residential blocks. The authors suggest that the playground equipment and recreational spaces at elementary schools may attract youth to the area, even during summer months or after school hours (Kautt & Roncek, 2007). Police should thus consider the possibility that local schools can serve as geographic hubs for delinquency and evaluate specific changes, such as increased supervision, that might prevent it.
Outside of school, youth often seek opportunities for unstructured socializing, or “hanging out.” Weisburd (2011) speculated that places where juveniles gather for this activity will be delinquency hot spots, and suggested that lack of supervision may be one explanation for high juvenile crime in particular areas. Youth are attracted to certain kinds of activities, and so choose specific kinds of places for socialization (Felson, 2006 as cited in Weisburd et al., 2009). These locations commonly include malls, movie theaters, fast food restaurants, parks, and similar places (Weisburd et al., 2009; Weisburd et al., 2011). Bichler et al. (2011) described such places as “juvenile crime magnets” (p. 478), and research by Roman (2002) supports this contention. In this study, blocks containing youth hangouts experienced a 63% increase in violent crime during after school hours (Roman, 2002). Interestingly, the relationship between youth hangouts and crime was not found during morning commuting hours or on weekends (Roman, 2002). Notably, spaces that foster juvenile activity are not found on every block, but are located on a limited number of street segments in a city (Weisburd et al., 2009). Thus, some neighborhoods are primarily exporters of juvenile crime whereas others are importers, and variation between neighborhoods can be linked to the distribution of juvenile activity centers (Chamard, 2007 as cited in Bichler et al., 2011).
In sum, the existence of crime hot spots is clearly supported by the literature. Often these sites are specific locations that are centers for the routine activities of a population. For juveniles, these routine activities are dominated by school and socializing. Agencies can take advantage of this research by focusing a variety of delinquency prevention efforts in particular locations. That is, “if police become better at recognizing the ‘good streets’ in the bad areas, they can take a more holistic approach to addressing crime problems” (Groff et al., 2010, p. 25).
Key Issues in Hot Spots Delinquency Prevention
Police who target delinquency prevention efforts in particular places should be aware that place-based policing of youth has a number of potential pitfalls. For example, there may be a temptation to apply traditional police tactics to delinquency, which is unlikely to be effective. Some critics contend that focusing law enforcement efforts on micro-places of delinquency may increase labeling of youth and have a negative impact on police legitimacy and community relations, as well as cause racial tension. Finally, some scholars question whether place-based policing reduces crime or simply displaces it to other areas.
Issue One: Overreliance on Traditional Tactics
After hot spots of juvenile delinquency are identified, what actions should police take in those areas? Police often respond using traditional tactics such as random patrols and increasing arrests. Based on the literature, Kochel (2011) concluded that, in general, police use enforcement-focused techniques in criminal hot spots. Such efforts might include saturating the area with police and maintaining zero-tolerance for public disorder. Weisburd (2011) concurs that enforcement and arrest remain the primary tools used by police, even in hot spots policing efforts. For example, in a series of focus groups recently conducted within a police department, enhanced patrols and the use of citations were the two crime-reduction tactics officers recommended most frequently (Bichler & Gaines, 2005).
The use of anti-loitering legislation is another enforcement approach to addressing delinquency. For example, a 1997 law permitted police in New South Wales, Australia, to remove youth under the age of 16 from public places without charging them if they are unsupervised, or if the police believe they are at risk of committing a crime (White, 2004). Similar legislative attempts have been made in the United States, but in many cases such laws have been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court (White, 2004).
Agencies considering the application of place-based tactics to juvenile problems in delinquency hot spots are advised against employing patrol and arrest as their primary tools, despite their long history of use by law enforcement officers. Kochel (2011) points out the ineffectiveness of using short-term, aggressive approaches to address problems that are rooted in the routine activities and built environment of a particular place. More significantly, research indicates that arrest and prosecution of juveniles are not the best approaches for preventing juvenile crime in hot spots (Petrosino, Turpin-Petrosino, & Guckenburg, 2010).
In addition, enforcement-focused approaches may lead to further problems by labeling youth. Unnecessary labeling and stigmatizing of young people can have long-term negative consequences (Weisburd et al., 2009). Such labeling may be avoided through hot spots policing that focuses on altering the supervision and structure of juvenile activities, rather than on enforcing laws strictly (Weisburd et al., 2009).
Issue Two: Effect on Community Relations
Another potential hazard of place-based policing is that it may reduce citizen perceptions of police legitimacy. Overall, there has been a lack of inquiry into how hot spots policing affects citizens’ perceptions of police legitimacy (Kochel, 2011), but the effects may be particularly problematic when harsh or zero-tolerance methods are used. Reduced police legitimacy is associated with less willingness to report crimes, assist the police, participate in neighborhood watches, and attend community meetings (Kochel, 2011). Thus, hot spots policing that reduces police legitimacy can decrease the community involvement that may help prevent delinquency.
Closely related to reduced police legitimacy is the possibility of weakened relationships between the community and law enforcement when hot spots policing is practiced. Yarwood (2007) notes that in high-crime communities, “aggressive patrolling and policing, particularly of certain social groups, have contributed to poor police-public relations” (p. 453). Furthermore, the removal of police from non–hot spot areas can lead to increased fear of crime and demands that police distribute their resources more evenly (Yarwood, 2007).
Not only can relationships with the community be weakened through hot-spots policing, but in some cases racial tension may also be increased. Sanchez and Adams (2011) warn that the aggressive policing of minority youth from disadvantaged neighborhoods may cause disrespect for police and funnel already disadvantaged youth into the criminal justice system. They describe how aggressive policing of hot spots can lead to the “hypercriminalization” of minority youth, since disadvantaged minorities are more likely to live in high-crime areas (Sanchez & Adams, 2011, p. 333).
Issue Three: Displacement
A more practical criticism of place-based policing approaches is the contention that they displace crime to other areas rather than reducing crime overall. The previously described study by Braga and Bond (2008) assessed this possibility using pre- and post-tests to compare calls for service and reported crime in the areas surrounding treatment and control units. Although the areas surrounding the treatment units experienced increases in calls, these increases were not statistically significant, indicating that displacement effects were small if they existed at all (Braga & Bond, 2008). The authors concluded that overall, the displacement of crime is never complete and is often inconsequential (Braga & Bond, 2008). Weisburd (2011) applied these ideas to the policing of delinquency, arguing that the uneven distribution and limited number of spaces in which juveniles congregate means that delinquency is not easily moveable at a micro-geographic level. In sum, he argues that if hot spots for juvenile crime were addressed, it may be difficult for youth to conduct their delinquent activities in new locations.
Fortunately, many of the potential problems described in previous sections can be mitigated with careful implementation. The following recommendations highlight several ways to improve hot spots delinquency prevention and avoid some of the more common criticisms it is likely to face.
Recommendation One: Analysis Before Action
Before applying hot spots policing to delinquency it is essential to engage in a thorough analysis to identify clusters of delinquent activity. As Taylor (1998) warned, lack of analysis can lead to “‘overmedicating’ a hot spot that is only ‘warm’ or ‘undermedicating’ a ‘red-hot’ hot spot” (p. 13). Such analysis should be formal and data-driven, since informal procedures such as asking police officers to identify troublesome locations can be problematic. Bichler and Gaines (2005) conducted focus groups with members of a medium-sized police department and asked officers to identify high-crime locations within their districts. The authors found a general lack of consensus among officers about high-crime sites, indicating a problem with their reliability in identifying hot spots (Bichler & Gaines, 2005). They concluded that officer perceptions are insufficient for developing an accurate list of problematic locations (Bichler & Gaines, 2005).
One advantage of using a formal hot spot identification process is that it may address some of the criticisms of place-based approaches. Residents of non-hot spot areas may feel neglected by police, and the populations of hot spots may become increasingly skeptical and less trusting of police (Kochel, 2011). Agencies can increase their legitimacy by demonstrating they have used standardized, fair procedures for the distribution of resources (Sunshine & Tyler, 2003 as cited in Kochel, 2011). Essentially, a data-driven approach to hot spot identification may be viewed as fairer and may help to promote police legitimacy (Kochel, 2011).
Recommendation Two: Target Opportunities, Not Offenders
The perils of applying zero-tolerance methods in hot spots policing have already been mentioned. It is essential that police focus their efforts on reducing opportunities for delinquency in hot spots, rather than on arresting offenders after crimes occur (Weisburd, 2011). This does not mean that police should neglect traditional activities such as arrest and patrol, but it does suggest that the emphasis should be on modifying conditions in the areas that favor delinquency (Cherney, 2008). Taylor (1998) notes the potential utility of focusing on the persistent traits of crime-prone sites. Similarly, Weisburd (2011) argues that the primary goal should not be deterring juveniles with threats of punishment, but altering the context of the place so that the activities of juveniles are better supervised and more structured.
Law enforcement leaders should be aware that when situational improvements are favored over enforcement-centric approaches, success cannot be measured in terms of increased arrests. Rather, the success of situational improvements must be measured in terms of whether the hot spots become safer for the people who live, visit, or work there (Weisburd, 2011). Success on these terms can be achieved; research suggests that the benefits of strong crime prevention activities can result from situational strategies that modify the nature of opportunity at criminal hot spots (Braga & Bond, 2008).
Recommendation Three: Utilize Partnerships
The use of partnerships has been described as “central” to the development of successful youth violence prevention efforts (Payne & Button, 2009, p. 530). Despite the importance of partnerships, they sometimes receive disproportionately little attention from police. In the focus groups conducted by Bichler and Gaines (2005), the authors asked officers to recommend solutions for the crime problems in their districts, and found that only 16% of the suggestions involved the use of partnerships (Bichler and Gaines, 2005). When police utilize partnerships for delinquency prevention, they may find the community quite willing to participate. Community members in Payne and Button’s (2009) research supported the development of a youth violence prevention plan for the area and described the need for community stakeholders such as churches, schools, welfare agencies, and businesses to work together to prevent delinquency. For example, businesses can be involved by helping young people to find employment opportunities, which can be scarce in certain areas of a city (Payne & Button, 2009).
In addition, it is sensible to include youth themselves in the process of developing delinquency prevention efforts (Payne & Button, 2009). Several years ago the city of Arlington, Texas, was experiencing problems caused by “cruising”—hundreds of youth driving around and socializing from within their cars, causing traffic jams and hindering emergency services (Felson, 2002). A city councilman talked to these youth and found that they primarily wanted places for unstructured socializing and available restrooms (Felson, 2002). The city was then able to a rent a parking lot from the University of Texas on weekends and channel the “cruising” youth to this smaller, safer area (Felson, 2002). Thus, engaging young people in discussions about the problem contributed to the development of a solution.
In addition to partnering with the community, police can also benefit from the creation of place-focused partnerships with other agencies. In Great Britain, Waters (2007) assessed partnerships between police and teams of civilian youth justice workers, and suggested that police involvement in community justice work “adds a certain robustness or credibility to interventions” (p. 646). Police can play a practical role in these partnerships by providing information such as maps of delinquency hot spots. They can also play a symbolic role by publicly demonstrating law enforcement support for the efforts of social workers (Waters, 2007). In Great Britain, the social workers felt that police brought unique and practical benefits to the partnership, including a different operational perspective, a more balanced team, and the opportunity for young people to have positive interactions with police (Waters, 2007).
Recommendation Four: Engage Place Managers in Supervision
Many of the factors that permit or encourage delinquency are in areas that have little to do with the police directly; rather, they are rooted in the inability of persons in other institutions and settings to assert effective social control (Cherney, 2008). It follows, then, that efforts to address delinquency can leverage those persons, or “place managers,” to increase the supervision of socializing young people (Weisburd et al., 2009). Given the high concentrations of juvenile offending at micro-places, using place managers in a few strategic locations may have significant crime prevention benefits (Weisburd et al., 2009).
Cherney (2008) contends that it is clearly in the interest of police to mobilize place managers to alter the situations and conditions that lead to criminal opportunities, particularly because of the delinquency-reducing potential of increased supervision at hot spots. For example, the police can encourage employees of local businesses to take a more active role in supervising nearby vacant areas. In addition, school principals can encourage school staff to be present along walking routes to and from school during commuting hours.
The importance of equality in these partnerships cannot be overemphasized, since attempts to coerce place managers into asserting more control over spaces may harm community relations and lead to negative outcomes (Cherney, 2008). Because harnessing the crime prevention capacity of place managers may unintentionally overburden these citizens, police may consider whether they need to provide assistance or training to help these persons effectively supervise the places that attract delinquency (Cherney, 2008). In addition, communication between partners and police will likely be necessary to determine acceptable levels of responsibility so that these partners are not overburdened (Cherney, 2008).
Recommendation Five: Use Multi-Modal Interventions
In 2002, British parliamentarian Lord Warner stated that “youth crime is not a phenomenon that we can simply police our way out of” (Waters, 2007, p. 635). The implication for place-focused policing of juveniles is that effective prevention should target a variety of risk factors across multiple domains (Weisburd et al., 2008). Offending by young people is rooted in a variety of problems traditionally handled by different agencies (Waters, 2007), which supports the importance of using multiple forms of intervention at particular high-crime locations. Essentially, preventing delinquency requires a combination of strategies, not improved enforcement alone (White, 2004). Efforts should not be exclusively coercive, but should involve targeting services and opportunities in particular locations so that pro-social alternatives are available (White, 2004). For example, Braga et al. (2010) suggested that if gun violence is concentrated at hot spots, then a variety of violence prevention programs involving both criminal justice and social service agencies should also be concentrated at those locations.
Recommendation Six: Communicate Via the Media
Agencies utilizing hot spots policing in delinquency reduction efforts are advised to leverage the media throughout the process. As noted above, police can address problems of decreased legitimacy, weakened community relations, and racial tensions by using broad-based approaches and community partnerships rather than enforcement-centered tactics. Police can further mitigate these problems by using the media to inform the public about a data-driven process for hot spot identification so that communities do not feel unfairly targeted or neglected.
News media campaigns and other public relations efforts can also be used to educate citizens about how to protect themselves (Payne & Button, 2009), and how to prevent delinquency in their own neighborhoods by providing greater supervision of youth. Other uses for the media include promoting positive images of youth in the community and increasing awareness of programs available for the area’s youth (Payne & Button, 2009). The latter may be useful, as some research indicates that residents may be unaware of the programs available to young people in their community (Payne & Button, 2009).
Risk-Focused Policing at Places
There are few examples in the literature of place-focused policing targeting delinquency; most hot spots policing has targeted adults and includes juvenile crime only as it relates to adult crime (Weisburd et al., 2008). An exception is the Risk-Focused Policing at Places (RFPP) program, which was implemented in Redlands, California and reviewed by Weisburd et al. (2008). The RFPP program took a place-based approach to reducing youth problem behaviors and delinquency by focusing on at-risk census blocks (Weisburd et al., 2008). The program was broad-based and focused on a variety of factors that crime prevention research indicated would impact an area’s risk for delinquency problems (Weisburd et al., 2008).
At the program’s initiation, police conducted a community survey on a broader range of risk and protective factors than are traditionally included in police data (Weisburd et al., 2008). They used this data to identify particular census blocks at high risk for juvenile crime. Police then took a proactive approach to delinquency and crime reduction in half of the identified problem areas, implementing the program under experimental conditions for about 2 years (Weisburd et al., 2008).
Many of these risk-focused police activities sought to increase positive contact between officers and juveniles living in the at-risk areas (Weisburd et al., 2008). For example, officers would organize and host recreational events within the targeted census blocks (Weisburd et al., 2008). Efforts to increase positive interactions with youth extended into the schools, where officers would have lunchtime meetings with students from the treatment areas (Weisburd et al., 2008). Because the literature indicates that education is an important protective factor for delinquency, education-related risk factors were also targeted. Tutoring and other school-based activities were used with youth from the experimental group in an attempt to decrease academic failure, strengthen commitment to school, and increase opportunities for pro-social involvement (Weisburd et al., 2008).
Despite these measures, the researchers found few positive results at the end of the evaluation period — a surprising discovery, given the program’s strong foundation in delinquency prevention research (Weisburd et al., 2008). Overall, there was little evidence that the RFPP program had any significant impact on youth in the targeted areas (Weisburd et al., 2008). There were neither consistent changes in student perceptions of risk and protective factors, nor reductions in problematic behavior (Weisburd et al., 2008).
There are several possible explanations for these findings, and agencies implementing similar approaches in the future are advised to be aware of these them. First, despite living in at-risk areas, the youth did not participate in deviant activities at high rates prior to the program and had generally positive attitudes toward police (Weisburd et al., 2008). Thus, the possible margin for improvement was small for many of the outcome measures used (Weisburd et al., 2008). The lesson for similar programs is to ensure that truly at-risk youth are targeted.
Another explanation is that the project was limited by targeting census blocks (which can contain multiple city blocks) instead of micro-places (Weisburd et al., 2008). The authors note that evidence on place-based policing indicates the importance of focusing on compact areas such as very small groups of street blocks (Weisburd et al., 2008). Weisburd et al. (2008) argue that successful place-based, risk-focused delinquency prevention should focus on micro-places so that interventions can be more precisely tailored to the particular risk factors of that location.
The relationship between adult crime and place is heavily supported by the literature, (Shaw & McKay, 1942; Sherman et al., 1989; Weisburd, 2011; Bichler et al., 2011; Groff et al., 2010), as is a connection between crime and micro-places (Braga et al., 2010; Groff et al., 2010). This association likely holds for youth crime as well (Weisburd et al., 2009). Probable hot spots of delinquency include schools and locations for unsupervised socializing such as malls and movie theaters.
Given this crime-place relationship, it is reasonable for police to address delinquency with place-focused approaches. However, agencies should use caution when doing so, since traditional enforcement-focused tactics can increase labeling of youth (Weisburd et al., 2009), decrease police legitimacy (Kochel, 2011), harm community relations (Yarwood, 2007) and increase racial tensions (Sanchez & Adams, 2011). These problems can be mitigated by using formal analysis to identify hot spots (Kochel, 2011) and by focusing on reducing opportunities for delinquency at particular locations, rather than on arresting offenders (Weisburd, 2011; Cherney, 2008).
Partnerships with other agencies and the community are also essential, both to maintain community relations and because police cannot maintain a presence in all places (Waters, 2007; Weisburd et al., 2009). Use of the media will help police communicate with the general public and allay fears that areas will be either unfairly targeted or neglected (Payne & Button, 2009). The example of the Risk-Focused Policing at Places program illustrates how police can collaborate with schools and the community to proactively target high-risk areas, although future programs are advised to target micro-places rather than census blocks (Weisburd et al., 2008).
Future research in this area is also necessary. The literature is in need of studies (such as that of Weisburd et al., 2008) that specifically examine hot spots of delinquency. An additional under-researched phenomenon is the influence of travel routes on the spatial distribution of juvenile crime. Bichler et al. (2011) suggest that examining trends in delinquents’ travel may assist in efficiently targeting police resources and improve crime prevention across jurisdictions. Finally, time-place interactions also require further research attention. Roman (2002) found that the strength of the place-delinquency connection varied based on the time of day and day of the week. Thus, future research should examine the relationship between time, place, and juvenile crime.
Admittedly, there are a variety of potential problems associated with place-based policing strategies for addressing delinquency. Nevertheless, the strong connection between crime and micro-places cannot be ignored. Additional research initiatives that use the Risk-Focused Policing at Places program as a guide are essential. Law enforcement must discover how to take advantage of the crime-place relationship for delinquency prevention while avoiding the potential pitfalls of place-based approaches.
About the Author
Jeffrey J. Roth, BA, MS, PhD, is a temporary faculty member in the Department of Criminology, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Table 1. Summary of Issues and Recommendations
Overreliance on Traditional Tactics
Effect on Community Relations
Analysis Before Action
Target Opportunities, Not Offenders
Engage Place Managers in Supervision
Use Multi-Modal Interventions
Communicate Via the Media
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