Problematic Behavior or Activity
Since 2009, the City of Portland has seen a significant rise in crime and calls for service. Uniform Crime Report Part I crimes rose 8.8 percent from 2009 to 2013. During this period, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) experienced a 7.7 percent increase in dispatched calls for service, amounting to nearly 15,000 additional calls per year as compared to 2009. This increase in crime and calls for service come at a time of diminishing police resources. From 2009 to 2013, the number of uniformed PPB patrol officers declined by 5.9 percent.
These contrasting trends—a higher number of service calls being managed with fewer and fewer resources—necessitates that the PPB explore alternative strategies for allocating patrol resources to the areas of greatest need. One approach that has proved successful in other cities involves the use of GIS mapping and advanced data analysis to identify crime “hot spots.” Crime is never randomly distributed within a city; instead, there are small geographic areas (such as blocks, streets, intersections, corners, and buildings) where offending and calls for service are well above average—and other areas that rarely if ever experience major crimes like assault, robbery, or burglary. In Portland, for example, the PPB found 157 locations, amounting to 1.1 percent of the city’s geography, that accounted for 19 percent of the calls for service and 18 percent of reported crimes. Research conducted in other cities finds that many of these hot spots remain “hot” year after year.
Newer approaches to managing patrol resources (such as “hot-spot policing” and “directed patrol”) give police supervisors greater control over officers’ discretionary time. This includes where they should patrol, when they patrol there, and what they should be doing at these locations. Although this may lead to a more effective use of police resources, it also has the potential to raise concerns among citizens. Residents living in high-crime areas of Portland are disproportionately from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and belong to racial and ethnic minority groups. Flooding these areas with additional officers may erode public trust in the police, regardless of any impact on crime rates.
Impact on the Community
Recent public reactions to the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) “stop-and-frisk” program highlight the importance of balancing new crime-control strategies with efforts to enhance public trust in the police. Simply increasing investigative stops in high-crime areas, locations whose residents are often disproportionately racial and ethnic minorities, is unlikely to achieve this goal.
Some argue that short-term declines in offending need to be weighed against potential longer-term negative effects on citizens attitudes’ about the police and police legitimacy. One counterproductive impact is crime reporting: In a survey of New York City youth who were subject to “stop-andfrisk” patrols, they were less willing to report crime to the police, even when they themselves were victims of a violent crime.
Although the PPB has never promoted an official stop-and-frisk policy, there has been consistent community concern over the issue of racial profiling. A survey of Portland residents conducted in 2013 found that 40.8 percent of respondents disagreed with the following statement: “The police in Portland do not use race or ethnicity when deciding whether to stop someone.” Higher rates of disagreement on this item (that is, greater distrust in police) were found in neighborhoods with higher levels of crime. Likewise, residents from racial and ethnic minority groups were significantly more likely to believe that local police were using race and/or ethnicity in deciding traffic and pedestrian stops.
Both the national and local contexts, therefore, generated significant concerns about implementing a new hot-spot policing initiative in Portland that focused on investigatory stops of residents. Reducing crime in hot-spot locations would not be considered a success if the residents in these areas ended up feeling more negatively about the police. Additionally, given a number of high-profile media incidents and an emphasis on community engagement, it is important to address community concerns about how the PPB conducts its work in Portland. Both increased crime and the need for improved community-police relations were negatively affecting the PPB’s ability to serve city residents. This, in turn, made Portland less livable, creating fear of crime and concerns about the police.
A novel intervention called Neighborhood Involvement Locations combines the directed-patrol technique of hot-spot policing with tactical approaches from community policing. The chief’s mandate for the current project was to “carve out dedicated time for officers to engage with community members in areas that are experiencing high volumes of crime and/or livability concerns.” Rather than “stop and frisk” or investigative actions, the chief asked that patrol officers prioritize non-investigative contacts in the city’s high-crime areas. The goal was to increase contacts between residents of Portland and the members of the PPB, especially in areas with high levels of crime and disorder or areas where the public had high levels of distrust in the police. Ideally, increased foot patrols and time spent on non-investigative types of interactions (walk and talks, social contacts, and other casual contacts) would both deter crime and improve the relationship between police and the public.
More specifically, the chief’s primary goal was to increase non-investigative interactions between citizens and street officers in high-crime areas using preprogrammed computer-aided dispatch (CAD) calls. Officers were dispatched to select locations throughout the day and instructed to spend 15 minutes there, ideally engaging with residents and businesses in positive interactions (such as meet and greets, business checks, problem solving, and increased social interaction). The current emphasis is on using foot patrols to engage with the public and having high visibility to deter crime. Depending on the nature of the issues in the area, the patrols are tailored with instructions provided in the radio call an officer receives when dispatched on a Neighborhood Involvement Location (NILoc) call.
The defining features of this program are the use of preprogrammed CAD calls and emphasizing foot patrol and community engagement. By utilizing these calls, the PPB demonstrates that community engagement is as central to its policing philosophy as its response to calls for service is.
Based on Research
- “Hot Spot Policing Can Reduce Crime”
- “Hot Spots Policing” Practice Profile
- “The Importance of Legitimacy in Hot Spots Policing”
- “5 Things You Need to Know about Hot Spots Policing and the ‘Koper Curve’ Theory”
The program was initially unfunded and was developed as part of the PPB Crime Analysis Unit’s existing portfolio of crime prevention/research activities. It has since received a Smart Policing Initiative Grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
Several impact assessments are under way, analyzing the program as a whole. Several subcomponents (car-prowl missions, theft-reduction missions, livability missions) have been evaluated individually. The evaluation looked at 90 days before and after the foot patrols began and compared to the prior year. In many cases, calls for service to the targeted areas decreased. Additionally, officers report positive feedback from community members. It is important to note that these results are not validated and simply represent pre- and post-type assessments; causation or linkage of these benefits to the NILoc program has not been determined.
The PPB has dispatched approximately 20,000 NILoc calls to date. This represents tens of thousands of police interactions with citizens and thousands of hours of additional patrols in the areas most in need of police services. Anecdotally, the public has responded positively to these patrols, and several missions (for instance, increased police presence at local schools) appear to be hugely successful. Other operations, such as increased police presence in gang-affected areas, appear to have had both a positive impact on police calls for service and avoided major negative incidents that might have damaged the PPB’s relationship with the community.
The program is being studied by Portland State University (PSU) to gauge its impact on residents’ perceptions of police, calls for service to police, crime reduction, and officers’ attitudes about the program. Some of these findings, such as officer feedback on how to improve the program, have already been incorporated and have led to an increase in bottom-up, precinct-level NILoc missions aimed at addressing the needs identified by operational personnel, community members, and/or local businesses.
Critical Success Factors
The survey and focus groups PSU conducted as part of the evaluation noted support for the goals of the program, but also highlighted issues with implementation. The large increase in call volume without new resources generated some degree of frustration. Similarly, there was some concern of the use of statistics in determining call locations, and during the initial program period, about a lack of flexibility associated with running the program and a randomized control trial. There was support for the use of the CAD system in establishing the calls and general agreement on the importance of improving the relationship between the police and the public.
Incorporating this feedback and remaining tactically flexible (willing to alter the specific approach) while strategically focused (remaining focused on the community engagement components of the program) have been critical in sustaining the program beyond the initial trial period.
Getting buy-in on the program and building the program from the bottom up have helped increase support. Sergeant and other line-level personnel have begun using the program to support the needs of their precinct/division. This bottom-up growth has been key in sustaining the program after a rough start.
Getting buy-in is largely a function of supporting other officers’ missions and objectives. The program has been its most functional/successful when used in support of other precincts/divisions’ short-term missions and objectives while incorporating the strategic community -engagement focus into these responses. Adapting the program on a precinct-by-precinct basis so that it helps meet the needs of ground-level personnel while remaining true to the high-level goals has been critical to its success. High levels of customer service are key and making the program as user-friendly as possible has helped the program grow.