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% from 2009 to 2013 and calls for service increased 7.7%. 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 %.
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.” In Portland, the PPB found 157 locations, or 1.1 %, of the city’s geography, that accounted for 19 percent of the calls for service and 18 percent of reported crimes.
While information on “hot spots” 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.
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.
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.
Neighborhood Involvement Locations combines the directed-patrol technique of hot-spot policing with tactical approaches from community policing. 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 pre-programmed 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.
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 sub-components (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.
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.