Policing disorder has long been touted as an effective policing strategy and is now one of the most common policing strategies employed. Specific versions of this strategy vary across departments, from order maintenance to zero tolerance policing to community and problem-oriented strategies addressing recurring problems in a specific community. However, evaluations for the varying applications of disorder policing have led to mixed results and “no clear evidence of effectiveness.”
The authors assert that given the popularity of disorder policing strategies and the mixed results from individual studies, taking a broader look in the form of a meta-analysis is prudent. The meta-analysis uses published and unpublished randomized and quasi-randomized studies to provide a general assessment of the effectiveness of disorder-focused policing strategies.
Primary Research Question(S)
Does a systematic review and meta-analysis of disorder strategies reveal any level of effectiveness? If so, to what degree are these strategies effective?
Twenty-eight studies were included in this analysis. Two of these studies were from the United Kingdom and the remaining studies were from cities in the United States. Two main groupings of disorder policing were found to exist: aggressive order maintenance policing and community-oriented policing. Aggressive maintenance strategies target disorderly individuals through arrests and ordinance violations and rarely involve community members. Community-oriented strategies use communication with community members to identify problems and subsequently develop and implement problem-solving approaches to address the identified problems.
The two groupings that the authors created for types of policing strategies often overlapped, making clear distinctions in outcomes more difficult. Also, this analysis focused on whether or not a strategy reduced crime. It did not explore the more theoretical relationships between disorder policing and concepts such as fear of crime and informal social control.
Multiple meta-analysis statistical approaches demonstrated a “modest, but meaningful impact” on crime. While both community-oriented strategies and aggressive order maintenance showed negative impacts on crime, only community-oriented strategies demonstrated a statistically significant impact. Overall, crime decreased across multiple crime types (e.g. violent crime, property crime, disorder, and drug offenses).
While further work should be done, this analysis suggests that policing disorder is an effective crime control strategy. The most effective types of disorder tactics are those focused on places and are community-oriented, as opposed to individual-focused aggressive order maintenance strategies. It is important for agencies to engage community stakeholders in assisting with the identification of problems and then maintain those relationships to help address identified issues.
Braga, A. A., Welsh, B. C., & Schnell, C. (2015). Can policing disorder reduce crime? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 52(4), 567-588.