The Case for Place in Twenty-First Century Policing

Tradition Versus Today’s Reality

In my 30 years in law enforcement and the subsequent 12 years working with law enforcement agencies around the world, I have become familiar with a number of different modern policing concepts taking root in agencies big and small. These include community policing, problem-oriented policing, predictive policing, and evidenced-based policing. More recently, I have been intrigued by the concepts of place-based policing and the writings of Dr. David Weisburd of George Mason University.
One commonality that exists in all these policing approaches is geography—the simple fact that crimes, criminals, victims, and most of what law enforcement has to deal with have a location: a specific address, building, street corner, block, or similar microgeography. The research of Dr. Weisburd and others has demonstrated that a very small number of specific locations in studied communities generate a significantly disproportionate number of police calls. While criminals are frequently difficult to target due to their mobility, crime hot spots tend to be stable over long periods of time, providing a better opportunity for the focus of police operations.
Today’s technology coupled with solid analytics has given law enforcement a much greater opportunity to understand the nature of crime in our communities. This data-driven approach employs police databases with geographic information systems (GIS) and better analytic tools to provide police managers with a detailed picture of crime in their communities.
More than just connecting the dots, Weisburd’s studies have demonstrated that we have the ability to focus on specific crime hot spots to direct our policing efforts rather than focusing on the larger, traditional policing geographies such as beats, precincts, and areas. His studies have demonstrated that in an era of diminishing financial and personnel resources, this place-based approach provides an opportunity to put the right people in the right place at the right time rather than patrolling a larger geography in the hope of preventing crime or apprehending a criminal in the process of committing a crime.

Are traditional police beats obsolete?

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