Overall calls to report crime in Manhattan have decreased by about 14% since the Riley County Police Department began its Laser Point policing program in 2013, according to researchers from George Mason University.
Christopher Coper, Cynthia Lum and Xiaoyun Wu, researchers at the Fairfax, Virginia, university, presented a seven-year analysis of RCPD’s hotspot policing program Monday at the Riley County Law Board meeting.
Hotspot policing involves focusing patrol and enforcement on particular areas or specific streets and intersections where crime is concentrated, based on long-term and recent research trends.
“We find that typically half of the crime in a jurisdiction occurs at 5% or less of the street blocks in that jurisdiction,” said Coper, lead researcher. “This is a very common problem that numerous studies have shown across large urban areas, smaller cities, suburbs and even more rural areas.”
Coper said many hotspot locations are chronic problem areas that have features that draw or generate crime, such as apartment complexes, parks, bars, low-lit areas, low-visibility alleyways or abandoned buildings. Researchers examined more than 80 spots in the report.
Based on the team’s research of analyzing dozens of locations in and around Manhattan, it estimated that the total number of total crime and disorder calls in Manhattan decreased by about 14% since the program was implemented.
"The city was averaging about 787 such calls per month during 2011 and 2012," Coper wrote in an email. "Our estimates suggest the program reduced that monthly average by 14% (a reduction of approximately 113 calls per month), adjusting for other trends."
RCPD’s program involves analyzing crime trends to identify priority locations by the day or evening shift, officers performing 15-20 minute patrols at these locations once or twice a shift, and keeping track of methods and results.
“It stresses prevention through regular visibility, as well as problem solving at these very precisely targeted locations,” Coper said.
Coper said the team’s studies did not show crime being dispersed to other areas of the county, in fact, it showed a reduction of crime in neighboring areas or otherwise remained stable.
“We think this is good news for Riley County,” he said. “We think this has a broader significance for the policing field. ... This was a program that only required modest changes to patrol operation. It did not require extra resources, they did not have to hire additional officers to do this (and) they did not have to spend a lot of overtime money. ... It emphasized a more targeted effort that did not require aggressive enforcement effort.”
RCPD Director Dennis Butler said use of these evidence-based and flexible strategies is one of the philosophies the department tries to follow.
“The officers are really the ones that come up with the strategies and develop the laser points, which are then implemented across the patrol division,” Butler said. “That ability to be flexible and recognize improvement or changes or new issues and develop specific strategies for each one is critically important for this overall success.”
The George Mason researchers and RCPD Capt. Tim Hegarty have written a paper on the program and its results, which they have submitted to a policing scientific journal for review. Coper said the paper could be published in early 2021.