Backfire Effects of Hot Spot Policing

The possible “backfire” effects of hot spots policing


Journal of Experimental Criminology, Volume 7, Number 4, 297-320, DOI: 10.1007/s11292-011-9130-z


David Weisburd, Joshua C. Hinkle, Christine Famega, and Justin Ready


To examine the impacts of broken windows policing at crime hot spots on fear of crime, ratings of police legitimacy and reports of collective efficacy among residents of targeted hot spots.


A block randomized experimental design with a police intervention targeting disorder delivered to 55 treatment street segments with an equal number of segments serving as controls. Main outcomes were measured using a panel survey of 371 persons living or working in these sites.


The broken windows police intervention delivered to crime hot spots in this study had no significant impacts on fear of crime, police legitimacy, collective efficacy, or perceptions of crime or social disorder. Perceptions of physical disorder appear to have been modestly increased in the target areas.


The findings suggest that recent criticisms of hot spots policing approaches which focus on possible negative “backfire” effects for residents of the targeted areas may be overstated. The study shows that residents are not aware of, or much affected by, a three hour per week dosage of aggressive order maintenance policing on their blocks (in addition to routine police responses in these areas). Future research needs to replicate these findings focusing on varied target populations and types of crime hot spots, and examining different styles of hot spots policing.

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