The purpose of this paper is to evaluate an experiment to improve residents’ opinions of the police in Portland, Oregon. Officers conducted community engagement patrols (CEPs) in 60 high-crime areas. The CEPs prioritized non-investigative contacts with community members to build trust and promote positive police–community interactions in designated high-crime locations. It is hypothesized that community members living in/near intervention sites would report greater exposure to officers, more positive interactions and feel more positively about police than residents in control areas.
In total, 90 crime hot spots were identified using crime reports and calls for service. Locations were randomized into three groups: 2 CEPs/day (n=30), 4 CEPs/day (n=30), and control (i.e. no supplemental patrols, n=30). Officers were dispatched to treatment locations via the computer-aided dispatch system for 90 consecutive days, resulting in 16,200 scheduled CEPs. Surveys were mailed to 11,760 households immediately after the intervention ended and 1,537 were returned (13.1 percent).
Residents from intervention areas reported a higher number of positive police contacts, whereas contacts that residents perceived as negative did not differ between the three conditions. Community attitudes, including perceived police legitimacy, were generally unaffected by CEP dosage.
This paper documents the outcomes of a large-scale field experiment seeking to improve public attitudes toward police using directed CEPs in crime hot spots. Whereas the intervention succeeded in providing more opportunities for positive contact with police, attitude change may necessitate longer-term strategies.
This project was supported by Grant No. 2014-WY-BX-0004 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Office for Victims of Crime. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the authors and do not represent the official position or policies of the United State Department of Justice.
This paper forms part of a special section on “Social Police Work and Police Social Work: 100 years after August Vollmer's speech”.
Kahn, K.B., Henning, K., Stewart, G., Renauer, B.C., Peterson, C., Mitchell, R.J., Labissiere, Y. and Sothern, S. (2019), "Public response to community engagement patrols in high crime areas", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 42 No. 5, pp. 917-930. https://doi.org/10.1108/PIJPSM-04-2019-0051
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