Policing the Homeless: An Evaluation of Efforts to Reduce Homeless-related Crime

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 23 August 2011



(2011), "Policing the Homeless: An Evaluation of Efforts to Reduce Homeless-related Crime", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 34 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/pijpsm.2011.18134caa.002



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Policing the Homeless: An Evaluation of Efforts to Reduce Homeless-related Crime

Policing the Homeless: An Evaluation of Efforts to Reduce Homeless-related Crime

Article Type: Perspectives on policing From: Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, Volume 34, Issue 3

Richard Berk and John MacDonald,Criminology and Public Policy,Vol. 9,2010,pp. 813-840

Central Los Angeles has long been home to concentrated clusters of the city’s homeless. “Skid Row,” as it is commonly known, features frequent incidents of prostitution, drug sales, robbery, and property offenses. In response to growing concern voiced by local businesses, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) instituted the Safer Cities Initiative (SCI) in an effort to thin enclaves of the homeless seen as a hazard to the public health and safety. Under the SCI LAPD officers adopted “broken windows”-style of enforcement by issuing fines and citations to transients and specifically targeting prostitution and other public order crimes. Further, the LAPD sought to maintain a conspicuous public presence in the targeted areas before proceeding towards other locations. A pilot test of the SCI, known as the “Main Street Project,” was launched in downtown Los Angeles area in September of 2005.

In this study, Berk and MacDonald (2010) examine the effects of this intervention on three categories of crime within the Central-area Division under the watch of the LAPD’s Central Bureau: nuisance crime (commonly believed to be associated with the homeless), violent crime, and property crime. The Central Division was chosen as the unit of experimentation as it is home to the “Skid Row” area as well as a majority of the downtown area. The study also used collocated divisions within the Central Bureau as comparison sites due to their similarities (command structure, demography, location) with the Central Division. The authors compiled weekly offense data for the five divisions in the three categories of interest and applied the general additive model, allowing them to control for crime patterns that the experimental unit shared with the comparison units.

As a result, Berk and MacDonald (2010) found that the three broad categories of crime were markedly reduced following the implementation of the Main Street Project. Further, another (albeit smaller) decrease in the number of crimes was observed in the Central Division immediately following the roll-out of the SCI. Further, no subsequent increases in occurrences of the measured crime types (indicative of criminal displacement) have been observed in the contiguous comparison areas; rather, the data show that a limited decrease in crime occurred shortly after the Main Street Project began. The authors are reticent to attribute this to either the Main Street Project or the SCI, as no measures of police behavior were taken during the period in which the decline was observed.

Berk and McDonald (2010) conclude initiatives such as the SCI have a moderate influence in reducing property crime and violent crime, not simply the nuisance crimes oftentimes seen with clustered homeless populations. The authors temper suggested policy implications by noting there was no analysis into whether local transients were the driving force behind such criminal activity. However, through the reduction and elimination of homeless enclaves within the Central Division area, occurrences of these crimes pose a benefit to local business owners, residents, and the homeless (insofar as they are now less-frequently victimized) alike.

Derek M. CohenUniversity of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

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