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Policing the homeless: An evaluation of efforts to reduce homeless-related crime

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Research Summary

Police officials across the United States are increasingly relying on place-based approaches for crime prevention. In this article, we examine the Safer Cities Initiative, a widely publicized place-based policing intervention implemented in Los Angeles's “Skid Row” that focused on crime and disorder associated with homeless encampments. Crime reduction was the goal. The police division in which the program was undertaken provides 8 years of time-series data serving as the observations for the treatment condition. Four adjacent police divisions in which the program was not undertaken provide 8 years of time-series data serving as the observations for the comparison condition. The data are analyzed using a generalized additive model. On balance, we find that this place-based intervention is associated with meaningful reductions in violent, property, and nuisance street crimes. There is no evidence of crime displacement.

Policy Implications

This study provides further evidence that geographically targeted police interventions can lead to significant crime prevention benefits, with no evidence that crime is simply displaced to other areas. Criminologists and the media have given the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) little credit for major reductions in crime that have occurred during the past 5 years following a number of major policy reforms. We suggest that researchers should look more closely at the targeted interventions the LAPD has undertaken for evidence-based examples of effective policing. Importantly, this work suggests that crime associated with homeless encampments can be meaningfully reduced with targeted police actions. However, law enforcement actions do not address the roots of homelessness nor most of its consequences. Getting tough on the homeless should not be confused with policies or programs that respond fundamentally to the social and personal problems that homelessness presents.
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Keywords: generalized additive model; homelessness; place-based policing; police

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Professor in the departments of statistics and criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. 2: Associate professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Publication date: November 1, 2010

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