The Kansas City Preventative Patrol Experiment

Instructor: Robert Swan

Robert has taught college-level criminal justice courses and has a Masters degree in Criminology and a Doctorate in Public Policy.

In this lesson, you will review the concept of routine police patrols as well as the findings of The Kansas City Preventative Patrol Experiment. You will analyze the relationship between an increased visible police presence and crime reduction.

Police Responses to Crime: Increasing Patrols

Recently, you've noticed an increase in the number of suspicious looking people hanging around in your neighborhood. Furthermore, reports of crime have also increased in your neighborhood, and two of your neighbors have had their cars burglarized in the last week. You are concerned that you may be victimized. You call your local police department to see if they will increase the number of police patrols in your area in the hope that it will reduce crime. To your surprise, the cop on the phone tells you that they are well aware of the problem and have increased the number of police patrols in your area.

Why haven't you noticed? Importantly--and even with an increase in marked police patrols--why does there seem to be an increase in crime? Why aren't enhanced police patrols more obvious to you or to the criminals targeting your neighborhood?

In this lesson, you will gain a better understanding of how the Kansas City Preventative Patrol Experiment attempted to address this set of important public concerns. You will also explore the basic assumptions of deterrence theory and understand the limits of deterring crime through increased police patrols.

The Kansas City Preventative Patrol Experiment (1972-1973)

Marked police patrols are the backbone of policing. Agency leaders, policymakers and the general public place a great deal of importance on the use of marked police patrols as a deterrent to crime.

Deterrence theory assumes, in part, that offenders make a thorough and knowledgeable cost-benefit calculation prior to the commission of a crime. In other words, it is assumed that offenders know all of the risks as well as the rewards they will receive if they get away with a crime. From this perspective, an increase in police patrols would increase the potential risk of getting caught and thereby decrease the number of offenders willing to commit a crime in the patrol area.

The Kansas City Preventative Patrol Experiment was designed to test the assumptions of deterrence theory in relation to marked police patrol. In particular, researchers wanted to see if an increase in police patrols could lead to a decrease in crime and a decrease in the public's fear of crime.

The researchers split the South Patrol District in Kansas City into three areas, or 'beats,' in which police patrols would be intentionally altered. In the first beat, proactive patrols were used - police patrols were increased by two or three times the usual level. In the second beat, reactive patrols were used - there were no routine patrols used at all (though officers continued to respond to calls for service). The third beat acted as a control beat - all routine patrols were kept at the same level they were prior to the start of the experiment.

In order to understand the patrol experiment's impact on crime, researchers used data from four sources: victimization surveys, crime data (as reported to the agency), departmental arrest data and data drawn from a survey of businesses in the patrol experiment area. Using these data, researchers were able to somewhat mitigate the problems inherent in using only one source of data and come to a few conclusions about the effect of police patrol on crime.

Findings and Limits of Research

Researchers found that citizens did not perceive a difference in police patrols and the level of police patrol had no impact on crime or fear of crime among citizens. Crime did not increase in areas where there was no routine patrol and did not decrease in areas where there was an increase in routine patrol. As researchers are careful to point out, however, this does not necessarily mean that police patrol or the presence of marked police cars have no effect.

Researchers concluded that there was a 'residual deterrence' effect. Simply, this is the effect caused by police units (parole and probation; juvenile units, and 911 calls to the area by outside agencies or participating agencies) entering the experimental area in order to respond to calls for service or go about their normal daily routine. The public, seeing these responses, simply assumed that police patrols were the same as they always were.

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