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Soft Policing at Hot Spots: Do Police Community Support Officers Work? A Randomized Controlled Trial


Ariel, Weinborn, & Sherman (2016)


1) To determine whether crime-reduction effects of increased police patrols in hot spots are dependent on the "hard" threat of immediate physical arrest, or whether "soft" patrols by civilian (but uniformed) police staff with few arrest powers and no weapons can also reduce crime

2) To assess whether the number of discrete patrol visits to a hot spot was more or less important than the total minutes of police presence across all visits

TREATMENT Soft-policing was introduced by implementing Police Community Support Officers (PSCOs) to patrol several crime hotspots. PSCOs are citizens entitled to wear uniforms that look very much like that of police, but have far less powers than police officers can exercise. Pasco's are non-warranted, cannot carry firearms, and are not allowed to investigate crimes. However, they have the power to deal with specific minor offenses and issue on-the-street fines for offenses Pasco's have witnessed.


1) Results show 39% less reported crimes from PSCO conditions compared to control conditions, and a 20% reduction in emergency calls-for-service compared to controls.

2) Crime in surrounding areas showed a diffusion of benefits rather than displacement for treatment hot spots compared to controls.

3) More proactive patrols predicted less crime across treatment hot spots, while more reactive PCSO time predicted more crime across control hot spots.


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