Evidence-based policing

Strategy overview

  • Data-informed decision-making: Evidence-based policing uses research and data analysis to set goals (i.e. reducing violent crime in a particular neighborhood or improving community relations) and identify specific strategies to achieve them. Ongoing data analysis informs all aspects of police activity, from officers’ daily patrols to department-wide tactics and procedures. This often requires dedicated staff for research, data collection, and analysis.
  • Taking a place-based approach: A leading practice within evidence-based policing is the strategic allocation of departmental resources to locations where they will have a maximum impact in reducing crime and maintaining safety (sometimes known as problem-oriented policing). Oftentimes, police departments use data analysis and/or community insights to identify “hot spots,” small geographic areas (ranging from a single building to several blocks) where violent crime is most likely to occur. Once those locations are identified, police can employ a range of tactics (i.e. increased police presence, installing flood lights and video cameras) to disrupt or deter violence.
  • Focusing crime deterrence: Another widely-used, evidence-based policing model is identifying and deterring particular forms of crime (i.e. gun violence) by directly engaging with individuals or small groups at a high risk for recidivism. In many cases, focused deterrence also includes community members like faith leaders and/or social service providers. Ultimately, successful focused deterrence efforts may result in an individual both disengaging from dangerous behavior and connecting with community resources, like employment training or mental health services.
  • Partnering with the community: Many evidence-based policing strategies include a high degree of engagement with community groups, residents, and civic leaders — sometimes known as community-oriented policing. This often includes significant data collection on community attitudes toward police, perceptions of safety, and recommendations on deterrence tactics. Successful partnerships result in better police understanding of neighborhood conditions and contexts, which then inform police tactics and activities to better serve the community.
Target Population
Key Stakeholders
Mayor or County Executive's Office, Police Chief's Office, District Attorney's Office, Community Groups/Members, Program Evaluation Team

What evidence supports this strategy?

Systematic reviews and meta-analyses on a range of evidence-based policing practices consistently find a statistically significant reduction in crime.

  • A 2019 meta analysis on hot-spots policing found a small but statistically significant reduction in reducing crime without displacing it to other areas.

  • A 2019 systematic review found focused deterrence strategies are associated with a moderate reduction in crime.

  • A 2020 systematic review found that problem-oriented policing is associated with statistically significant reductions in crime and public disorder.

  • A 2014 meta-analysis on community policing found the strategy is associated with increased citizen satisfaction, perceptions of disorder, and police legitimacy; however, there were limited effects on crime and fear of crime.

Is this strategy right for my community?

Using evidence-based policing strategies has been shown to improve outcomes predictive of upward mobility. These outcomes, identified by the Urban Institute, are safety from trauma, safety from crime, and just policing.

City and county leaders can assess local conditions for each of these outcomes using the metrics below, identified by the Urban Institute. This assessment can be used to determine whether this strategy is appropriate for their community. (Note: these metrics are a starting point for self-assessment and are not intended to be comprehensive.)

All cities and counties with populations over 75,000 can receive a customized data sheet here.

  • Measuring safety from trauma in your community: Examine the number of deaths due to injury per 100,000 people. These data are available from the National Center for Health Statistics’ Mortality File and the CDC’s WONDER database.

  • Measuring safety from crime in your community: Examine reported property crimes per 100,000 people and reported violent crimes per 100,000 people. These data are available from the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

  • Measuring just policing in your community: Examine the number of juveniles arrested per 100,000. High rates of juvenile arrests provide a strong indicator of overall system involvement and over-policing. These data are available from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Data Explorer.

Best practices in implementation

  • Engage deeply with community members: Local government leaders should facilitate frequent opportunities for community members to engage with police and other law enforcement agencies. This should start during the design phase of any new initiative, continue indefinitely, and take various forms, including public forums, small group interviews, surveys, and more. This may also include a civilian oversight board, which should be empowered to influence police operations.
  • Prioritize comprehensive data collection: Evidence-based policing strategies rely heavily on robust data collection and analysis to inform decision-making. Data collection should therefore be built into all types of police processes. This should include a focus on police activity, including demographic data in all instances, as well as uses of force, officer-involved shootings, and in-custody deaths. Other crucial information for collection includes data produced by residents on police, like complaints and survey responses.
  • Publish data: In order to build public trust and establish a culture of accountability, police data should be regularly published in a way that is easily consumable for residents, such as with visualizations and clear summaries. Hire web developers and/or other technical staff that can manage a website or portal for publishing the data and communicating it to the public.
  • Create opportunities for non-enforcement interactions: Evidence-based policing strategies often rely on engagement with community members. Local government, law enforcement, and civic leaders should work together to create regular opportunities for positive interactions between police and community members. This can include hosting and participating in community events, running youth sports leagues (or encouraging officers to coach/referee), participating in charity drives, and more.
  • Establish channels for frequent stakeholder communication: Most evidence-based approaches to policing require strategic buy-in and data sharing from a wide range of stakeholders, including various law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, local government agencies, community groups, and independent evaluators like universities. Create formal spaces and regular opportunities, like monthly homicide reviews, for stakeholders to share and discuss data, identify successes and challenges, and set priorities.

Evidence-based examples

Policing approach based on collaborative partnerships between police and local community organizations
Supportive neighborhoods
Coalition of law enforcement and community actors use an array of strategies to reduce the frequency of specific types of crime
Supportive neighborhoods
Allocates police resources (such as patrol hours) to areas with the most intensive crime
Supportive neighborhoods
Attempts to reduce homicides and nonfatal shootings through a multidisciplinary and multi-agency homicide review process
Supportive neighborhoods
Volunteer group of community members who report suspicious or potentially criminal behavior to local law enforcement
Supportive neighborhoods