Problem-Solving Hot Spots



Hot spots policing is a law enforcement strategies that focuses on small land areas with high crime rates.  To better address and prevent gun violence, law enforcement agencies focus their resources on very specific locations in a community or neighborhood.  By focusing on solving problems in small areas with high rates of violence, successful efforts can reduce total gun violence across a district or city. While the strategies law enforcement use to address crime problems once an area is identified can vary greatly, more complex and community focused approaches such as multi-disciplinary problem-solving tend to be more effective than mere increased police presence. Hot spot policing uses past and current data to identify high violence areas.  Hot spots policing has a strong research evidence foundation to support its effectiveness in reducing crime in those areas (often without displacing the crime to other locations).1George Mason University Department of Criminology, Law, and Society.  “Hot Spots Policing.” Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy. Last Modified: 2008  Accessed on June 4, 2019.; National Institute of Justice, USDOJ.  “Practice Profile: Hot Spots Policing”.  Accessed on June 4, 2019.


Most research studies that evaluate the effectiveness of hot spots policing show crime or disorder reductions in those specified areas.2Braga, A., Papachristos, A., & Hureau, D. “Hot Spots Policing Effects on Crime.” Campbell Systematic Reviews 8 (2012) DOI: 10.4073/csr.2012.8.

Other benefits

By focusing police and other resources on areas with a high concentration of crime, overall crime in the city should decrease as well.

Necessary Resources

The resources necessary for problem-solving hot spot policing can vary greatly depending on the extent of the violence problem(s) a city faces and the complexity of the policing strategy selected to address the hot spot.  However, the approach is flexible and allows for a wide variety of strategies depending on what resources are available. One necessary component of hot spot policing is a crime analyst (and crime mapping software). Law enforcement agencies already track gun violence and often locations too, but advancements in software allow analysts to identify and link violence patterns with spatial patterns in a variety of ways.  Utilizing analysis (along with community and police practitioner insight) guides intervention strategies and provides credibility to the decision-making process. (See “Resources” section for more information on crime mapping software and use).

Strategy in Practice


The first step in implementing hot spots policing is for you to identify a targeted area to address. The size of a hot spot area can vary depending on the overall size of a city or the type(s) of gun violence problems.  A hot spot area can be as small as a specific building or address. It can also be a series of street blocks or a cluster of locations. Crime mapping software (spatial analysis) can be used to help you pinpoint hot spot areas, however there is no one standardized way to define an area.  Often, a combination of technology, gun violence statistics, police knowledge, and crime analyst experience is utilized to determine an area of focus.3Eck, J., Chainey, Cameron, Leitner, and Wilson. Mapping Crime: Understanding Hot Spots., Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, 2005.

Once you have identified hot spot(s) in your city, local law enforcement should partner with community leaders to select and implement a strategy.  The type and extent of violence, as well as resources available, will influence what type of approach you select. Strategies can include increased foot and car patrols and other traditional policing activities. However, research has shown that problem-oriented hot spot strategies can have greater and longer lasting impacts on crime reduction.4Taylor, B., Koper, and Woods. “A Randomized Control Trial of Different Policing Strategies at Hot Spots of Violent Crime.” Journal of Experimental Criminology 7 (2011)149-181.; Braga, A., Hureau, D., & Papachristos, A. “An ex post facto evaluation framework for place-based police interventions.” Evaluation Review 35, no.6 (2012) 592-626. Problem-oriented policing looks at crime from a community perspective and aims to address the underlying issues that cause or impact crime in the area.  (See “Resources” section for additional information about Problem-oriented policing.)

Common Barriers

The cost and upkeep of technology/software (plus qualified personnel to operate and interpret data) to perform in depth spatial gun violence analysis could be an obstacle for some police agencies.  However, many departments across the country are already using some form of location analysis to inform law enforcement strategies.5Weisburd, D., Mastrofski, S., McNally, A., Greenspan, R., & Willis, J. “Reforming to preserve: Compstat and strategic problem solving in American policing.” Criminology and Public Policy 2 (2003) 421 – 456. Available funding can also cause challenges as the selected implementation strategies become more complex.

Agencies, Organizations, and Other Necessary Partners

Your local law enforcement agencies would lead a problem-solving hot spot policing initiative in coordination with neighborhood leadership.  Depending on the strategies selected to address violence, other organizations may also be involved such as (but not limited to) probation and parole, youth services, court systems, social services, and the mayor’s office.

What else you need to know

A major attribute of hot spot policing is its flexibility.  Law enforcement and other stakeholders get to use empirical data to inform their decision-making on how to address specific crime problems in specific areas.  Since there is no one solution, this approach allows for several factors to be considered such as available resources and personnel, funding, potential partners, etc.

Newsroom & Resources

  • Hot Spots Policing – National Institute of Justice

    The National Institute of Justice provides a brief overview of hot spots policing along with a summary of supporting academic research.

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  • Violent Crime in America: What We Know About Hot Spots Enforcement

    National Institute of Justice published a report discussing hot spot mapping and analysis techniques (including software) as well as when it is appropriate to use each one (August 2005).

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  • Hot Spots Policing – The Center for Evidence-based Crime Policy

    The Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University provides a review of hot spots policing with academic research and case study results

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  • Problem-Oriented Policing: Reflections on the First 20 Years

    A commonly referred to policing approach is Problem-Oriented Policing which pushes law enforcement to look at community concerns and issues, and to use a variety of strategies (often outside of traditional policing) to find the best response. This document reviews the origins of Problem-Oriented Policing and discusses how the approach has been implemented over time. This approach has been studied along with hot spots policing as an effective method for reducing crime.

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