Examining the Empirical Realities of Proactive Policing Through Systematic Observations and Computer-Aided Dispatch Data


George Mason University (2020)


Cynthia Lum, Christopher S. Koper, Xiaoyun Wu, William Johnson, and Megan Stoltz

The 2017 National Academies of Sciences (NAS) Committee and Report on Proactive Policing highlighted what we know about the effects of proactive policing practices on crime prevention and police–community relations. However, the evaluation evidence reviewed by the NAS, which largely comes from case studies of carefully managed proactive initiatives, does not provide a basis for estimating how extensively these practices are used or whether they are used in the most effective ways. Accordingly, it is unclear whether police proactivity as practiced on an everyday basis reflects optimal strategies and implementation methods as recommended by the NAS. This study addresses this knowledge gap by analyzing almost 2 million computer-aided dispatch records from four agencies and systematically observing 84 officers for more than 180 hours to better understand the empirical realities of police proactivity. The findings indicate a major difference between the types of proactive interventions supported by research and the practice of everyday police proactivity. Specifically, proactive policing practices are limited in scope and are often implemented in less than optimal ways. A large proportion of proactive activities are also not recorded, rewarded, or supervised, indicating that patrol commanders may have little control over, or awareness of, proactive deployment. From an evidence-based policing perspective, much more effort is needed to record and track proactivity to measure its impacts (both positive and negative) and align it with what we now know about effective proactive activity from research.

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