Should Police Concentrate on Hot Spots or Hot People?

It was a simpler time in 1973 when I first entered the world of policing as a beat officer.  There were no cell phones, no Twitter and certainly no Facebook.  Tracking criminals and the  relationships between criminals was a pencil and paper exercise.

The Winnipeg Police Department kept a list that all rookies were first exposed to during training.  The list was called ‘Local Active Criminals’.  Officers were expected to stay familiar with that list which changed from time to time as members on the list either were killed, received long prison sentences, or as new up and comers were added to the list.  Officers were required to be able to recognize criminals on the list on sight, and whenever they were seen it was the obligation of each officer to stop and interview them and then submit a spot check form.  It was the Department’s way of tracking what these people were doing, who they were with and establish where they were currently residing.  It was a simple yet effective way of tracking the activities and relationships that existed within the group.

Recently the Chicago Police Department ( yes,’ Department’ in the United States  many police agencies have resisted the notion that they need to become a ‘Service’ versus a ‘Department’) has launched a social media based network analysis process that maps the relationships between Chicago’s 14,000 most active gang members.  This analysis assists police in establishing how likely it is that members of the group will kill someone, or be killed.  For example, the analysis has determined that members of the groups are between 300 and 400 times more likely to be killed than the average citizen.

Chicago and other American cities including Boston and San Francisco are making extensive use of social media to track gang activity and arrest gang members.

This has led some to conclude that in many cases instead of concentrating on ‘hot spots’ police should concentrate on ‘hot people’, much like back in 1973 when Winnipeg police concentrated on local active criminals.  Aspects of the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy used that approach, identifying a group of high risk offenders who were stealing large numbers of cars and concentrating their efforts on those people, as opposed to the  geographical areas where the cars were being stolen from.  That worked out quite well as auto theft rates in Winnipeg have plummeted since that approach was adopted.

Maybe its time that police in general start paying more attention to people as opposed to places in their quest to  reduce and prevent crime.  ‘Hot people’ policing may be more effective than ‘hot spot’ policing.

7 comments on “Should Police Concentrate on Hot Spots or Hot People?

  1. John Matthews says:

    Interesting comment, Menno! Glad to see that you have these posts back in operation. I always look forward to reading them.


  2. Menno Zacharias says:

    There will no doubt be more, now that the golf season is coming to an end.


  3. SYSOP says:

    And every vehicle known LAC’s had access to was included on the list. A vehicle stop wasn’t even necessary to keep track of who was seen where and with whom to submit the form – and any stops that were done didn’t require other cars to attend – as is now routine for all traffic stops for some bizarre reason.

    Having your eyes open and being aware of LAC’s was one of the things that got uniformed cops a tryout in temporary plain clothes details when there was a problem with robberies & B&E’s in an area.

    Maybe being hired on walking a beat, and not getting a gun until you got your training months later wasn’t great for safety of both the cop and public, but you learned people skills very quickly instead of relying on a gun. You learned who the local people were, and they got to know who you were which translated into a measure of public trust.

    It irritates me to hear crews self assigning to an incident or call, which usually involves cops driving at high rates of speeds across the city and falling over one another over some nickle and dime 7/11 “robbery” which usually turns out to be little more than a glorified theft.

    I understand society has changed in 40 years, but anyone that thinks the bad guys didn’t have guns and hunting knives back then and claims it’s more dangerous for cops now is living in a fools paradise.

    There’s too many cops now that think it’s a profession instead of a career. The distinction may be somewhat subtle as in it’s something you learn by experience, not something that you go to classes to get position.


  4. chrows25 says:

    So it was golf, glad to hear it was nothing worse. I agree with this post, we know from our tiny area of the city it is the individuals that are involved in crime. One fond mother of a brood of delinquents has become the focus of criminal activity where ever she lives, we can drive around the community and notice the complete change in an apt. block or rooming house as she moves out.
    Looking forward to more posts, Chris Burrows


  5. Paul K says:

    While the use of various crime mapping/analysis systems was always restricted by limitations of the computer programs and staff ( read-BUDGETS) they required, I also suspected that police agencies ( skipped both the controversial words) were dancing around the social trend to avoid blaming or profiling people based on their past behavior.
    Nice to hear that someone once again is publicly considering an accountability based concept where we accept that some people just need to be tracked based on their past behavior and associations.
    Menno, we all know you will find a place and time to pursue those cruel little white balls, so keep swinging!!!


  6. Tom Lillyman says:

    Great article but using golf as an excuse for not writing more often, ???


  7. […] city fragility also requires devoting more resources to mitigating violence committed by ‘hot people‘. Young unemployed males with a criminal record are statistically more likely to be repeat […]


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