Using broken windows policing enhanced by new technology, the police in Philadelphia have brought crime down substantially, as this story from Axis Philly reveals.
Philadelphia is turning the corner on crime.
The latest statistics show sharp decreases in almost every major offense, led by homicide, which is down 30 percent this year compared to the same period in 2012.
It does not end there. The city also has seen double-digit decreases in other major crimes, including robbery and auto theft, and smaller but significant declines in such crimes as aggravated assault and burglary.
At the beginning of July, of the 14 types of major crimes that police track on a weekly basis, nine were at their lowest levels in the last five years.
In looking for the reasons why, experts point to a number of trends. For starters, Philadelphia is riding a tide — crime is down in many big cities, not only in the U.S. but also overseas. For another, broad demographic trends are at work, including fewer people in the crime-prone ages of 18 to 29.
Law enforcement officials look at these numbers and see an additional cause: Smarter policing that is data driven, proactive and community centered. It is policing that relies on the best of the new, such as computer analysis that hones in on ‘hot spots,’ with the best of the old, including a revival of foot patrols…
The old world of policing relied mostly on gut. Now it is being informed by academic research — albeit practical, result-oriented research — which tests crime-fighting approaches with scientific rigor.
The local epicenter for this approach is Temple University’s Center for Security and Crime Science, headed by Jerry Ratcliffe, a former police officer in his native England who turned to academia after a climbing injury ruled out a future in the police.
Ratcliffe arrived in Philadelphia in 2003 and has been working with increasing frequency with the Police Department, particularly under Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
A turning point came in 2009 when Ramsey approved a summer-long experiment in patrolling. It was a random study that centered on the efficacy of foot patrols.
Foot patrols were once the norm in policing. Gradually, they had been abandoned in favor of patrol by car. The assumption was that while foot patrols might make local residents feel better about the police and reduce their fear of crime, they had little or no effect on crime itself.
The Foot Patrol Experiment proved that assumption wrong. In the areas where foot patrols were used in the 2009 study, violent crime went down by 23 percent.
Ramsey and top police officials embraced those findings and foot patrols have become an important part of policing strategy.
Success, though, was built on more than a revival of police officers on foot. What we are seeing today is the end result of a 20-year process that has changed policing. In Philadelphia, it began in the 1990′s with Compstat, the data-based approach to fighting crime. It included more emphasis on community policing to break down the ‘us-vs-them’ thinking that permeated both the community and police. It also embraced the ‘broken window’ theory of crime prevention that calls for police to pay more attention to quality-of-life crimes.