Directed Patrolling


Directed patrolling simply means to add visible patrols—whether in vehicles or on foot—when and where more crime is expected (i.e., hot spots). The underlying theory is that would-be criminals will be deterred by seeing police patrols.

How Effective Is Directed Patrolling for Different Kinds of Problems?

  • This strategy is somewhat effective for reducing crime in places at elevated risk when used while diagnosing underlying crime problems.

Patrolling Hot Spots

Hot spots are typically identified through geospatial and spatiotemporal crime analyses; they can also be identified via statistical forecasting (i.e., “predictive policing”). The National Institute of Justice provides a guidebook on traditional hot spot analysis (Eck et al., 2005); RAND provides a quick guide (Perry et al., 2013a) and a more-detailed report on predictive policing (Perry et al., 2013b). The International Association of Crime Analysts provides additional information on hot spot analyses, including a white paper on standards, methods, and tools (PDF).

As noted in the guide to problem-oriented policing, evidence suggests that directed patrols are less effective than problem-oriented policing. However, directed patrolling has the advantage that it can be done quickly and without much detailed situational knowledge—agencies can assign more patrolling officers as quickly as hot spots are identified.

The amount of patrol time needed in hot spots is not long; there is some evidence for the “Koper Curve,” which suggests that officers get maximum deterrence from visiting hot spots for 10–16 minutes, at most, about every two hours. Visits should be randomized, so that would-be criminals cannot anticipate when patrols will occur (and thus schedule criminal activities at other times). The Police Foundation provides a quick guide to patrolling hot spots using the Koper Curve rule (PDF).

Tip: It is valuable for agencies to look at directed patrolling not as an end in itself but as the first step of problem-oriented policing—gathering information on crime-generating problems that led to the area being a hot spot. Information-gathering methods can include officers talking to residents to learn about crime threats and problems, as well as officers simply observing and recording environmental features that might contribute to crime.

The directed patrols should not turn into stopping, questioning, frisking, and looking for ways to arrest residents in hot spots as much as possible (i.e., they should not employ zero tolerance and aggressive policing).


In this strategy guide: