Gun Violence Programs: Directed Police Patrols

Directed police patrols were first tried in Kansas City, Mo., in the early 1990s. Kansas City police increased traffic enforcement within a neighborhood experiencing high levels of violent crime and, in doing so, seized 65 percent more illegally carried guns. This led to a 50-percent decrease in gun-related crime.

Key elements of directed patrol are that officers are dedicated to the program, do not have to respond to 911 calls and are trained about citizen interaction and gun seizure. Usually both pedestrian and vehicle traffic are stopped, either as a blanketing effort or by targeting suspicious activity.

In 1997, Indianapolis implemented a 90-day directed patrol project similar to the Kansas City program. The project, like the Kansas City study, was conducted as a controlled experiment; in each study, portions of the city were assigned as control areas (called "comparison area" in the Indianapolis study). This allowed for direct comparison of intervention results against crime rates in an area without the intervention (see figure - gun crime declined 6 percent in the areas of intervention but increased 8 percent in the comparison area).

Indianapolis Directed Patrol Project
Change in Gun Crimes for 90-Day Period in 1996 and 1997
Gun CrimesNorth Target AreaEast Target AreaTotal Target AreaComparison Area
1996 (before directed patrol)754211749
1997 (during directed patrol)535711053
Percent Change-29.3+35.7-6.0+8.2

Source — Adapted from Exhibit 6 of Reducing Gun Violence: Evaluation of the Indianapolis Police Department's Directed Patrol Project, by E.F. McGarrell, S. Chermak and A. Weiss, November 2002, NCJ 188740: 11.

The Kansas City and Indianapolis studies were instrumental in showing empirically that hot spots interventions could reduce gun crime. The Indianapolis study also compared one type of directed patrol against another: the North Target area used a focused deterrence strategy while the East Target area used a more general approach (mostly traffic stops).

How did the directed police patrols work? Police worked closely with citizens within the targeted communities to secure community support and address concerns. The officers on patrol were trained to treat citizens with respect and explain the reasons for the stop. That no citizen complaints were received is attributed to this training. The program also did not appear to displace crime to surrounding areas.

For a discussion of whether interventions displace crime to other areas, see Do Prevention and Deterrence Programs Displace Crime to Other Areas?

Indianapolis police selected two city districts that had high rates of crime. Each district used a different strategy. The North District used a targeted deterrence approach that was highly selective as to who was stopped, making fewer stops overall and using less resources. The Eastern District used a broader deterrence strategy that maximized the number of police vehicle stops, thereby creating a sense of significantly increased police presence.

Directed patrols in the North target area reduced gun crime, homicide, aggravated assault with a gun and armed robbery. In the East area, they had no effect on gun-related crime, except for a possible effect on homicide. The researchers believe that the targeted (now commonly called focused) deterrence approach "sent a message of increased surveillance to those individuals most likely" to commit gun-related crimes.

Date Modified: June 5, 2013