Hot-spot policing, in which officers increase patrols in areas identified as having a disproportionate amount of crime is used by law enforcement agencies to proactively protect communities. But use of the technique has triggered questions about whether it eliminates crime or simply pushes criminals into other areas.

Now researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have developed a computer simulation model that answers those questions -- and it could help police departments target their crime-fighting resources more effectively.

"It's been known for decades, probably at least since the 1930s, that crime shows very strong spatial and temporal patterning, meaning it forms hot spots," said Jeffrey Brantingham, an associate professor of anthropology at UCLA. "Beginning in about the 1970s, criminologists and law enforcement officials started to say, 'Well, since crime patterns in this way, wouldn't it be reasonable to put extra policing and crime-prevention strategies and direct them right at those hot spots?'"

Many assumed hot spot policing would just cause the criminals to relocate. However, Brantingham said there actually are only a few instances where crime displacement has been observed.

About four years ago, UCLA researchers created a mathematical computer simulation model of crime pattern formation. The model led them to identify two types of crime hot spots that react differently to increased policing - one that relocates and another that dissolves.

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Elaine Pittman Elaine Pittman  |  Managing Editor

Managing Editor Elaine Pittman has nearly a decade of experience in writing and editing, having started her career with The Coloradoan daily newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo. Elaine joined Government Technology in 2008 as a copy editor. She can be reached via email and @elainerpittman on Twitter.