New Study Finds That Knowing Some Personal Information About Neighborhood Police May Deter Crime


A new study has found that by having simple social relationships with the neighborhood police is just as effective as some of the toughest policing strategies when it comes to reducing crime.

In one disadvantaged community in New York City, residents were given the name, contact information, and some other simple information of the police officers that patrol their areas, such as their favorite sports teams or food, and after a field test was done over a period of three months, the crime rate in and around that community actually lessened by 5-7%.

Apparently, researchers believe that the reason behind this so-called success was due to the fact that the human species is a social one. It means that when people know something about a virtual stranger, we end up inherently feeling as if they know something about us too –informally called information symmetry – regardless of whether or not this is actually true.

For the study, the researchers took 69 eligible New York City Housing Authority community developments which they split into control and treatment groups. As for the treatment groups, they were mailed flyers that had information about their Neighborhood Coordination Officer (NCO). The NCO works as a vital member of the NYCPD in order to bridge the gap between residents and law enforcement. The NCOs were made to put information they felt comfortable sharing, as well as a contact number. Meanwhile, in 30 developments, they weren’t given any flyers with NCO information, although there were NCOs present in their areas.

These developments contained ‘1.5% of the city’s population, but accounted for 3.5% of its total criminal activity.’ According to the authors, they surmised that due to this “information symmetry” felt by humans, because of the little information that they had on their NCOs, the residents that could possibly engage in criminal acts would be less likely to do so because they think their NCOs know something about them.

Moreover, during a two-month follow up of the study, in the treatment area, crime was reduced by 5-7%, although it was not in the control areas. Eventually, this reduction did fall away, to which the authors claim was due to the limited scope and light touch of the intervention. Should there have been more or longer sustained contact with the NCOs, they do believe that the result would have had a longer sustained reduction in crime.

The study can be found in the journal Nature, and the authors explain that in a recent meta-analysis of “hotspot” or “proactive” policing policies, that the usual or regular types of strategies when dealing with crime result in the ‘same reduction as the information symmetry tactic with the NCOs’ does.

In addition, the usual type of strategies tend to lessen in their effectivity quite quickly, while also being much more expensive as well. The authors also note that door-to-door visits by police officers also have a ‘greater effect on crime reduction than other components of neighborhood policing’ such as the neighborhood watch that many communities practice.

Commenting on the findings in Nature, Elicia John & Shawn D. Bushway at the RAND Corp say, “The possibilities of such findings are potentially exciting, because the work implies that a police officer who is perceived as a real person can prevent crime without tactics such as the New York City police department’s ‘stop, question and frisk,’ policy, which tended to create animosity between community members and the police.”


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