Knowing a Bit of Personal Information About Neighborhood Police Reduces Crime by 5-7%
Researchers have published in Nature journal about how knowing a bit of personal info about neighborhood police reduces crime by 5-7%.
Social & Lifestyle
Simple social cooperation psychology can be as effective as the harshest policing strategies in reducing crime, a new study has found.
Disadvantaged communities in New York City were given the name of a neighborhood police officer, their contact info, and some simple information like favorite food or sports team, and found that over the three-month field test the crime rate reduced 5-7% in and around the community.
The secret to this major result is its exploitation of the simple fact of our species being a social one. If we know something about a stranger, we inherently feel, albeit erroneously, they know something about us in return, even if they don’t know we exist.
69 eligible New York City Housing Authority community developments were split into control and treatment groups. The treatment groups were mailed flyers containing the information of a Neighborhood Coordination Officer (NCO), a key member of the NYCPD that acts as a bridge between law enforcement and residents. The NCOs answered what they felt comfortable answering, and included a contact number. 30 developments didn’t receive any flyers, even though the NCOs were present.
The developments contained 1.5% of the city’s population, but accounted for 3.5% of its total criminal activity, and the authors hypothesized that because humans display this information symmetry, they would feel that because they knew a little about their NCOs, residents capable of engaging in criminal acts would feel more likely to be caught doing so, imagining falsely that the NCO knew something about them.
Indeed, crime was reduced 5-7% in the treatment area, but not in the control area, during a two-month follow up. This reduction fell away eventually, which the authors attribute to the limited scope and light touch of the intervention, and that more sustained contact would result in more sustained reductions in crime.
Putting these results in context, the authors write, a recent meta-analysis of “hotspot” or “proactive” policing policies, show that these heavier-handed strategies have about the same reduction in crime as the information symmetry tactic with the NCOs.
Furthermore, they also tended to diminish in effectiveness rather rapidly, despite being vastly more expensive.
They add that door-to-door visits by police officers have a greater effect on crime reduction than other components of neighborhood policing like a neighborhood watch, for example.
“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,” said Elicia John & Shawn D. Bushway at the RAND Corp, commenting on the findings in Nature.