Hot Spot Policing and Serious Assaults in Fortitude Valley

Hot Spot Policing in Fortitude Valley

Hot Spot Policing and Serious Assaults in Fortitude Valley


By using Hot Spot Policing theory this essay will address the crime problem of Serious Assaults in the Queensland region of Fortitude Valley and seek to outline why this problem should be considered urgent. Firstly, this paper will define the crime problem being addressed, how it relates to the region, what is the context of the problem and what defines it as urgent. Secondly, this paper will examine and discuss the current literature regarding Hot Spot policing strategies and CompStat/technological innovation strategies to develop the suggested intervention. And finally, this paper will discuss how those strategies will be applied to this specific crime problem via a tailored intervention and the expected impact this type of intervention would have. Throughout this paper, both empirical research as well as data from the Queensland Police Service will be used to present context around the crime problem of Serious Assaults, and the strategies employed in the proposed intervention.

Defining the Crime Problem

Fortitude Valley is an entertainment district in Brisbane, known for its pubs and clubs and various entertainment venues (Brisbane City Council, 2014). These venues attract large numbers of visiting patrons and, with large gatherings at entertainment venues, altercations invariably occur (Sivarajasingam, Morgan, Shepherd, & Matthews, 2009). Additionally, there exist copious amounts of evidence describing the links between availability and consumption of alcohol and increased acts of violence and assaults (Choquet, Menke, & Manfredi, 1991; Brewer & Swahn, 2005; Graham & Homel, 2008). In the Queensland Police Service (QPS) 2016-2017 Annual Statistical Review, Serious Assaults saw a significant (16%) increase in this reporting period compared to the previous one. They increased from 9,341 incidents to 10,838. This was the single most substantial category increase that year for Offences Against the Person (Queensland Police Service, 2017). Both the substantial growth of this category and its overall quantity represent an urgent crime problem.

Additionally, with such a significant volume of offences, this category presents the most substantial opportunity for efficient intervention success. Violent assaults tend to be driven by increased risk-taking, defence of honour and alcohol misuse, which are common factors in males (Seedat, Van Niekerk, Jewkes, Suffla, & Ratele, 2009). Not coincidentally the primary victims of Serious Assaults in the Fortitude Valley region tend to be aged between 2039 years (64%) and predominately males (63%) (Queensland Police Service, 2017). However Serious Assaults are not just clustered spatially, they are also grouped temporally, with more than half (58%) of assaults occurring between 11 pm – 3 am, and the vast majority (70%) occurring between Friday – Sunday (Queensland Police Service, 2019). This type and level of temporal clustering allow a possible intervention to be looked at through the lens of the Hot Spot policing strategy.

Literature Review of Hot Spot Policing

In addition to spatial and temporal clustering, crime Hot Spots consider the clustering of offenders and victims (Spelman & Eck, 1989; Martinez, Lee, Eck, & O, 2017). These three clustering dimensions are the basis and primary foundation for Hot Spot policing theory, that crime is concentrated in local clusters, and that through efficient deployment of police resources, crime can be reduced by targeting these clusters (Sherman, Gartin, & Buerger 1989; Weisburd & Telep, 2014). These crime nodes are identified through the mapping and analysis of police reports and other recorded crime data thereby establishing micro geographical locations such as street segments that operate as hubs of criminality (Weisburd, Groff, & Yang, 2012). Weisburd and Telep (2014) showed that the implementation of hot spot policing resulted in statistically significant reductions in crime 20 out of 25 times from a meta-review of studies.

To achieve these results, the hot spot theory sees the prioritisation of Directed patrols over random patrols as an essential tool. Piza and O’Hara (2012) evaluated a year-long study, pre and post-intervention, of a crime Hot Spot and two control group areas and found that by increasing the volume of directed patrols, that street violence was reduced without any displacement to nearby locations. This is further supported by Braga (2001), who showed that these types of focused police interventions do not generally result in crime displacement. It is essential to take displacement into account because if the intervention achieves a reduction in crime in the targeted area, but causes crime levels to rise elsewhere, it is not a successful intervention. Furthermore, public opinion is not specifically damaged long term by implementing Directed Patrols (Kochel & Weisburd, 2017). This is important because Directed Patrols can result in an increased visible police presence in hot spots. Additionally, directed patrols are further favoured in this paper precisely due to the significant levels of crime prevention they provide to assaults (Mugari & Thabana, 2018).

However, directed patrols are not the only hot spot focused intervention tool. Ariel, Weinborn, and Sherman (2016) point out in their study of hot spots (N = 72), that it’s not only hard police power, that is physical boots on the ground, that can impact rates of crime, but also what they’ve termed as soft power which includes, vehicular patrols, less lengthy visits for more frequent visits, and even ununiformed officers or discreet visits that can have a substantial impact. This type of flex of soft power might be preferable to the entertainment venue operators due to possibly less disruption to their business activity. Collectively these studies and papers provide empirical support for the success of the hot spot theory in tackling crime and disorder problems, and that understanding patterns of criminal activity and behaviour, as well as the conditions for how crime clusters into hot spots, is crucial to the effectiveness of this theory.

Literature Review of Police Technological Innovation

Technological innovation goes hand in hand with understanding and identifying hot spots for targeting police activity. Andersen and Hodgkinson (2018) raised in their paper that there is a need for strong analytical skills in determining micro-geographic sections to target. If too small of an area is identified, crime events become rare, and intervention impact can become statistically insignificant. Bruce (2008) discusses in detail how statistical tools like Threshold Analysis when paired with logic-driven computer automation can provide valuable insights and free up police hours, allowing for a more evidence-based target driven police actions. The benefits of this type of advanced statistical analysis are further shown from a 2018 study showing how spatiotemporal Bayesian modelling can help identify emerging trends and patterns in crime while accounting for a diverse range of socioeconomic conditions including education, unemployment and types of surrounding businesses (Hu, Zhu, Duan, & Guo, 2018). This depth of criteria selection is essential because there is no one single reason for the occurrence of crime, and if police activity is going to rely on automation for efficiency, it will need to be robust enough in its calculations and criteria selection to provide enough positive benefits.

However, the substantive advantages start to arrive when you pair these advanced analysis techniques with emerging technologies. Gibson, Slothower and Sherman (2017) showed through the use of innovative technology that they could streamline police time spent at hot spots and secure financial cost savings of up to 40%. This was achieved by measuring police location via GPS coordinates from police radios, and comparing these to pre-defined geo-fenced locations around their targeted hot spots in a popular nighttime entertainment district. By sending officers for 1215 minutes every hour during the high crime and disorder periods, and having their locations tracked and compared with the geo-fenced markers, the officers could receive detailed weekly feedback. This enabled a team of one sergeant and three constables to achieve the same or better outcomes as 40 uniformed officers managing the same sized control group. By utilising these technologies in innovative ways and pairing them with the established hot spot policing strategies, the technology is able to afford a high level of refinement and boost overall police efficiency.

Efficiency and productivity-boosting are further mirrored by Sherman (2013), who promotes a three-tiered system with using recent technology developments to promote police efficiency better. He firstly proposes tracking through the use of GPS mapping and other data records such as body cameras and police device metadata. Secondly, he discusses evidence-based targeting from this data to compare levels of harm associated with people, times, situations and places. Moreover, thirdly, brings up evidence-based testing for ensures police interventions do not inadvertently increase crime or have other detrimental effects. By utilising these principles, it is possible to develop an operational plan to pair emergent technology with hot spot policing theory to tackle the urgent problem of Serious Assaults in Fortitude Valley.

How Hot Spot Policing Applies to Serious Assaults

In developing an intervention for Serious Assaults in Fortitude Valley, one should look at the role that businesses play in passively supporting or providing environments that encourage physical violence. By utilising hot spot policing combined with recent developments in technology and analysing the arrest data from a large number of Serious Assaults, the district could identify areas in need of intervention. There already exists commercial solutions in the private sector to data-based policing problems. Analytical packages like Palantir or Analyst Notebook would provide innumerable insights in tackling Serious Assaults, but unfortunately, licensing these software application packages would be unfeasibly expensive for a district-level pilot program. Instead, the local command can create a small test intervention that would be rolled out in a multi-stage plan ideally for an initial period of 6 months.

Step 1:  Collect and collate available data to identify Serious Assault hot spots. This would be achieved through the analysis of the patron identification that is recorded by venues and matched with both victim and offender identifications from assaults that resulted in calls to police. This would provide us with the starting locations of those individuals, and the end location where the altercation takes place. If these are not the same, we can further collect metadata of cell tower traffic and phone carrier or third-party apps (such as Google location data), to map the highest-trafficked routes between the two locations. From this, we might be able to discern that if a citizen is assaulted on a street corner, that street corner might be known as a high traffic area for patrons leaving a specific establishment, perhaps on to a second venue with later closing times, or a popular late-night food venue, or a taxi rank, you can then use statistical analysis to highlight these highest risk traffic routes and the places most likely for a Serious Assault to occur.

Step 2: Next we need to determine when the highest risk temporally exists for Serious Assaults to occur. This information is already available via the QPS crime reporting. However, it would need to be double-checked with the results from step 1, to ensure the information is still accurate. Here, we would also utilise GPS data to electronically map out the areas identified as the highest perceived risks via geo-fencing. This will allow us to compare the directed patrols performance back to our initial data.

Step 3: After identifying our high-risk traffic areas or street segments, as well as the venue where the majority of offending patrons will come from, we can then replicate the work done by Gibson, Slothower and Sherman, (2017) by assigning 4-person teams consisting of one senior officer and three junior officers, to rotate through our identified hot spots. Ideally, each group would rotate through 4 hot spots spending 1015 minutes at each identified location each hour. The goal would be to allow the officers to get familiar with the areas they are responsible for and not to overburden them with trying to visit too many locations.

Step 4:  At the end of each week, the officer teams would be gathered to review the results of their patrols. Compare their routes with the geofenced areas to see if they are targeting the right spots, or if the hot spots are fluctuating or need updating due to the police presence. Additionally, feedback regarding the volume of Serious Assaults and other crime statistics can be reviewed and given to the officer at these stages to better evaluated the effect they are having.

Impact Summary

The kind of effect and impact we should expect from this trial can be gleaned from previous hot spot intervention work. Sherman and Weisburd (1995) conducted a one-year randomised trial of 110 hot spots receiving directed patrols and found a varying reduction of crime calls ranging from 6% to 13%. This result is further supported by Cerda, Tracy and Keyes (2018) who conducted an agent-based model simulation study of New York, using a 5% sample of the cities adult population and found that a perfectly implemented Hot Spot policing intervention would reduce city-wide victimisation by 13% (95% CI, [3.32, 3.39]). Perfection in the real world is unlikely, but If a similar rollout could be achieved the rises in serious assaults in this statistical reporting year could be almost entirely reversed.

With this four-stage intervention in place, the local command could expect between a moderate (6% – 13%) reduction in Serious Assaults in the targeted areas. Additionally, there would be cost, and budget savings from freeing up additional police resources as these areas could be managed by a traditionally smaller patrol team than otherwise would be needed for an area of that size. This would allow the local district to utilise these resources targeting other crime and disorder problems that occur in the district, bringing the crime statistics down even further.


 In conclusion, this paper has identified Serious Assaults as an urgent crime problem based on the data presented by the annual QPS statistical review (Queensland Police Service, 2017). It was then reviewed and explained how the policing strategy of hot spot policing could impact crime, and when paired with emerging technology provide additional efficiency and cost-saving benefits when compared against traditional policing methods. Finally, this paper then presents an operational proposal for how hot spot policing paired with technological innovation could help solve the urgent crime problem of Serious Assaults in Fortitude Valley and discusses the expected impact this proposed rollout might have by reducing Serious Assaults by 6% – 13% in the target intervention areas, as well as freeing up police capital and resources to better target and allocate towards other crime problems in the district.

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