The possible "backfire" effects of hot spots policing: An experimental assessment of impacts on legitimacy, fear and collective efficacy

David Weisburd*, Joshua C. Hinkle, Christine Famega, Justin Ready

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Objectives: To examine the impacts of broken windows policing at crime hot spots on fear of crime, ratings of police legitimacy and reports of collective efficacy among residents of targeted hot spots. Methods: A block randomized experimental design with a police intervention targeting disorder delivered to 55 treatment street segments with an equal number of segments serving as controls. Main outcomes were measured using a panel survey of 371 persons living or working in these sites. Results: The broken windows police intervention delivered to crime hot spots in this study had no significant impacts on fear of crime, police legitimacy, collective efficacy, or perceptions of crime or social disorder. Perceptions of physical disorder appear to have been modestly increased in the target areas. Conclusions: The findings suggest that recent criticisms of hot spots policing approaches which focus on possible negative "backfire" effects for residents of the targeted areas may be overstated. The study shows that residents are not aware of, or much affected by, a three hour per week dosage of aggressive order maintenance policing on their blocks (in addition to routine police responses in these areas). Future research needs to replicate these findings focusing on varied target populations and types of crime hot spots, and examining different styles of hot spots policing.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)297-320
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Experimental Criminology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This research was supported by grant no. 2007-91116-MD-IJ from the National Institute of Justice. The authors would like to thank Chief Jim Bueerman of the Redlands Police Department, Chief Jim Doyle of the Ontario Police Department and Chief Bob Miller of the Colton Police Department for their willingness to participate in an experimental study, and for their support throughout the project. Appreciation is also due to a number of graduate students who assisted with the project: Jill Christie for her tireless work supervising the survey data collection and data entry; Julie Willis for her invaluable assistance with data cleaning and geocoding; and Cody Telep, Dave McClure and Breanne Cave for their valuable comments on, and edits to, early drafts of this manuscript. Finally, thanks are also due to the anonymous peer reviewers for their helpful feedback.


  • Broken windows
  • Disorder
  • Fear of crime
  • Hot spots policing
  • Legitimacy


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