Podcast Discusses Issues with Policing ‘Hotspots’ and Their Recent Increase in Popularity

By Ankita Joshi

WASHINGTON, DC – Over the last couple years, many cities in the U.S. have seen an increase in the number of homicides.

This increase in homicide has resulted in an increased pressure on local police chiefs and departments to make changes in the way that they approach crime.

In this week’s podcast, the Washington Post Reports reviewed network investigations and their recent increase in popularity, regardless of their troubling history associated with the death of Breonna Taylor.

Amy Brittain, an investigative reporter with the Washington Post, describes place networking investigations (PNIs)—or “hotpots”—as a “philosophy that focuses on places. And how places allow criminal networks to form and thrive, and what can be done to break up these patterns of crime.”

Dr. David Weisberg, a criminologist and an advocate of PNIs, notes that places are very important in policing, especially when in many cities about five percent of the streets in a city are responsible for 50 percent of all the city’s crime.

As a result, proponents of this method contend that the police should be allocating their resources to these so-called “hotspots.”

In the mid-2010s, after growing evidence that this method was effective, most cities in the nation had adopted aspects of this policy, the podcast notes.

Dr. Tamara Herold, another advocate for this method of policing, brings up the question: “Why does this area have a concentration of crime?” She deems these hotspots as “sticky “areas where crime keeps coming back to the same locations.

This added approach recommended that police departments send in more people to change areas in a more “holistic” way, including the housing department, utilities, etc.

An example of the employment of this method was in Cincinnati where people were keeping guns in wild overgrown grass, but not on their person, to have them close during drug deals.

Once the police department had mowed the grass, the hotspot saw a more than 80 percent reduction in shootings in that area.

After this tremendous decrease, other police departments in the nation started to take notice, the Post podcast discussed.

In Louisville, Kentucky, a similar program was implemented where the police started documenting the cars that were continuously driving near a certain avenue that was heavily linked with crime.

Critiques of their approach said police used exceedingly extreme measures to apprehend mid- to low-level drug offenders. And this program reached its climax when police forced themselves into Breonna Taylor’s apartment in the middle of the night and killed her.

Sam Aguilar, Taylor’s family’s attorney, placed blame on the use of the PNI in Taylor’s death, noting that it was a “misguided, [and] possibly dangerous” approach.

“The goal was disruption in a violent crime area in a specific place, and going to Breonna’s place was not doing that,” he stated in an interview.

When asked, Herold, however, disagreed with Aguilar, stating that Taylor’s death was an anomaly and not representative of the total model.

And while Louisville ended the use of their technique several months after Taylor’s death, other cities have become open to implementing similar models.

Dallas, Texas, is one example of these cities.

After a huge spike in homicides in 2020, the city introduced a new crime reduction plan that targets the 50 most concentrated areas of crime and placed PNIs in them.

As a part of her investigation, Brittain visited Dallas and went along for several ride-alongs with police, and also spoke to many members of the community impacted by this policing style.

She was able to speak to some women who seemed to be living in an abandoned house, and asked their thoughts on whether they found PNIs to be effective.

“Them doing their job doesn’t bother me; the way they do it f***ing bothers me,” responded one woman, citing that the police will misuse their badge and target groups of Black people, while also intruding in their lives when they weren’t doing anything wrong.

Police Chief Eddie Garcia noted these concerns, and brought up that one of the core tenets of this method is to solve problems without arresting people.

He also agreed that “reducing crime at the expense of losing community trust is failure.”

In another ride-along, Brittain was able to witness the arrest of a young Black man who was pulled over for a traffic stop under the probable cause that the smell coming out of his car was marijuana.

And while the police did not find anything worthy of arrest, he did have two unpaid traffic tickets which was enough for officers to place him under arrest.

Brittain was also able to interview some other witnesses in the area who had seen the whole traffic stop go down.

One man who was interviewed argued in favor of the police, as he was just trying to raise his two kids, and wanted them to grow up in an area with reduced crime.

On the other hand, the other two young men who were in the car with the offender noted that the police “treat me as they treat the average Black man in America,” and then do not show up when they are actually needed.

Dr. Andre G. Ferguson, a law professor and a critic of this type of policing, contends that “this policing tactic allows for more justifications from the police, as [these areas are] now a data point.”

He continued by calling this a “self-fulfilling prophecy” because, if the police are focusing all their attention on a certain area, then of course they would see more crime in that area in comparison to the other areas where there isn’t a lot of policing.

Homicides in Dallas have gone down 13 percent and violent crime was down nine percent since the implementation of the PNI, but it is also noted by critics it’s impossible to prove that this decline is attributed to this policing approach

About The Author

Ankita Joshi is a second-year student at the University of San Francisco, pursuing a major in International Studies and a minor in Political Science. She is originally from Sacramento, CA.

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