Proactive policing shows promise, report finds


Associate Professor Emily Owens recently contributed to national report on proactive policing.

Normally, police respond to crime once it occurs. In contrast, proactive policing involves police departments actively seeking to prevent or reduce crime before it happens.

A large body of research has found that most of the proactive measures work, at least in the short term.  A smaller number of studies have identified few negative effects on community relations with the police, according to Emily Owens, an associate professor of criminology, law and society who recently contributed to an overview report on proactive policing by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Proactive methods include Stop-Question-Frisk, algorithms that predict crime locations, deterrence measures that seek to better understand underlying causes of crime and broken windows policing methods that aim to restore neighborhood orderliness.

However, little research has addressed possible racial biases in proactive policing methods – a key possibility especially for methods like Stop-Question-Frisk.

“We really need more studies to get to the bottom of this question, of whether proactive policing measures are enforced with racial bias,” Owens says. “Communities, police departments and activists all need empirical information about racial bias so they can make and advocate for better policies that keep communities safe while protecting the rights of everyone.”

Additionally, some methods, such as Stop-Question-Frisk, face legal challenges and could violate the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

The long-term effects of proactive policing, and those at larger jurisdictional levels such as a whole city, are also so far unknown.