To test the effects of short-term police patrol operations using license plate readers (LPRs) on crime and disorder at crime hot spots in Mesa, Arizona.
The study employed a randomized experimental design. For 15 successive 2-week periods, a four-officer squad conducted short daily operations to detect stolen and other vehicles of interest at randomly selected hot spot road segments at varying times of day. Based on random assignment, the unit operated with LPRs on some routes and conducted extensive manual checks of license plates on others. Using random effects panel models, we examined the impact of these operations on violent, property, drug, disorder, and auto theft offenses as measured by calls for service.
Compared to control conditions with standard patrol strategies, the LPR locations had reductions in calls for drug offenses that lasted for at least several weeks beyond the intervention, while the non-LPR, manual check locations exhibited briefer reductions in calls regarding person offenses and auto theft. There were also indications of crime displacement associated with some offenses, particularly drug offenses.
The findings suggest that use of LPRs can reduce certain types of offenses at hot spots and that rotation of short-term LPR operations across hot spots may be an effective way for police agencies to employ small numbers of LPR devices. More generally, the results also provide some support for Sherman’s (1990) crackdown theory, which suggests that police can improve their effectiveness in preventing crime through frequent rotation of short-term crackdowns across targets, as it applies to hot spot policing.