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The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment: A Groundbreaking Study in Law Enforcement

  • Policing

Context and Objectives

In the early 1970s, the field of law enforcement was largely driven by conventional wisdom and anecdotal evidence. Policymakers and the general public believed that visible police patrols were an effective deterrent to crime. It was in this context that the Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment was conceived and conducted between 1972 and 1973.

The primary objective of this groundbreaking study was to critically assess the effectiveness of routine patrol strategies in crime prevention. In essence, the study sought to answer a fundamental question: Does the mere presence of police patrol cars in an area deter criminal activities?

The Driving Force

The study was a response to growing demands for empirically-based policy decisions in law enforcement. Until then, billions of dollars had been allocated to police departments across the United States, but there was little evidence to support the effectiveness of traditional policing methods. The Kansas City Police Department, in collaboration with the Police Foundation, took on this experiment to provide some of those much-needed answers.

Significance of the Study

The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment is often cited as one of the first studies to apply rigorous scientific methodology to policing. It broke new ground by challenging long-standing beliefs and practices in law enforcement. The significance of the study extends beyond its immediate findings; it set a precedent for how policing strategies could be assessed and improved through empirical research.

Overview of the Experiment

The experiment was conducted in Kansas City, Missouri, and involved 15 different police beats. These areas were chosen to represent a cross-section of the community, ensuring a balanced representation of social, economic, and ethnic factors. Three distinct patrol strategies were employed:

  1. Reactive Patrols: In some beats, police cars were removed, and officers only responded to calls for service.
  2. Standard Patrols: This was the control group where policing continued as usual.
  3. Proactive Patrols: In these beats, the number of police patrols was significantly increased.

Data was collected on a range of variables, including crime rates, response times, and community attitudes toward the police.

What to Expect in Future Posts

In the coming blog posts, we will delve deeper into the specifics of the study’s methodology, scrutinize its key findings, and discuss its broader implications for modern policing. We’ll also provide a balanced critique, pointing out the study’s limitations and exploring its relevance in today’s law enforcement landscape.

By understanding this landmark study, we can better appreciate the challenges and complexities involved in effective policing. This will set the stage for a nuanced discussion on what has changed since the 1970s, what remains the same, and what lessons can be applied to current law enforcement strategies.


Cover Image © Jonathan Goede/KSHB 41
Kelling, G.; Pate, A.; Dickman, D.; Brown, C (1974). “The Kansas City preventive patrol experiment: A technical report“. Police Foundation.

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