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The Kansas City Experiment: A Landmark Study in Policing Practices

Introduction

The Kansas City experiment was the first large-scale scientific study of law enforcement practices. It is by far the most famous application of social research principles to police management. The results of the year-long Kansan City Experiment were published in 1974. 

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The study divided the southern part of Kansas City into 15 areas. Five beats were patrolled in the usual fashion. In another group of five beats, patrol activities were doubled. The final third of the beats had no patrols at all, and no uniformed officers entered that area unless someone called them. They kept the program secret, and citizens were unaware of the difference between the city’s patrolled and unpatrolled parts. 

Results

The results of the Kansas City experiment were surprising. Records of preventable crimes such as burglary, robbery, auto theft, larceny, and vandalism showed no significant differences in the rate of occurrence among the three experimental beats.

Similarly, citizens did not notice the change in patrol patterns in the two areas where the study changed the patrol frequency.

Surveys conducted after the experiment showed no difference in citizens’ fear of crime before and after the study.

Conclusion

The 1974 study can be summed up in the idea of riding around in cars to create a feeling of omnipresence that just has not worked. The study has been credited with beginning the now-established tradition of scientific studies of policing.

A second Kansas City study focused on response time. It found that even consistently fast police response to citizen reports of crime had little effect on citizen satisfaction with the police or suspects’ arrest. The study uncovered that most reports made to the police came only after a considerable amount of time had passed. Hence, the police were initially handicapped by the report’s timing, and even the fastest police response was not especially useful.


 

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