Addressing the ‘Dirty Little Secret’ of Deterrence: Testing the Effects of Increased Police Presence on Perceptions of Arrest Risk


This study exploits the timing of Operation Safe Streets, a hot spots policing intervention designed to increase officer presence, which occurred during an ongoing longitudinal survey of previously adjudicated adolescents (n = 700). The effect of this intervention is tested using first-difference models of perceptions of arrest risk within-person over time. Sensitivity analyses and falsification tests are also conducted to provide further confidence in the findings. Results show that Operation Safe Streets is related to an increase in perceptions of arrest risk for one’s self, as well as perceptions of other’s arrest risk. This pattern holds for those who were and were not arrested. Furthermore, null findings for the effect of Operation Safe Streets on perceived social costs of punishment, as well as null findings from in-time placebo models, lend strong support that an increase in police officer presence did increase individuals’ perceptions of arrest risk in the months following the intervention. This study is the first to test the perceptual deterrent effect of a police intervention aimed to reduce street crime. It is also one of the first to demonstrate that criminal justice policies impact perceptions of arrest risk. This study adds to our understanding of the success of hot spots policing by suggesting that one pathway for decreased crime is through changes in perceptions of arrest risk.

Journal of Quantitative Criminology