PIVOT (Place-based Investigations of Violent Offender Territories)
In this guest blog, Dr. Tamara Herold explains the award-winning PIVOT project and how Cincinnati has used it to reduce crime and shootings. You may also want to listen to the half-hour interview she kindly gave to Reducing Crime. The podcast adds additional insight to this fascinating project.
In late 2015, the city of Cincinnati (Ohio) was in crisis. Violence, particularly shootings, was at its highest levels. An officer had been shot and killed in the line of duty. Undesirable national attention and community pressure prompted city officials to look for immediate, police-driven solutions. Subsequent action by the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) resulted in the development of PIVOT, a violence-reduction strategy that ultimately received the 2017 Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing. This highly effective solution, however, was neither immediate nor entirely police-driven. We learned that long-term violence reduction requires new thinking and direction on the part of police administrators, as well as the support and direct involvement of many other city officials.
PIVOT stands for Place-based Investigations of Violent Offender Territories. Its origins stem from a set of circumstances that tends to produce innovative policing strategies: historical struggles, current political crisis, diminishing resources, and a fortunate series of interactions between people who have just the right combination of ideas and experience. A context that Professor Jerry Ratcliffe notes is difficult (see podcast episode #05), if not impossible, to intentionally replicate. But, the resulting PIVOT strategy and lessons learned from this rare happenstance should prove useful to police commanders looking to substantially reduce violent crime and achieve results beyond those produced by traditional suppression efforts.
I studied crime science with Dr. John Eck at the University of Cincinnati. I moved from sunny California to a colder climate specifically because John’s work is useful to police practitioners (for example, he co-developed the SARA process used in police problem-solving). We studied places and assisted CPD officers with place-based policing interventions. In 2015, long after I graduated and began working as a professor in Las Vegas, a CPD commander assembled a team of individuals with whom she previously worked: an academic (me), investigative officers, crime analysts, a city solicitor, and a community resource organizer. A long series of team discussions, analysis, and site observations generated the ideas that formed the PIVOT strategy.
PIVOT is similar to other policing strategies in that it focuses on high crime places. We found that over 40 percent of all shooting victims were shot in small areas we called micro-locations. We identified 23 violent micro-locations, each about one- to two-square blocks in size, that when combined represented less than 1.4 square miles of the entire city. These places, like most high crime locations in any city, were historically violent. Despite targeted and repeated police intervention in these small areas, violence eventually recurred and persisted over time.
PIVOT is different from traditional policing strategies in at least three ways. First, PIVOT acknowledges that violent micro-locations are dangerous places for police. We found that officer injuries and suspect behaviors that lead to officer injuries (e.g., resisting arrest) are disproportionately concentrated in these places. Thus, failing to address persistently violent hotspots puts both residents and officers who respond to these locations at risk. Second, PIVOT focuses on crime-place networks. The key to long-term crime reduction is to dismantle the entire physical infrastructure used by offenders. This infrastructure extends beyond places where crime occurs (crime sites). Investigators must be trained to uncover the connected network of offender-used places that are not brought to police attention through calls for service. These places include public and private locations used by offenders to plan and carry out crime (also known as convergent settings and comfort spaces), as well as businesses that facilitate crime markets (referred to as corrupting spots). Third, PIVOT seeks to dismantle crime-place networks by leveraging all city resources. With the support of the mayor and city manager, PIVOT investigators regularly present their findings to other city department managers (e.g., representatives from departments like Traffic and Engineering, Buildings and Inspections, and the city solicitor). As it turns out, other city departments are often much better suited to design and implement crime prevention interventions than police.
A coordinated all-city response provides additional leverage, resources, and intervention options to effectively dismantle deeply entrenched crime-place networks – the source of chronic hotspots. PIVOT interventions block crime activities by changing the way in which places are managed and used. Interventions might involve altering parking restrictions or traffic patterns along a road commonly used in drive-by shootings, or seizing and repurposing a corner store laundering money for a violent drug market. A focus on place networks, rather than individual crime sites, roots out the larger infrastructure offenders retreat to and then reemerge from once police resources are deployed elsewhere.
To date, the results of the PIVOT initiative have been overwhelmingly positive. The pilot sites selected by CPD experienced significant reductions in violent crime (over 89 percent in the first site and 71 percent in the second site), and violence remains historically low in these areas more than a year after intervention. CPD is implementing PIVOT in other violent locations and experiencing similar success. Other police departments are now experimenting with the strategy (including my own, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department).
There are many benefits to this crime reduction strategy. PIVOT is grounded in evidence-based crime science principles. PIVOT rejects our over-reliance on police suppression tactics that, while often immediately effective in driving down crime numbers, continually put officers at risk, offer short-lived crime reductions, and often harm police-community relations. PIVOT works well with offender-based strategies. Place investigations find “hidden” locations where high-level players in violent offender networks operate, thus concentrating justice system resources on impactful, targeted arrests. Further, PIVOT does not require new resources. It simply asks officers to do what they do best (investigations) and asks government leaders to better organize and reprioritize existing city resources.
We now strongly believe that crime-place network investigation and elimination is the key to sustainable crime reductions. The absence of chronic violence provides conditions for change; it promotes community resiliency and spurs organic redevelopment. For these reasons, and despite the need for strong leadership and the complexities of this initiative, I am excited by the potential of the PIVOT strategy to save lives, protect officers, and improve quality of life in our communities.
More details available at the Cincinnati police website.
Episode #05 of the Reducing Crime podcast has a 30 minute interview with Tamara Herold which provides additional insights to the project.