Solution to Tacoma crime: 'Hotspot' patrols and jailing repeat offenders, says police chief

A relentless, evidence-based plan is what the Tacoma Police Chief believes will reduce crime in the city.

Chief Avery Moore has been working with a group of criminologists from University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) on the Tacoma Police Department Crime Reduction Plan, officially announced Tuesday.

Moore said their top focus is cracking down on a small percentage of offenders that are causing majority of the violent crimes in the city.

"It is really to deter behavior, change behavior and arrest just those that need to be arrested," said Moore, referring to the three-phase strategy.

Through their research, the criminologists and Moore identified addresses that are causing more than 10% of "street crimes" in the city, including murder, aggravated assault and robbery.

"You have about 24 addresses that produce more than 10% of your violent crime. If you think about all the thousands of addresses in the city of Tacoma, you’ve got 24—just those 24—that account for 12%," said Mike Smith, a criminologist with UTSA.

A priority in the crime reduction plan is having officers conduct "hotspot" patrols in the neighborhoods of the identified violent addresses. Officers are parking their patrol cars and flashing their lights for 15 minutes during peak times of day when crimes are committed, based on data.

"What’s interesting about Tacoma to us, as criminologists, is that your violent crime tends to be concentrated at commercial establishments, like businesses, shopping centers, shopping malls, convenience stores, other commercial establishments," said Smith.

Moore said hotspot patrolling creates high visibility and hopefully a deterrent for criminal activity.

"We’re going to weed out the people who need to be weeded out. You’re going to go to jail. This plan is about high visibility, but there is another part of the plan that’s not in the plan. And that’s where we’re going to arrest the people that need to be arrested," said Moore.

Though the department is down 47 officers, Moore said the plan is tailored to the current amount of staff. He explained each officer was given a copy of the plan on July 5, and have already started patrols. 

Even while expressing their support of the plan, a few city council members shared some concern about possible risks of hotspot patrolling leading to questionable tactics like over policing, stop-and-frisk measures, racial stereotyping, or discretionary practices of officers. 

"This plan doesn’t allow for that. All I’m asking for is high visibility. You're sitting in a squad car for 15 minutes of those optimal times and optimal days, which we have, down to the block number. That’s it. So, you don’t have to engage with anyone," said Moore.

"This plan is designed to be racially and ethnically neutral," said Smith.

Hotspot patrols are only one piece of the solution in reducing crime. Criminologists said partnering with city and community agencies to provide services in counseling, job training, education, housing, job placement, and substance abuse rehabilitation will be key.

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"Often, these places that have historically had a long term trend of challenges, have deep-ingrained reasons for that, including social and fiscal disorder," said Rob Tilley, a criminologist with UTSA.

Moore and the team of criminologists will re-evaluate the plan every 90 days. They said in order for the plan to be effective, it’s crucial that city government commit resources, mobilize city services and have a willingness to evaluate and change legal and social practices.

More information about the crime reduction plan is available on the City of Tacoma's website.