‘Harm-focused policing aims to inform policing priorities by weighing the harms of criminality together with data from beyond crime and disorder, in order to focus police resources in furtherance of both crime and harm reduction’. [Source: Ratcliffe, J. H. (2015). Harm-focused policing. Ideas in American Policing series (issue 19). Washington DC: Police Foundation (page 3)].
Attempts were made in the 1970s and 1980s to assess crime severity, but these efforts were limited to selected participants and a few specific crime examples. In the current context harm is conceptualized much more broader than crime. For example, harm is sometimes discussed with reference to the impact of drug abuse in a public health context. Example information and data sources could influence harm-focused policing include drug overdose information that could help triage drug markets for interdiction, traffic fatality data to guide police patrol responses, and community impact assessments to prioritize violent street gangs.
One of the central components of harm within policing is the creation and use of a harm index as a method to weigh crime in a manner more appropriate to the harm that the crime causes. In the UK numerous students at the Cambridge Institute of Criminology have used the Cambridge Crime Harm Index. For some details of this index see Sherman, L. W. (2013). Targeting, testing and tracking police services: The rise of evidence-based policing, 1975-2025. In M. Tonry (Ed.), Crime and Justice in America, 1975-2025. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Many of the student projects cite an (unfortunately unpublished) report as their source [Sherman L. W., Neyroud P. W., Neyroud E. C. (2014). The Cambridge Crime Harm Index (CHI): Measuring total harm from crime based on sentencing guidelines, Version 2.0. (Unpublished report for University of Cambridge)]. However fortunately more details are in a subsequent publication, Sherman, L., et al. (in press). “The Cambridge crime harm index: Measuring total harm from crime based on sentencing guidelines.” Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice.
Outside of the UK, with the assistance of Amber Perenzin and officers and analysts from the Philadelphia Police Department, I used the Pennsylvania Crime Code to develop a crime harm index applicable to UCR crime. A demonstration of how to use these in a practical context can be found in the two publications below.
Ratcliffe, J. H. (2015). Towards an index for harm-focused policing. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 9(2), 164-182. [You can visit the journal site and access the paper here (or directly here)]
Sherman, L., et al. (2016). The Cambridge crime harm index: Measuring total harm from crime based on sentencing guidelines. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 10(3), 171-183. [Access the abstract here].
Ratcliffe, J. H. (2015). Harm-focused policing. Ideas in American Policing series (issue 19). Washington DC: Police Foundation. Click below to access the publication.
There are a couple of my presentations below. The first one was presented on 1st December 2015 at the Cato Institute for their Policing in America conference. It is a more concise (20 minutes) presentation that is more honed and polished than the longer second one, which is about 47 minutes.
On 28th January, 2015 I gave the Police Foundation‘s Ideas in American Policing lecture on the topic of harm-focused policing. An annotated video of a lecture I gave at the Police Foundation is accessible below (you might want to make it full screen so you can read the slides).
Other useful references
Ignatans, D. and K. Pease (in press). “Taking crime seriously: Playing the weighting game.” Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice. Abstract. The authors argue for the value of using crime seriousness, as estimated by victims reported in the Crime Survey of England and Wales, as a weighting mechanism.
Peter Neyroud’s lecture at George Mason University.
The Cambridge harm index featured in a story in The Economist.
Other resources around harm
Sherman, L., Neyroud, P. W., & Neyroud, E. (in press). The Cambridge crime harm index: Measuring total harm from crime based on sentencing guidelines. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice.
Sherman, L. W. (2007). The power few: Experimental criminology and the reduction of harm. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 3(4), 299-321.
Greenfield, V. A., & Paoli, L. (2013). A framework to assess the harms of crimes. British Journal of Criminology, 53(5), 864-885.
Tusikov, N. (2012). Measuring organised crime-related harms: Exploring five policing methods. Crime, Law & Social Change, 51(7), 99-115.