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Harm focused policing

'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.

Harm indices

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Many of the student projects cite an (unfortunately unpublished) report as their source [Sherman L. W., Neyroud P. W., Neyroud E. C. (2014).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 (Unpublished report for University of Cambridge)].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 this publication; 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.

Outside of the UK, with the assistance of Amber Perenzin (now Askey) 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 these publications below:


Probably the most useful presentation that might help you understand harm-focused policing is above. I presented on 1st December 2015 at the Cato Institute for their Policing in America conference. It is a relatively concise (20 minutes) presentation that is more honed and polished than the longer one below. 

On 28th January, 2015 I gave the Police Foundation‘s Ideas in American Policing lecture on the topic of harm-focused policing. It was a hot room after a long day and not my best presentation, but you should get the gist of it. You can find it at:

(you might want to make it full screen so you can read the slides).

Other harm-focused references

  • Ignatans, D. and K. Pease (2016). "Taking crime seriously: Playing the weighting game." Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice. 10(3), 184-193.  Abstract.

  • The Cambridge harm index featured in a story in The Economist.

  • The New Zealand Crime Harm Index, as featured in Curtis-Ham, S., & Walton, D. (2017). Mapping crime harm and priority locations in New Zealand: A comparison of spatial analysis methods. Applied Geography, 86: 245-254.

  • Sherman, L., Neyroud, P. W., & Neyroud, E. (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. 

  • Norton, S., Ariel, B., Weinborn, C., & O’Dwyer, E. (2018). Spatiotemporal patterns and distributions of harm within street segments: The story of the “harmspot”. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 41(3), 352-371.

Further resources

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.

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