Publications and Resources

Best / Evidence-based Practices: Finn Synopses

The Finn Institute is preparing a series of synopses, each of which focuses on a criminal justice strategy or program that is demonstrably effective. Each synopsis is written for policy makers, offering a succinct summary of strategic or programmatic components, the evidence of its beneficial effects, and information about its costs. Several synopses are available now, and more are in progress. Click here for the list.

Policing: Crime Reduction

Police can reduce crime, by being strategic in the deployment of police resources, by enlisting the cooperation of third parties who can act as guardians, by altering features of the environment that afford opportunities for crime, and by encouraging victims to take steps that reduce their vulnerability.

Police Accountability

Citizen oversight of the police is frequently prescribed as the antidote to police misconduct. Citizen oversight takes many different forms, some of which provide for maximum autonomy: complaint investigations conducted by civilian staff. Unfortunately, very little is known about the extent to which any of the forms of citizen oversight achieve its objectives, and some research – including ours – suggests that citizen oversight fails to satisfy complainants, fails to provide for superior investigations, and is unlikely to deter police misconduct. Moreover, citizen oversight fails to address a key issue in police accountability: effective police performance. Police accountability is a complex set of issues that is not susceptible to simple solutions, and as communities grapple with these issues, they should not turn to citizen oversight as a panacea.


Compstat is an administrative innovation introduced as part of the “reengineering” of the New York City Police Department wrought by Commissioner William Bratton, in the mid-1990s. Commissioner Bratton sought to make the commanders of NYPD’s seventy-five precincts the engines of crime reduction initiatives. He gave precinct commanders more authority to develop operational plans and to allocate their resources accordingly, and through Compstat, they were held accountable for using their authority to achieve crime-reduction results. NYPD’s Compstat was – correctly or not – credited with the dramatic decline in New York City’s crime rate through the latter half of the 1990s, and consequently it has been widely emulated by police agencies across the U.S. and across the world. Compstat can be an organizational mechanism that serves to, first, direct attention to important police outcomes – crime, disorder, fear of crime, quality of life, citizen satisfaction – and second, to stimulate the formulation and implementation of tactical and strategic operations that are directed toward those outcomes. But recent research on Compstat shows that the replication of Compstat in other agencies has not always adhered to the same principles, and has encountered several problems. How Compstat can be successfully adapted to other police agency settings is not clear.

Public Surveillance Cameras / CCTV

The use of public surveillance cameras – sometimes knows as Closed-Circuit Television – is common in the United Kingdom and increasingly prevalent in the U.S. Cameras may reduce crime through a number of different mechanisms yielding incapacitation and deterrent effects. The extant literature has primarily focused on the crime prevention effect of cameras – through deterring would be offenders – and the evidence is mixed, though the Institute’s evaluation of public surveillance cameras in one city found that they are effective.

Traffic Safety and Enforcement

Analysis of motor vehicle crashes can serve to guide the allocation of enforcement resources, inform the development of appropriate interventions, and ultimately enhance public safety. Local law enforcement agencies typically have within their own records systems the data needed to support crash analysis. Crash data should be used to understand why crashes occur, to identify high-density crash locations, and to inform the development of appropriate interventions (countermeasures). Once implemented, outputs and outcomes should be monitored to assess the impact of interventions and to guide modifications, as needed. Analysis should be performed routinely to identify changing trends in crash patterns.

Gang Prevention, Intervention, Suppression

Street gangs represent a threat to public safety in many American cities, as communities grapple with how to not only curb the crime for which gangs are responsible but also protect youth from the risks that gang affiliation poses. Approaches to these problems include preventing youth from joining gangs, intervening with those who do, and suppressing the criminal activity in which gang members engage.

Racial Profiling

For the past decade, elected and appointed state and local officials have expressed concerns about racially biased policing, or racial profiling. The central concern is that police use citizens’ race as the partial or complete basis for the discretionary application of their authority, particularly in making traffic stops, but also in making other stops and in post-stop decisions as well (e.g., to conduct a search or frisk). Although attention to potential racial bias in policing dates historically to at least the 1960s, it was given renewed impetus and new focus by litigation in Maryland and New Jersey in the 1990s, which successfully claimed that state police targeted racial minorities for traffic stops. Since then, innumerable state and city law enforcement agencies have collected data on stops, the analysis of which is nearly as inconclusive as the public concern is prevalent. The larger issue, however, is often a history of strained relations between police and racial and ethnic minorities, and distrust of police in minority communities.

Finn Institute Reports & Presentations