Police platform patrols create ‘phantom effect’ that cuts crime in Tube stations

  London Tube station  Credit: Marco Chilese

A major experiment introducing proactive policing to Underground platforms finds that short bursts of patrolling create a “phantom effect”: 97% of the resulting crime reduction was during periods when police weren’t actually present. 

A massive experiment that deployed regular police patrols on platforms in the London Underground has shown that four 15-minute patrols a day in some of the capital’s most crime-ridden stations reduced reported crime and disorder by 21%.

Researchers from Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology worked with the British Transport Police (BTP) to conduct the experiment across six months in 2011-2012. The findings have been published in the journal Criminology.

The team identified the 115 London stations where reported crime was highest. They randomly allocated 57 of these stations with four daily “doses” of platform patrols – two officers on foot for quarter of an hour – four days a week, and compared the effects to the remaining “untreated” stations.

The researchers found that, while the experiment was running, a total of 3,549 calls to police from the platform came from stations without patrols, compared to 2,817 in the stations receiving a policing “dosage” – a relative difference of 21%.

The team also looked at crime data from the six months prior to the experiment, and found that recorded crime fell 14% overall during the experimental period in those stations treated with the new patrols.

Strikingly, they discovered that the vast majority of reduction in both crime and calls for assistance occurred when these police patrols were absent – some 97% of the measured effect. The criminologists have dubbed this the “London Underground paradox”.

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Image:  London Tube station

Credit: Marco Chilese

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge


The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

University of Cambridge (cam.ac.uk)