What Should Police Be Doing in Focused Deterrence Strategies?
1. Focused deterrence strategies are a subgroup of problem-oriented policing interventions and as a result, exact strategies should vary by city and be tailored to the specific gang, gun, or drug crime problems a jurisdiction faces. In other words, it is important for agencies to not simply replicate what was done in Operation Ceasefire. The framework used in Boston is useful, but the same tactics and strategies may not be appropriate across jurisdictions. It is more important that the police focus on developing a working group of representatives from various governmental and social service agencies and conduct a careful analysis to assess underlying issues and tailor strategies to the dynamics of the local gang violence problem.
As Braga and Weisburd conclude “police departments…can be effective in controlling specific crime problems when they engage a variety of partners, and tailor an array of tactics to address underlying criminogenic conditions and dynamics.” That is, the interagency working group carefully analyzing local conditions to develop an appropriate tailored strategy appears to be the key to effectiveness in pulling levers and other focused deterrence approaches.
2. The work of Braga and colleagues (2008) in Lowell, MA is a good example of the need to use analysis and tailor responses to local dynamics. The Project Safe Neighborhoods’ task force carefully analyzed homicides and assaults to develop a two-pronged approach to deal with different types of gangs. For Hispanic gangs, a more traditional pulling levers approach was used that focused on sending a strong message to chronic offenders that violence would not be tolerated. Lowell also had a sizable Asian gang problem. Asian gangs typically are more organized, more secretive, and have a lesser street presence, making it more difficult to communicate deterrent messages. The task force was able to take advantage of the fact that in Lowell, Asian youth gangs were closely tied to gambling operations overseen by older Asians. The importance of these gaming operations to older Asians was an important lever the task force could pull. The task force used older Asian males as guardians to oversee gang members. Gaming operators received the strong message that if there was more youth violence, the gambling operations would be shut down. This proved to be a strong deterrent, and this tailored approach was developed only through the careful analysis of local conditions by the task force.
3. It is important to emphasize the word focused in focused deterrence strategies. These strategies were successful in part because they created a credible deterrent threat. This was accomplished, to some extent, by narrowing the focus of the intervention to specific offenders and specific geographic areas. Even though Operation Ceasefire was evaluated as a citywide intervention in Boston, “the deterrence message was applied to a relatively small audience (all gang-involved youth in Boston) rather than a general audience (all youth in Boston), and operated by making explicit cause-and-effect connections between the behavior of the target population and the behavior of the authorities” (Braga et al., 2001: 201–202). The program was credible because it was realistic to believe the police and their partners could effectively target gang members living and offending in small geographic areas. Therefore, despite evaluations that use the entire city as the unit of analysis, in reality the programs are more focused on specific offenders and specific geographic areas within these larger contexts and hence share much in common with the other effective geographically focused police strategies like hot spots policing.
4. Braga and Weisburd (2012: 22) emphasize that “In the focused deterrence approach, the emphasis is on not only increasing the risk of offending but also decreasing opportunity structures for violence, deflecting offenders away from crime, increasing the collective efficacy of communities, and increasing the legitimacy of police actions.” Thus, increasing the likelihood of detection can be combined with other program components such as situational crime prevention (to reduce opportunities), social service programs (to deflect offenders away), engaging with the community (to build collective efficacy), and using procedural justice in communications with offenders (to build legitimacy; see more on legitimacy on the community policing page).