SeattleGang

RESOURCES

Gun Violence Prevention Strategy: Focused Deterrence (National Institute of Justice)
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“After a Horrific Summer of Murder, Chicago Trying a Bold New Approach” (David Kennedy, The Daily Beast)

 

What are Focused Deterrence Strategies?

The overall idea of focused deterrence strategies is that police can increase the certainty, swiftness, and severity of punishment in a number of innovative ways, often by directly interacting with offenders and communicating clear incentives for compliance and consequences for criminal activity. These approaches all focus on high rate offenders, often gang members or drug sellers.

 

Many of these strategies employ the “pulling levers” framework popularized in Boston with Operation Ceasefire, in which gangs were notified at call-in meetings that violence would no longer be tolerated and if violence did occur, every available legal lever would be pulled to bring an immediate and certain response. This “hard” message usually delivered by police and prosecutors was accompanied by a “soft” message that emphasized the community’s willingness to help in these change efforts and the availability of services (e.g., job training, drug treatment), for gang members interested in engaging in more pro-social behavior. These call-in meetings or forums followed from a multi-agency team carefully analyzing Boston’s youth violence problem, and concluding that violence was largely concentrated among a small group of gang-involved offenders (see below).

 

Drug market initiatives or interventions tend to use a similar approach. After identifying high rate drug sellers in the targeted area, usually through a period of surveillance and undercover buys, these offenders are invited to a call-in meeting, where, like in gang-based approaches, they are told continued offending will not be tolerated.  Drug sellers with a history of violence are often arrested prior to the call-in, which can help reinforce to call-in participants that law enforcement officials are serious about the threat of sanctions.  Call-in participants are frequently offered access to services, such as drug treatment and job training that can assist in compliance with the law.  If offenders do continue to engage in drug activity, pending banked cases from the surveillance period should be pursued.

 

Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review (National Research Council)
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The Effects of “Pulling Lever” Focused Deterrence Strategies on Crime (Anthony A. Braga and David Weisburd, Campbell Collaboration systematic review)
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See also Crime Prevention Research Review No. 6: Pulling Levers Focused Deterrence Strategies to Prevent Crime
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Focused deterrence strategies (CrimeSolutions.gov)

 

 

What is the Evidence on Focused Deterrence Strategies?

Focused deterrence strategies are listed under “What works?” on our Review of the Research Evidence. 

 

A recent systematic review of focused deterrence strategies by Braga and Weisburd (2012) suggests such strategies have significant beneficial impacts on crime, particularly violent crime.

 

In the initial Operation Ceasefire study in Boston, the intervention was associated with significant declines in young adult homicide in Boston, but the lack of a randomized controlled design raised questions regarding the validity of the findings. Braga and colleagues did find the crime decline in Boston was unique when compared to other major U.S. cities and other cities in Massachusetts.

 

The Braga and Weisburd (2012) review included 10 eligible studies in the main analysis, but none were randomized experiments. Randomized designs are more difficult here than in other police interventions because focused deterrence strategies often are implemented citywide. The Braga and Weisburd (2012) results overall suggest strong positive findings for focused deterrence approaches. Nine of the 10 eligible studies showed significant positive impacts on crime.

 

National Network for Safe Communities Tools for Practitioners:

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Gun Violence Among Serious Youth Offenders (Anthony A. Braga, Center for Problem-Oriented Policing)
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Group Violence Intervention: An Implementation Guide

Drug Market Intervention: An Implementation Guide

(Office of Community Oriented Policing Services)

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Examples of Focused Deterrence Approaches:
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Evaluation of the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) (Engel et al.)
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The High Point Drug Market Initiative: A Process and Impact Evaluation (Corsaro et al.)
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Reducing Gun Violence: The Boston Gun Project’s Operation Ceasefire (Kennedy et al.)
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Strategic Approaches to Reducing Firearms Violence: Final Report on the Indianapolis Violence Reduction Partnership (McGarrell and Chermak)

 

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).

 

Group-Based Studies from the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix
Not all group-based studies are focused deterrence studies. Focused deterrence studies make up 4 of the 8 group-based studies in the Matrix.

groups-slab

Download a full list of studies included in the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix

Focused Deterrence Studies from the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix:

Author
Intervention
Braga et al. (2001) Operation Ceasefire was associated with significant reductions in youth homicide victimizations, shots-fired calls for service, and gun assault incidents. full-circle
M
G
F
HP
Braga (2008) Pulling levers intervention associated with significant decline in monthly gun homicide full-circle
M
G
F
HP
Braga et al. (2008) Pulling levers intervention associated with significant decline in monthly gun homicide and gun-related assault full-circle
M
G
F
HP
Braga et al. (2014) Operation Ceasefire associated with significant reduction in gang-related shootings full-circle
R
G
F
HP
Corsaro et al. (2012) Pulling levers intervention: Identification of drug and violence hot spots followed by notification and resource delivery to individuals convicted of nonviolent nonfelony crimes full-circle
R
MP
F
P
McGarrell et al. (2006) A “lever-pulling” strategy was associated with a 34.3% reduction in the monthly homicide rate. full-circle
M
G
F
HP
Papachristos et al. (2007) Group of Project Safe Neighborhoods initiatives associated with greater declines in homicide in the treatment neighborhoods compared to control neighborhoods full-circle
M
N
F
HP
Tita et al. (2003) Violence declined during and after the pulling levers intervention full-circle
M
N
F
P
Uchida & Swatt (2013) Targeting violent repeat offenders in specific target areas found successful intervention when mixed hot spots patrol with focused offender tactics. grey-circle
M
N
F
P

 

Result: full-circle = successful intervention; grey-circle = mixed results; empty = nonsignificant finding; backfire = harmful intervention

Rigor: M = moderately rigorous; R = rigorous; VR = very rigorous

X-axis: I = individual; G = group; MP = micro place; N = neighborhood/community; J = jurisdiction

Y-axis: F = focused; G= general

Z-axis: R = reactive, P = proactive, HP = highly proactive

Seattle Police officer image courtesy of Flickr user bgarciagil and used under a Creative Commons license.