Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

POP Center Responses Focused Deterrence Page 13


A focused-deterrence approach to dealing with high-risk offenders is, relatively speaking, in the early phases of application and testing across the police profession, but the evidence of its effectiveness and fairness to date is promising. It builds on prior knowledge about responding effectively to repeat offenders, but it goes well beyond that knowledge mainly by harnessing the power of intensive support offered to individuals willing to stop their offending and accept the assistance and the power of deterrence through certain, severe, and swift punishment. Moreover, focused-deterrence harnesses state and community authority in persuading high-risk offenders that everyone’s lives, their own included, are better out of a life of crime than in it.

Two of the more unexpected aspects of focused deterrence, at least to its skeptics, are that (1) police and prosecutors are sometimes willing to forgo enforcement and assist known persistent offenders, and (2) persistent offenders can heed official warnings or willingly stop offending. Early FDIs have demonstrated that police and prosecutors have been willing to sacrifice an arrest or a conviction in exchange for a cessation of further offending. In addition, at least some repeat offenders have grown weary of the criminal lifestyle with its constant risks of incarceration, injury, or death and are willing to stop offending if given the right mix of incentives.

Focused deterrence challenges deeply held beliefs of police and prosecutors that persistent offenders are incapable of giving up a life of crime, and of persistent offenders that police and prosecutors desire only to make their lives miserable. Adopting a focused-deterrence approach requires a leap of faith on the part of all involved. But, as demonstrated by the several dozen jurisdictions across the country that have implemented FDIs, with proper attention to the important details of developing, implementing, and monitoring an FDI, such a leap can be well rewarded by less crime; fewer crime victims; safer communities; rehabilitated, socially productive ex-offenders; and enhanced perceived police legitimacy.