POP Center Responses Focused Deterrence Page 7

PHASE 4: Enforcement/Service Delivery


As vital as it is to deliver core messages effectively to high-risk offenders, following up on the commitments made, whether through enforcement or through assistance, is equally vital. In this phase, you need to work out precise protocols for each enforcement action and assistance service that you have built into your program plan.

Concentrating Law Enforcement Sanctions on a Few High-Risk Individuals

Police, prosecution, and corrections officials collectively can bring a variety of strong sanctions to bear on high-risk offenders, including the following:

  • Pre-arrest monitoring (including intensive police and corrections officials patrols in areas where targeted groups/ individuals are known to be)
  • Arrest (e.g., serving warrants, building new cases)
  • Prosecution (devoting intensive time and resources to cases against high-risk offenders, assigning the same prosecutor to handle all matters relating to high-risk offenders [vertical prosecution], recommending enhanced penalties to the court)
  • Sentencing (post-release monitoring and enforcement of conditions of release, including frequent drug testing, home visits, creating and monitoring compliance with special conditions of release)
  • Disruption of conditions at locations where offenders often commit crimes (e.g., open-air drug markets)
  • Monitoring of feuds between individuals or groups and warning both high-risk offenders and high-risk victims to avoid violence and/or temporarily incapacitating offenders and safeguarding victims
  • Seizure and forfeiture of illegal assetsj

A key policy decision is whether to build prosecutable criminal cases against high-risk offenders before notifying them that they are targets and offering them the choice of law enforcement or ceasing offending. In High Point, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, for example, police and prosecutors built strong, prosecutable cases prior to the notification meetings, essentially offering the high-risk offenders the choice of ceasing their offending or being arrested on the spot.22 In other FDIs, prosecutable cases are not built ahead of time, but only if and when high-risk offenders continue their offending. Holding prosecution in abeyance is obviously more feasible with nonviolent crimes than with those in which the individual has used violence.

Many FDIs have found it important that both local and federal prosecutors be integral partners to ensure that effective prosecutions are mounted, when necessary, and that decisions about prosecuting individuals are made strategically, and not on an ad hoc basis.

Concentrating Social Services on the Same Few High-Risk Individuals

Two of the distinctive features of focused deterrence are that (1) the special assistance offered to high-risk offenders is contingent on their ceasing their prolific offending and (2) the services offered to each individual meet that person’s particular needs, interests, desires, and commitment.

Individualized needs assessments should occur rather than offering all offenders a standard array of services, a practice that is generally regarded as more effective in the correctional rehabilitation field.23,k Focused deterrence is greatly strengthened if the assistance and services offered have been researched and deemed effective. Well-intentioned but untested assistance will not suffice. Obviously, providing social services in this manner is resource-intensive, so the number of individuals targeted at any time cannot be too large or the effort’s effectiveness will be diluted. Having a dedicated case manager to coordinate the different social services provided to offenders is highly recommended.

Among the social services most likely to be important to highrisk offenders are the following:

  • Job and job-interview training
  • Employment
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Mental health treatment
  • Family assistance (food, clothing, medicine, utilities, child care)
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Education assistance
  • Life-skills coaching
  • Anger management
  • Mentoring/support from other ex-offenders
  • Spiritual counseling

In some communities, all of these services are already available; their provision merely needs to be linked to the FDI. In other communities, the FDI will need to develop these services anew.

Cambridge/Somerville/Everett, Massachusetts, SPI Case Study: Enforcement/Service Delivery

As mentioned in the Phase 2 case study, the Cambridge/Somerville/Everett (Massachusetts) SPI project was a nontraditional focused-deterrence effort. The notification phase (3) involved a call-in, except that offenders attended voluntarily. Community members also played a key support role in letting the offenders know that the police and community together wanted to help them stop engaging in harmful behavior but would also together hold them accountable should they re-offend. The importance of the community presence at the notification was also related to a unique enforcement and service delivery strategy. The police departments used a case management team that consisted of a police officer (detective or sergeant), a licensed social worker (hired by the police department specifically for the project), a coordinating service provider, and a community outreach worker for an integrated enforcement and service delivery approach. The police social worker played a critical role in this comprehensive and unusual collaboration across criminal justice and social service agencies to create a broad network to share offender information, quickly identify those who weren’t following through with programs, and ensure a coordinated continuum of treatment.

Offenders enrolled in this program and worked with the case management team to develop an individualized plan to move toward a healthy, crime-free lifestyle. Participants met with the case manager in person at least once per month with phone calls in between. Case managers were extremely proactive in coordinating meetings, ensuring that offenders attended court hearings and program services, and engaging other criminal justice and community partners.

Instead of the traditional call-in at which offenders are offered services and warned about re-offending at the one meeting, the Cambridge/Somerville/Everett effort focused on providing resources and coordinated follow-up with the goal of support and prevention. If the offenders chose to re-offend, they were still held accountable by the police for these actions. The police officers went beyond their typical enforcement-only role to a more holistic, collaborative, problem-solving approach for each habitual offender.

Mobilizing Informal Social Control

In many respects, FDIs aim to change community norms regarding drug dealing, violent crime, the police, and criminal justice and then mobilize forces of informal social control to reinforce those new norms among individuals within that community.24

Police, prosecutors, courts, and corrections agencies represent formal social control. Family, friends, and non-government social groups and individuals represent informal social control. Both types are important in influencing individuals’ behavior, but prolific offenders often receive quite different messages. The government might tell them unequivocally to stop offending, but their families and friends do not tell them the same thing, excuse their offending, or encourage them to continue offending. To the degree that police and other criminal justice officials can bring influential people into high-risk offenders’ lives to reinforce the message that their offending—particularly their violent offending—must stop, the overall message is greatly strengthened.

The key to getting this to happen is for police and their colleagues to give the informal social controllers a good reason to side with the government in persuading offenders to change their lives. In many FDIs, people such as clergy from the highrisk offenders’ communities have been enlisted as important allies in delivering messages of non-violence to high-risk offenders—sometimes directly to the high-risk offenders when the clergy hold sway with them, but more often indirectly by encouraging high-risk offenders’ family members to deliver the message.

Extending Sanctions to Other Members of the High-Risk Offender’s Criminal Group

For crime problems in which individuals operate as part of a criminal group, including gangs, it follows that individual members influence one another’s actions. This means that for focused deterrence to maximize its impact, the threat of enforcement sanctions should be extended beyond one highrisk offender to encompass others in the group. This is like the football coach making the whole team run extra laps if one player makes a particular kind of mistake. If one crime group member fails to heed the official warning—for example, not to use lethal violence—then all group members are subjected to enhanced enforcement. This is a classic example of using formal social control as leverage for getting informal social control to operate in the same direction: ideally, each group member discourages other group members from engaging in prohibited behavior because no individual wants to suffer the consequences, and each group member is discouraged from prohibited behavior because s/he doesn’t want to be responsible for bringing about consequences against the rest of the group. As an illustration, in the Lowell, Massachusetts, FDI, any act of prohibited violence also resulted in intensive enforcement against the group’s illegal gambling activities, thereby causing all group members to suffer consequences because of one member’s actions.25

Following Up On Promises

After the initial message of focused enforcement is delivered to a group of high-risk offenders, the credibility of that message is reinforced when a high-profile offender or group of offenders who subsequently engage in illegal activities experiences harsh and swift punishment. In 2003-2004, the Rochester, New York, FDI lost some of its effectiveness by a failure to carry out enforcement in the wake of continued violence.26 The swiftness and certainty of the consequences matter more than their severity, although severe consequences carry added weight to the deterrence message.


j See Response Guide No. 7, Asset Forfeiture, by John Worrall.

k There are diagnostic tools that researchers have specially validated as effective for violent offenders (Skubak Tillyer, Engel, and Lovins, 2012).