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Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.
The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community's problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it.
Recent evaluation research has revealed that police can prevent gun violence. While this guide categorizes police responses by whether they are primarily focused on offenders or on hot spots, in practice, they overlap. For example, when police focus on offenders in gangs, they sometimes also focus on gang turf and drug market areas. When police are deployed to prevent gun violence in particular places, they often focus on controlling the behavior of particularly dangerous offenders there. The distinction between the focuses matters less than the fact that police can prevent youth gun crime by strategically addressing identifiable risks.
The Richmond ( Calif.) Comprehensive Homicide Initiative demonstrates the benefits of an approach combining offender- and place-oriented responses.27 This problem-oriented policing project entailed a wide range of community-based and enforcement actions involving local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Offender-oriented strategies included intensive investigations, the apprehension of violent fugitives, immediate responses to gang violence to prevent retaliation, and the strategic use of prevention and intervention programs. Place-oriented strategies included towing potential getaway cars in areas with high numbers of drive-by shootings, enforcing building codes at drug nuisance locations, and assigning officers to particular schools. An evaluation of this multifaceted program revealed that it significantly reduced homicides in Richmond, particularly those involving guns.28
A number of jurisdictions have been experimenting with new problem-oriented policing frameworks to prevent gang and group gun violence among serious young offenders. Pioneered in Boston, this approach is known as the "pulling levers" focused deterrence strategy. It was designed to influence the behavior, and the environment, of the groups of chronic offenders identified as being at the core of the city's gun violence problem. The pulling-levers approach attempted to prevent gang and group gun violence by making would-be offenders believe that severe consequences would follow such violence and change their behavior. A key element of the strategy was the delivery of a direct and explicit "retail deterrence" message to a relatively small target audience regarding what behavior would provoke a special response, and what that response would be.
Evaluation research has revealed the pulling-levers deterrence strategy to be effective in reducing gun violence among serious young offenders. The well-known Boston Gun Project/Operation Ceasefire intervention has been credited with a two-thirds reduction in youth homicides, and significant reductions in nonfatal gun violence.29 Subsequent replications of the Boston strategy have shown very promising results in reducing gun violence. An evaluation of the Indianapolis Violence Reduction Partnership revealed that homicides dropped by 42 percent, and that they were less likely to involve a firearm.30 Less scientifically rigorous assessments in Baltimore, Los Angeles, High Point, N.C., Winston-Salem, N.C., and Stockton reveal similar reductions in homicide and firearms violence.31
Some key elements of the "pulling levers" approach to prevent gun violence are also part of Richmond, Virginia's well-known Project Exile to deter convicted felons from illegally carrying guns. This program is essentially a firearms sentence-enhancement initiative, as offenders are diverted from state to federal courts. At the heart of the project, all Richmond felon-in-possession cases are prosecuted in federal courts, with the defendants' facing an average five-year prison sentence if convicted. The project also includes training for local police on federal statutes and search-and-seizure procedures, a public relations campaign to increase community involvement in fighting gun crime, and a massive publicity campaign to warn potential offenders about zero tolerance for gun crime and about the swift and certain federal sentence. Project advocates claim success based on a 40 percent decrease in Richmond gun homicides between 1997 and 1998. This claim has been disputed, however, as a recent evaluation found that the decrease would have likely occurred regardless of the project;32 the study suggests that nearly all of the decrease was probably attributable to an unusually high increase in and level of gun homicide before the project began. Nevertheless, it is important to note here that, as demonstrated in Boston, federal prosecution of gang-involved chronic offenders central to gun violence problems is an important component of an integrated violence reduction strategy.
† See Response Guide No. 1 on The Benefits and Consequences of Police Crackdowns for further information.
Text Box 1.
Although they were not involved in Boston's Operation Ceasefire until after the strategy had been designed and implemented, the 10-Point Coalition of activist black clergy made it much easier for police to speak directly about the nature of youth violence in the city. Police could talk with relative safety about the painful realities of minority male offending and victimization, gangs, and chronic offenders. The clergy supported Operation Ceasefire's tight focus on violent youth, but condemned any indiscriminate, highly aggressive sweeps. Before the development of this partnership, Boston's black community viewed police activities to monitor violent youth with knee-jerk suspicion. With the coalition's approval of and involvement in Operation Ceasefire, the community supported it as a legitimate youth violence prevention campaign (Winship and Berrien 1999).
Text Box 2.Boston's Operation Night Light was an innovative police-probation partnership that involved intensive home and street contact with high-risk offenders during the evening. It was a key component of the Operation Ceasefire intervention. As Corbett (2002)[Full Text] describes, probation officers are matched with officers from the Boston Police Department's Youth Violence Strike Force. The probation officers identify some 10 to 15 probationers they want to see each evening, concentrating on those thought to be "active" on the street. The teams use unmarked cars and wear plain clothes, visit probationers at home, and drive through crime-ridden areas to determine whether probationers are there who should not be. Probation officers gain a new credibility that did not exist when they conducted probation activities in the office. Police have a new tool that significantly increases their power. Many officers speak of their frustration at knowing that certain offenders are active, but being unable to control them because of the difficulties involved in detecting crime and apprehending criminals. While most probationers will not be detected committing crime, their failure to obey court orders can put them at risk of being jailed as certainly as being arrested for a new offense. Unlike people not on probation, they can be removed from the street for a variety of noncriminal behaviors. Feedback from offenders, police, parents, and community members indicates that the youth have become more cautious and more compliant in their behavior.
Prosecutors can give priority to crimes committed by particularly dangerous offenders and work with police to develop solid cases. Federal law enforcement agencies can contribute the extra resources of the federal government and apply a wider range of stiff penalties for certain gun offenses. Social service providers should also have a role in the group, as the best way to change some offenders' behavior may be to offer them substance abuse counseling, job skills training, recreational opportunities, and the like (see Text Box 3 below).
3. Placing responsibility on the working group. In most cities, no one agency is responsible for developing and implementing an overall strategy for reducing youth gun violence. Most police agencies have units or groups responsible for responding to incidents, but not for preventing incidents. The working group needs to be charged with preventing incidents to keep its focus on the bottom line of reducing youth gun violence.Text Box 3.Boston Community Center's street workers were key members of the Operation Ceasefire working group and, along with juvenile corrections caseworkers, probation officers, and parole officers, added a much needed social-intervention and opportunity- provision dimension to the Ceasefire strategy (Kennedy, Braga, and Piehl 2001). The city-employed street workers were charged with seeking out at-risk youth in Boston's neighborhoods and providing them with services such as job skills training, substance abuse counseling, and special education. When the risk to drug-dealing gang members increases, legitimate work becomes more attractive, and when legitimate work is more available, raising risks will be more effective in reducing violence.
Figure 1. Anti-gang violence flier
Problem: Violent Gang Member
Solution: Armed Career-Criminal Conviction
If you have a criminal record and are arrested with a gun or even a single bullet, you could face a mandatory-minimum sentence of 15 years to life, with no parole.
Federal Correctional Institute, Maximum Security Facility
Figure 2. Anti-gun violence flier
Goal: Stop the Violence Intervale Posse
- They Were Warned; They Didn't Listen.
- Interagency Drug Operation:
- Boston Police Department
- Drug Enforcement Administration
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearmes, and Explosive
- Massachusetts State Police
- U.S. Attorney's Office
- Suffolk CountyDistrict Attorney's Office
- Massachusetts Department of Probation
- Massachusetts Department of Parole
- Safe Neighborhood Initiative
- August 29, 1996:
- 15 Federal Arrests: Drugs and Conspiracy
- Eight State Arrests
- Each Federal Charge Carries at Least a 10-year Mandatory Minimum Sentence. Several Posse Members May Face Life in Federal Prison:
- Confined until Trial
- No Possibility of Parole
- The Investigation Proceeds: These Charges May be Just the Beginning.
6. Targeting intervention. Gangs and groups of serious young offenders select themselves for intervention by engaging in gun violence. The working group should focus on gangs and groups of chronic offenders currently engaged in gun violence rather than indiscriminately selecting or developing a "hit list" of gangs, groups, or particular individuals.
7. Sending the initial message. Working-group members must send a message to violent gang or group members that they are "under the microscope" because of their violent gun behavior. Police, probation, and parole officers should immediately increase their presence and activities in areas frequented by the targeted gang or group, and explain that their increased presence and activities are a response to gun violence. Social service agencies and community-based groups should also increase their presence and activities in the area, and explain to the target group or gang that they support police efforts to quell violence and will provide help to those who want it.
8. Pulling all available enforcement levers. The working group should identify a variety of possible enforcement actions. The group should tailor its approach to the targeted gang or group and assess different options, including conducting probation and parole checks, changing the community-release conditions for supervised offenders, serving warrants, giving special prosecutorial attention to any past or present crimes committed by gang or group members, enforcing disorder laws, and shutting down drug markets run by the gang or group. The key is to use the gang's or group's chronic offending against them, as it provides many opportunities for police to intervene. The goal is to save violent offenders from themselves rather than remove them from their environments. Police intervention should be harsh only to the extent necessary to stop gun offending. For some groups or particular individuals, changing probation conditions or shutting down a profitable drug market may be enough. For certain hardened offenders, heavy federal penalties may be necessary.
9. Continuing communication. It is critically important to demonstrate cause and effect to the targeted gang or group by directly and explicitly conveying the message. It should be very clear to the gang or group that the police are focusing on them because of their involvement in gun violence.†
† Police agencies should be creative in communicating with offenders. In Boston, face-to-face forums with violent gang members and working-group members were key in delivering the antiviolence message (Kennedy, Piehl, and Braga 1996a). In Minneapolis, working-group members visited gang-involved victims of gun violence—who were often in the company of their friends, in the hospital—and warned them against retaliation (Kennedy and Braga 1998). In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, older offenders were involving juvenile gun offenders in their criminal activities. In response, the Winston-Salem working group, while maintaining their focus on juvenile offenders, met with older offenders and explicitly warned them that involving juveniles in their illegal activity would result in focused police attention (Coleman et al. 1999).
10. Providing social services and opportunities. While law enforcement members of the working group are focusing on pulling the appropriate enforcement levers, social service providers and community-based groups should focus on diverting young offenders from their violent lifestyle. In the face of an impressive array of law enforcement actions, some gang or group members may want to take advantage of social services and other opportunities. This element of the approach allows the working group to provide some benefit to those who put down their guns.
A key program component was to respond to problems identified by citizens, and the program's success depended on effective police-community relationships. By requesting community input regarding the gun confiscation process, the police department developed a model for policing gun violence that put a premium on effective communication and community trust not found in most policing projects. The FSP also was designed to send a clear message that the police and the community would not tolerate juvenile firearm possession because it threatened public safety. Unfortunately, while the program gained national attention for its innovative approach and seemed to be a very promising route to disarming juveniles,† the Mobile Reserve Unit underwent a series of changes that caused the program to be stopped and restarted several times; subsequent variations of the FSP did not use the same approach as the original one. Thus, a rigorous impact evaluation of the original FSP was not completed.
† Rosenfeld and Decker (1996) reported that, while the program was operating as originally designed, police seized 402 firearms in 1994, and another 104 firearms during the first quarter of 1995.
In addition to focusing on high-risk individuals, police can prevent gun violence among serious young offenders by focusing on high-risk places at high-risk times. The Kansas City Gun Project,37 and its subsequent replications in Indianapolis38 and Pittsburgh,39 successfully used place-oriented policing responses to prevent gun crime in gun violence hot spots. In general, these studies examined the gun violence prevention effects of proactive patrol and intensive enforcement of firearms laws via safety frisks during traffic stops, plain-view searches and seizures, and searches incident to arrests on other charges. The Kansas City and Indianapolis studies also examined whether focusing police enforcement efforts at problem places simply displaced gun crime to different places or times. Neither study found any evidence of significant displacement.
It is important to note here that the research evidence is currently limited to place-oriented strategies involving mostly traditional police activities, such as increased patrol and street searches of suspicious individuals, at gun crime hot spots. While these interventions have produced crime control gains and have added to law enforcement's array of crime prevention tools, problem-oriented police should focus their efforts on those characteristics that cause a place to be a gun crime hot spot.40 Officers can reduce gun crime by changing the features, facilities, and management of problem places. For example, if problem analysis reveals that easy access to common areas in front of a high school causes youth gun crimes to be clustered there immediately upon school release, police should experiment with ways to limit access to these areas during problem times. The practice of problem-oriented policing is still developing, and additional research is needed on different approaches to controlling gun violence hot spots.
† In Terry v. Ohio (1968) 392 US 1, the Supreme Court upheld police officers' right to conduct brief threshold inquiries of suspicious persons when they have reason to believe that such persons may be armed and dangerous to the police and others. In practice, this threshold inquiry typically involves a safety frisk of the suspicious person.
‡ Beyond the landmark Terry decision, there are many court decisions that govern search-and-seizure techniques. For example, in Houghton v. Wyoming (1999) 526 US 295, the Supreme Court upheld police officers' right to search the belongings of the passengers of the car, incident to the arrest of any of the vehicle occupants. You should consult legal counsel regarding the application of search and seizure law in your jurisdiction.
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