• Center for Problem oriented policing

POP Center Problems  Retaliatory Violent Disputes Page 2

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Understanding Your Local Problem 

The discussion above provides a general description of retaliatory violent disputes. To understand your local problem, you will need to consider both general knowledge about retaliatory violence and those factors that are unique to your local area. Local analyses of dispute-related retaliatory violence will require a willingness to organize police work around the concept of disputes, rather than individual incidents, which will require your officers to think beyond making arrests for particular incidents of violence and challenge them to develop strategies that focus on suppressing dispute-related violence. 

A collaboration among command staff, line officers and detectives, crime analysts, and, if applicable, your local research partner, can identify the nature and characteristics of retaliatory violence in your community and develop strategies to reduce it. Research partners, many of whom are affiliated with local colleges or universities, can supplement work by in-house crime analysts to identify disputes, assess their risk of further violence, and measure the effects of violence-reduction interventions. 

To recognize an ongoing dispute and assess the risk of further violence, you must focus on the links among events. That may seem obvious, but it can require a major change in thinking, from an incident-based mindset to a problem-based mindset. Be alert to organizational impediments to working disputes rather than incidents. Events tied to the same dispute might occur in different places, on different shifts, and at times when officers with valuable information are not on duty. Moreover, incidents might be assigned to different units for follow-up investigation. Accordingly, it is important to have a communications strategy that facilitates officers sharing information about the connections among dispute-related events. 


Identifying the proper stakeholders can help you better understand retaliatory violence and enhance your ability to effectively respond to it. Through collaboration with community partners, you will be able to develop a dispute-intervention approach that leverages community assets and utilizes a diverse set of tactics in response to the unique needs of particular disputes. Effective responses to retaliatory violence will require a robust law-enforcement response, but may also require attention from community-based partners outside of law enforcement. The exact roles and responsibilities of community partners will depend on the unique needs of your jurisdiction.

  • Law enforcement partners. Partners in neighboring police agencies, prosecutors’ offices, jails, and probation and parole can share important intelligence than can help identify a dispute and its motives and help develop and implement responses to retaliatory violence.49
  • Schools. Urban schools are often nested in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods where retaliatory violence disproportionately occurs. As such, some dispute-related retaliatory violence can spill over onto school grounds. School administrators can assist in several ways.50 First, school officials can share intelligence about dispute-related violence that occurred on school grounds but was not reported to police. Second, they may be able to identify dispute participants not known to local police. Third, they may be able to connect police with parents and others who may be able to influence youth engaged in the dispute. Fourth, school resource officers can help develop and implement dispute interventions. Fifth, school administrators can help develop and implement educational programs that discourage youth from engaging in retaliatory violence.
  • Transit officials. A transit center can serve as a staging area for retaliatory violence when it becomes a location where disputants are likely to converge.51 Transit officials, with an interest in maintaining the safety of their customers, can provide descriptions of disputants and perhaps video surveillance footage of violent incidents. They might also maintain records of dispute-related incidents on transit vehicles and at stations.
  • Neighborhood associations. Neighborhood associations can work with police to support nonviolent responses to crime in the neighborhood52 and increase community members’ willingness to cooperate in investigations of dispute-related violence.
  • Hospitals. Hospital staff can help in identifying high risk disputants, administer hospital-based interventions53 and provide post-release referrals.† Patients treated for a serious non- accidental injury are potentially involved in a retaliatory dispute. Identifying violence victims can help police identify new disputes and track existing ones. Additionally, hospital security officers may be able to identify associates of the disputant who may have important intelligence about the dispute.
  • Social service agencies and organizations. Various government agencies and non-government organizations work to reduce urban violence. Some directly target dispute intervention, including by accepting police referrals. Others work to change social norms relating to retaliatory violence and/or encourage people to avoid risky lifestyles and choose alternatives to violence.54
  • Religious officials. Ministers and other religious officials can condemn and discourage violence by virtue of their moral standing in the community.55
  • Researchers. Research partners can help collect and analyze data that will help you understand the nature of your local problem and evaluate initiatives to combat it.

† See Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (2008) for an example of how a hospital-based intervention can be incorporated into a program to reduce retaliatory violence.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of retaliatory violent disputes, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on. 

Dispute Characteristics

  • What proportion of your violent incidents are dispute-related?
  • How many active, potentially violent disputes exist in your jurisdiction?
  • Are dispute-related incidents concentrated in particular areas or locations?
  • What are the different types of disputes and how prevalent is each type in your jurisdiction? (See Motivations for Disputes section above.)
  • Do different dispute types have different types and levels of violence?

 Characteristics of Key Disputants

  • Are there noticeable demographic characteristics among those involved in violent retaliatory disputes (e.g., age, gender, race, ethnicity)?
  • Are individuals involved in active disputes engaging in particular types of behaviors before dispute-related retaliatory incidents occur (e.g., gang activity, drug dealing, other criminal activity)?
  • Are there particular groups of people disproportionately involved in disputes? 

Current Responses to the Problem

  • What, if anything, is currently done by police or others to reduce the risk of dispute-related retaliatory violence?
  • Are there efforts to monitor individuals who are known disputants?
  • Is there a mechanism—such as social network analyses—to link dispute-related incidents in your jurisdiction to identify patterns?
  • Are patrol officers collecting and documenting useful street intelligence that will inform responses to dispute-related violence?
  • Is there a protocol in place that allows officers to notify superiors and other officers if they believe there is an active retaliatory dispute?
  • Has your department designated a crime analyst to help assess and monitor dispute-related violence?
  • Who within the police department is responsible for addressing ongoing, potentially violent disputes (e.g., patrol officers, detectives)?
  • Is your department equipped to work collaboratively to address retaliatory violence?
  • Are there community partners who offer conflict-resolution services elsewhere in the community (e.g., gang outreach workers, mediation centers)?
  • Are other law-enforcement stakeholders engaged in activities that might complement a program to reduce violent retaliatory disputes? 

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine the degree to which your efforts have succeeded and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and, after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. You should take all measures in both the target area and the surrounding area. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 1, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers and Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 10, Analyzing Crime Displacement and Diffusion. 

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to retaliatory violent disputes. Process measures show the extent to which responses were properly implemented. Outcome measures show the extent to which the responses reduced the level or severity of the problem. 

Process Measures

  • Clear delegation of responsibility for addressing violent disputes
  • Adequate staffing (e.g., crime analysts, dispute investigators) to identify and intervene in potentially violent disputes
  • Improved data and communication systems for identifying, classifying and monitoring retaliatory disputes
  • Existence of a risk-assessment instrument for retaliatory violence
  • Earlier identification of potentially violent disputes
  • Existence of a system for periodically assessing retaliatory violent-dispute strategies and tactics
  • Greater willingness of community partners and other non- law enforcement stakeholders to work with police to reduce retaliatory violence

Outcome Measures

  • Fewer active retaliatory disputes in your jurisdiction
  • Reductions in simple and aggravated assaults and homicides emanating from retaliatory violence
  • Reductions in non-violent retaliatory crimes
  • Reductions in threats to commit violent retaliatory acts disputes
Figure 1. Aggravated Assault and Murder Counts in Rochester, New York

The graph below shows aggravated assault and murder counts for pre- and post-implementation of the Rochester dispute project. The results suggest that a dispute-intervention strategy can reduce overall rates of violence in a jurisdiction. On average, there were 84 aggravated assaults and murders per month before the implementation of the project, and an average of 75 aggravated assaults and murders per month after project implementation.

These results are promising. They show a gradual decline reflecting the progress of the intervention, a pattern that seems much more likely than a sudden and dramatic decline. More rigorous analysis is needed, however, before definitive statements about causality can be made.

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