Gun Violence Prevention Strategy: Focused Deterrence

Targeting High-Risk Areas and Offenders

Boston's Operation Ceasefire and subsequent interventions showed that concentrating enforcement on chronic violent offenders in hot-spots of violent crime can be highly effective in reducing gun violence. Researchers call this practice "focused deterrence."

Focused deterrence in the Boston Ceasefire program consisted of convincing gang members that just illegally carrying a gun as well as using it would result in a severe federal sentence without parole. Many other jurisdictions have emulated this approach.

Deterring gun violence by targeting drug dealers. NIJ is evaluating a Project Safe Neighborhoods-sponsored program in High Point, N.C., that is applying a focused deterrence approach to the city's gun problem by targeting drug dealers operating in open markets within certain city neighborhoods. The theory is that focusing on drug dealing also reduces gun violence, based on data that appear to show that the two are closely intertwined in High Point. The researchers believe this is because open-air drug markets:

  • Create attractive targets for armed robbers.
  • Draw local youth into the drug trade as well as nonresident drive-through buyers.
  • Spur creation of loose drug “crews” whose feuds can increase gun violence.
  • Lead to the acquisition and use of firearms by dealers, buyers and some residents.
  • Increase the likelihood that addicts will commit crimes involving firearms.

Other negative effects of open-air drug markets include loss of control of public space; increased property damage, robbery and thefts; and the creation of "toxic"norms.

The High Point program is using focused deterrence by:

  • Analyzing crime information to target drug dealers, suppliers and criminal activity.
  • Understanding the local network through investigations and contact with offenders' families.
  • Exercising targeted enforcement coupled with the provision of services to help offenders comply.
  • Directly engaging law enforcement and the affected community.
  • "Retailing" enhanced enforcement to offenders in the same manner as Ceasefire and SACSI; i.e., a highly coordinated, face-to-face confrontation with offenders. (See Gun Violence Prevention Programs and Tactics That Reduce Gun Violence.)

Preliminary program results are illustrated by before-and-after crime maps of the same High Point neighborhoods. Colors indicate the number of crimes by census block. White indicates the fewest crimes and red the most:

Comparing Crime in High Point Neighborhoods, 2003 – 2006
Source: "Street Drug Market Intervention in High Point, North Carolina," presented at the 2007 NIJ Conference.

The researchers cite the following reasons for these promising results:

  • The strategy is rooted in the community; police hold community meetings and solicit comments and support. This avoids the perception of a police crackdown and keeps the community engaged.
  • Tactics of retailing and pulling levers are applied with vigor.
    See Tactics That Reduce Gun Violence.
  • Offenders' families are sought out to secure their support for the program.
  • Services are offered (most offenders accept them) and follow-up visits are conducted.

Results so far seem to be sustainable without displacing the criminal activity to other neighborhoods. The NIJ evaluation is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2008.

Date Modified: June 5, 2013