Evidence-Based Justice: Operation Ceasefire reduces gun violence in Boston
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Evidence-Based Justice: Operation Ceasefire reduces gun violence in Boston

From the Evidence-Based Justice Series: Measuring the effectiveness of criminal justice programs series
Evidence-Based Justice

Evidence-Based Justice

About the program: Operation Ceasefire in Boston, Massachusetts, uses a program of focused deterrence developed by professor David Kennedy of John Jay College to identify individuals most at risk of being affected by gun violence, and use criminal justice interventions and social support to prevent it.

National Institute of Justice Rating: Effective

In the mid-1990s, Boston was facing heavy gun violence, especially among youths, with nearly four youths per month being gunned down, according to the National Institute of Justice.

In an effort to combat this violence and reduce the deaths, the city turned to a new solution that would later become the concept of focused deterrence, a concept spearheaded by Kennedy, who is now with John Jay College in New York.

Kennedy found a small portion of the city’s population was associated with a high percentage of its gun violence and in turn a high percentage of the people injured by gun violence.

Operation Ceasefire used Kennedy’s focused deterrence to intervene in that gun violence.

The program began with a heavy law enforcement crack down on gun violence including warrant sweeps and long sentences for repeat offenders.

This was followed by “call-ins” that brought local gang members to meet with local, state and federal law enforcement officials, as well local social service groups, to explain to the potential offenders that law enforcement would take a zero-tolerance approach to gun violence.

The call-ins were meant to explain the now-ratcheted up consequences to those identified as the most at-risk of being involved in gun violence, but also provide connection with social services to help support any of those identified with things like housing or legitimate employment.

The program was associated with a 63 percent reduction in youth homicides, a 25 percent reduction in gun assaults and a 32 percent reduction in calls for shots fired, according to the National Institute of Justice.

“Looking outside the box and using research that identifies that tiny concentration of people who are most at risk of being involved in gun violence and then finding effective means of engaging them that doesn’t involve arresting them or reading them the riot act, I think that’s the way we reduce gun violence,” said Jeff Asher, a crime analyst in New Orleans. “I think it’s been tried and seen success some places. I think it’s a concept that needs to develop but definitely has promising ideas behind it.”

There are two big caveats when evaluating the effectiveness and use of Kennedy’s focused deterrence model.

The first is that the program can bring the full weight of criminal justice system down on a person as a way to set an example. A person who is made an example of will likely face much harsher enforcement and penalties than normally would be associated with the underlying criminal behavior.

In his book, “Don’t Shoot,” Kennedy uses the example of a man who was sentenced to several decades in federal prison for possession of one bullet by a convicted felon in the run up to the implementation of Operation Ceasefire.

The second caveat is that if proper social supports are not provided and the focused deterrence uses only criminal justice interventions, long-term damage can be done to community-police relationships.

This can lead to short-term gains since some of the most likely to commit gun violence are incapacitated through incarceration followed by long-term losses as the community loses trust in law enforcement and those who were arrested are eventually released, Asher said.

Asher said merely incarcerating people for gun crimes is likely not going to eliminate gun violence or stop people from carrying illicit guns because it does not address the underlying reason why they are carrying.

“There’s this great quote from Chicago and somebody asked this gang member why he was carrying an illegal firearm and he said he’d rather be caught by the police with one than be seen by one of his rivals without one,” Asher said. “How do you overcome that dichotomy? It’s really hard. If the element that is carrying illegal guns for protection and are more likely to use it in a criminal homicide is not going to be more scared of getting caught with (a gun), then increasing enforcement is going to have limited effect and is not inherently going to target the people you really need to target.”

The City of York recently hired Kennedy to bring his focused deterrence model to the Midstate.

Email Joshua Vaughn at jvaughn@cumberlink.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Sentinel_Vaughn.


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