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Practice Profile

Focused Deterrence Strategies

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Practice Description

Practice Goals
Focused deterrence strategies (also referred to as “pulling levers" policing) are problem-oriented policing strategies that follow the core principles of deterrence theory. The strategies target specific criminal behavior committed by a small number of chronic offenders who are vulnerable to sanctions and punishment. Offenders are directly confronted and informed that continued criminal behavior will not be tolerated. Targeted offenders are also told how the criminal justice system (such as the police and prosecutors) will respond to continued criminal behavior; mainly that all potential sanctions, or levers, will be applied. The deterrence-based message is reinforced through crackdowns on offenders, or groups of offenders (such as gang members), who continue to commit crimes despite the warning. In addition to deterring violent behavior, the strategies also reward compliance and nonviolent behavior among targeted offenders by providing positive incentives, such as access to social services and job opportunities.

Target Population
Focused deterrence strategies generally target a specific type or group of offenders, such as youth gang members or repeat violent offenders. Many focused deterrence interventions have primarily targeted incidents of homicide and serious violence (criminal activities that usually involve chronic offenders) in urban settings (Kennedy 2006). Some strategies have focused on eliminating public forms of drug dealing (such as street markets and crack houses). These strategies are known as drug market interventions and they work by warning dealers, buyers, and their families that enforcement is imminent.

Practice Theory
Deterrence theory posits that crime can be prevented if potential offenders believe the costs of committing a crime outweigh the benefits (Zimring and Hawkins 1973). Three key concepts play an important role in deterrence theory: the certainty, severity, and swiftness of punishment. The deterrent effects of crime prevention programs and policies are a function of a potential offender’s perceptions of the certainty, severity, and swiftness of punishment (Nagin 1998). Focused deterrence strategies combine elements of classic deterrence with additional elements thought to prevent crime. First, focused deterrence strategies typically begin with an intense focus on particular types of crime and the chronic offenders most responsible for carrying out those crimes. The most frequent target of focused deterrence strategies is gun violence. Second, focused deterrence strategies are often referred to as “pulling levers” strategies because they seek to apply every lever available, whether formal or informal, in deterring offenders. Third, unlike conventional deterrence strategies which may alter objective sanction risks, focused deterrence strategies seek to directly influence perceived sanction risks among offenders by communicating directly with them about the consequences of their actions. An important part of altering perceived risks among offenders is administering sanctions swiftly so potential offenders can observe the immediate consequences of their actions. Finally, since many focused deterrence strategies target groups (like street gangs) rather than individuals, another key element is the idea of collective responsibility: holding all members of the group responsible for the actions of any individual member. Together, these program elements are intended to influence the perceived risk of sanctions among potential offenders, thereby altering their decisions about whether or not to carry out an offense.

Practice Components
The focused deterrence framework was developed in Boston during the 1990s. Operation Ceasefire (Boston) was a problem-oriented policing project to stop serious gang violence by directly communicating to gang members that violence would no longer be tolerated, and backing up that message by “pulling every lever” legally available when violence occurred. At the same time, youth workers, probation and parole officers, and other community-based organizations offered services and resources to gang members (Kennedy 1997).

At a general level, the approach of focused deterrence strategies includes the following:

  1. Selecting a particular crime problem (such as youth homicide);
  2. Convening an interagency working group that may include law enforcement, social service, and community-based practitioners;
  3. Developing a response to offenders or groups of offenders that uses a variety of sanctions (“pulling levers”) to stop continued violent behavior;
  4. Focusing social services and community resources on target offenders to match the prevention efforts by law enforcement; and
  5. Directly and continually communicating with offenders to make them understand why they are receiving special attention (Braga and Weisburd 2012).

There are several similarities and overlapping features between focused deterrence strategies and other policing models, such as community-oriented, problem-oriented, and hot spots policing. Community-oriented policing draws on a variety of approaches to address crime and disorder issues. Often partnerships are formed between law enforcement and organizations outside of policing, especially community-based groups. Hot spots policing strategies rely mostly on traditional law enforcement approaches. However, police powers and resources are directed toward dealing with a specific crime-ridden area or group of offenders. Problem-oriented policing combines the resource targeting strategies of hot spots policing with the variety of approaches of community-oriented policing (National Research Council 2004; pg. 249). Focused deterrence strategies rely primarily on a problem-oriented policing approach, but also use elements of community-oriented policing (for example, forming partnerships between the police and community-based organizations through the creation of an interagency work group).

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Combining the results from 10 evaluation studies, Braga and Weisburd (2012) found that focused deterrence strategies were associated with an overall statistically significant, medium-sized crime reduction effect (d=0.604). This suggests that “pulling levers,” focused deterrence strategies can reduce crime.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 12001 - 2010100

Meta-Analysis 1

Braga and Weisburd (2012) examined the effect of “pulling levers” focused deterrence strategies on crime. To be included in the review, studies had to meet three criteria: (1) the program had to have the core elements of a “pulling levers” focused deterrence strategy; (2) a comparison group was included; and (3) at least one crime outcome was reported. Eligible studies must have measured the effects of focused deterrence interventions on officially recorded levels of crime at places or crime by individuals.

The search process was conducted between May and September 2010. Several search strategies were used to locate studies: (1) a keyword search of online abstract databases; (2) a review of bibliographies of previous literature that examined the effectiveness of “pulling levers” focused deterrence strategies; (3) forward searches of seminal “pulling levers” focused deterrence studies; (4) a search of bibliographies of narrative reviews of police crime prevention efforts and past Campbell Collaboration Systematic Reviews of police crime prevention efforts; and (5) hand searches of leading journals in the field. In addition, 90 leading scholars in criminology and criminal justice were sent a list of eligible studies in September 2010 to identify any unpublished studies that did not appear in conventional databases or other reviews. The search process produced almost 2,500 distinct abstracts. This was eventually narrowed down to 10 studies for inclusion.

All 10 studies used quasi-experimental designs to analyze the impact of focused deterrence strategies on crime. Seven evaluations used quasi-experimental designs with nonequivalent comparison groups and two evaluations used quasi-experimental designs with near-equivalent comparison groups created through matching techniques. One evaluation used a quasi-experimental design that included both nonequivalent and near-equivalent comparison groups. Six of the studies were published in peer-review journals, three were unpublished reports, and one was a published report. All of the studies were released after 2000. The studies were conducted in small, medium, and large urban cities across the United States, including Boston, Mass.; Lowell, Mass.; Indianapolis, Indiana; Stockton, Calif.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Newark, NJ; Chicago, Ill.; Rockford, Ill.; and Nashville, Tenn. Six of the studies evaluated the effects of “pulling levers” strategies on serious violence caused by street gangs or criminally-active groups (Boston, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Lowell, and Stockton). Two studies focused on crime reduction driven by street-level drug market interventions (Nashville and Rockford), and two studies focused on the effects of focused deterrence strategies on individuals (Chicago and Newark).

The standardized mean difference effect size (also known as Cohen’s d) was calculated for reported outcomes in each study. A random effects model was used to estimate the overall mean effect size. To examine the potential effects of publication bias on the analyses, the trim-and-fill procedure was used to estimate the effect of potential data censoring on the outcome.

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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Braga, Anthony A., and David L. Weisburd. 2012. “The Effects of ‘Pulling Levers’ Focused Deterrence Strategies on Crime.” Campbell Systematic Reviews 6.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Braga, Anthony A., and David L. Weisburd. 2012. “The Effects of Focused Deterrence Strategies on Crime: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Empirical Evidence.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 49(3):323–58.

Braga, Anthony A., and David L. Weisburd. 2012. Crime Prevention Research Review No. 6: Pulling Levers Focused Deterrence Strategies to Prevent Crime. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of community Oriented Policing Services.

Durlauf, Steve N., and Daniel S. Nagin. 2011. “Imprisonment and Crime: Can Both Be Reduced?” Criminology & Public Policy 10(1):13–54.

Kennedy, David. 1997. “Pulling Levers: Chronic Offenders, High-Crime Settings, and a Theory of Prevention.” Valparaiso University Law Review 31:449–84.

Kennedy, David. 2006. “Advocate Old Wine in New Bottles: Policing and the Lessons of Pulling Levers.” In D. Weisburd and A. Braga (eds.). Police Innovation: Contrasting Perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

McGarrell, Edmund F., Steven Chermak, Jeremy M. Wilson, and Nicholas Corsaro. 2006. “Reducing Homicide Through a ‘Lever-Pulling’ Strategy.” Justice Quarterly 23(2):214–31.

Nagin, Daniel S. 1998. “Criminal Deterrence Research at the Outset of the Twenty-First Century.” M. Tonry (ed.). Crime and Justice: A Review of Research. Volume 23. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

National Research Council. 2004. Fairness and Effectiveness in Policing: The Evidence. Committee to Review Research on Police Policy Practices. Wesley Skogan and Kathleen Frydl (eds.). Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

Weisburd, David, and John Eck. 2004. “What Can Police Do to Reduce Crime, Disorder, and Fear?” The Annals of the American Academy 593:42–65.

Zimring, Frank, and Gordon Hawkins. 1973. Deterrence: The Legal Threat in Crime Control. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.
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Related Programs

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Following are programs that are related to this practice:

Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) Promising - One study
A community supervision strategy for substance-abusing probationers, particularly for those who have long histories of drug use and involvement with the criminal justice system, and considered at high risk of failing probation or returning to prison. The program is rated Promising. Participants were less likely to miss appointments with probation officers, use drugs and be arrested.

Operation Peacekeeper Effective - One study
A community and problem-oriented policing program in Stockton, CA, to reduce gang involvement and violence among urban youth (10-18). Youth Outreach Workers served as mentors for youth in neighborhood settings. This program is rated Effective. The program was associated with a significant decrease in the monthly number of gun homicides. Also, when compared to gun homicide trends in other midsize California cities, the reduction in homicides in Stockton could be associated with the program.

Indianapolis (Ind.) Violence Reduction Partnership (IVRP) Promising - More than one study
A policing program that targeted high-risk chronic offenders in order to reduce gun violence in Indianapolis, Indiana. The program is rated Promising. When compared to the homicide trends in six other cities, Indianapolis was the only one that experienced a statistically significant decline. Gang-related homicides and homicides involving 15-24 year olds also showed a statistically significant decline.

Nashville (Tenn.) Drug Market Intervention Promising - One study
A policing program that used community mobilization, strategic planning, and pulling levers notifications to reduce drug dealing in a high-crime area. The program is rated Promising. As a result of the intervention, postintervention drug crime incidents declined, and surveyed residents believed that street drug markets were less of an issue after implementation. There was no statistically significant evidence that the intervention impacted Type 1 UCR offenses or calls for service.

Operation Ceasefire: Hollenbeck Initiative Promising - One study
A policing initiative that targeted specific dangerous gangs using aggressive enforcement to reduce gun violence. The program is rated Promising. In the five targeted police reporting districts, violent crime decreased by 37 percent during the six months after the intervention. This was a significant change in comparison to the other districts, where violent crime decreased by only 22 percent. The intervention also reduced gun and gang crime.

Operation Ceasefire (Boston, Mass.) Effective - More than one study
A problem-solving police strategy that seeks to reduce gang violence, illegal gun possession, and gun violence in communities in Boston, Mass. The program is rated Effective. There was a statistically significant decrease in youth homicides, citywide gun assaults, calls for service, and the percentage of recovered handguns that had a fast time-to-crime (the time between a firearm’s first sale at retail and subsequent recovery in a crime).

Project Safe Neighborhoods (Chicago) Promising - One study
A comprehensive antiviolence initiative that uses collaborative strategies to alter perceived costs and benefits of gun violence, intended to reduce illegal gun offending among exoffenders.

High Point Drug Market Intervention Effective - One study
A problem-oriented policing program that aims to eliminate overt drug markets and the problems associated with them through a deterrence-based, pulling-levers framework. The program is rated Effective. The Intervention had a statistically significant impact on reducing violent incidents in the target areas.
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Practice Snapshot

Targeted Population: Gang Members, High Risk Offenders, Serious/Violent Offender

Settings: High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots

Practice Type: Community and Problem Oriented Policing, Community Crime Prevention , Gang Prevention/Intervention, Specific deterrence, Violence Prevention

Unit of Analysis: Places