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Program Profile: Operation Safe Streets (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on June 13, 2011

Program Summary

A problem-oriented policing program targeted at high-crime areas and drug corners to prevent violent and drug-related crime. The program is rated Promising. Localized analysis of the intervention areas found reductions in violent and drug crime rates. Analysis on the adjoining areas suggests the intervention caused some spatial diffusion of benefits for violent and drug crime displacement. There were no statistically significant effects on citywide homicides, violent or drug crime rates.

Program Description

Program Goals/Target Sites

Operation Safe Streets was a law enforcement and crime prevention initiative implemented in Philadelphia, Pa., in 2002. The program, which targeted specific high-crime problem areas with a geographically targeted police crackdown, was implemented in response to rising violent and drug-related crime in Philadelphia. It was modeled after a similar police crackdown, Operation Sunrise, which was conducted by the Philadelphia Police Department in 1998. The goal of Operation Safe Streets was to improve public order by disrupting local drug markets and to prevent violent crime through the use of intensive localized policing.


The sites identified for intervention were the highest drug-activity locations in the city. Using crime data, arrest data, firearm seizure data and informant data, the Philadelphia Police Department identified 214 locations throughout the city to receive the intervention.


Program Components/Key Personnel

Starting on May 1, 2002, the Philadelphia Police Department stationed pairs of officers at the locations identified. The locations, mainly drug corners, were policed around the clock in order to avoid their use by drug dealers and buyers and dissuade violent crime related to the drug trade (turf wars, gang conflict, etc). The operation required the involvement of more than 600 officers and close to 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week policing of the target locations. The resources, both in terms of funds and required dedicated staff, were substantial.


Program Theory

Geographically targeted crackdowns are an example of problem-solving policing, a strategy which uses a preventive approach to address the underlying issues of crime. The strategies utilized in the Operation Safe Streets program are based on the idea that the underlying issues of the drug trade tend to be localized and dependent on a number of environmentally specific factors. Specifically, the positioning of police officers at specific corners is used to suppress the establishment and operation of local drug markets, as well as to prevent the proliferation of drug-related crimes.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1

The results of Lawton and colleagues (2005) on Operation Safe Streets in Philadelphia, Pa., indicate that while citywide homicide rates, violent crime rates, and drug crime rates did decrease, the results were not found to be statistically significant. Localized analysis of the interventions areas did, however, indicate significant reductions in violent crime and drug crime rates, suggesting that the intervention was successful in targeting specific areas. Analysis of the effects of the intervention on adjoining areas suggests that there was some spatial diffusion of benefits for violent crimes and some displacement for drug crimes.


Citywide Drug Crime

There was a decrease of approximately 10 drug crimes a week, but these declines were not found to be statistically significant.


Citywide Violent Crime

Violent crime declined citywide after the intervention, with about 16 fewer violent crimes each week. These declines were not found to be statistically significant, however.


Citywide Homicide

The analysis showed approximately one less homicide every 2 weeks after the intervention was implemented, but these declines were not statistically significant.


Localized Drug Crime

The localized net reduction was about 2.3 drug crimes per week per km². These declines were statistically significant.


Localized Violent Crime

The results of the analysis indicated that the intervention prevented on average one violent crime a week per kilometer² (km²) within 0.1 mile of the intervention site. At 0.1–0.2 miles from the intervention site, the results reveal a smaller, but still significant, reduction of approximately 0.3 violent crimes a week per km².

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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1

Lawton and colleagues (2005) examined the effects of Operation Safe Streets on the crime rates in localized areas in Philadelphia, Pa., and citywide, using data provided by the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) to the Philadelphia Daily News newspaper.


The treatment group consisted of 214 high-crime areas identified over a period of 139 weeks, with 121 weeks of crime data before the intervention and 18 weeks of crime data during Operation Safe Streets. (While the newspaper requested additional data from the PPD to extend the observation of the treatment period for analysis, this request was denied.) The authors additionally selected 73 comparison areas, which also reported high-rates of drug crime but which were not targeted by the intervention. This comparison group was used only descriptively and not in any statistical tests. This was because direct comparison was not possible due to the intervention areas being identified specifically for being the highest drug-crime areas. The data used contained all reported drug and violent crimes from Jan. 1, 2000, through Aug. 31, 2002, with Operation Safe Streets being implemented on May 2, 2002.


The study used a time series design using Auto-Regressive Integrated Moving Average (or ARIMA) models to establish the impact of the intervention on violent crime, homicide, and drug crime citywide. The homicide category included all homicides and manslaughter; the violent crime category included all rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults in addition to homicides; and the drug crime category included all types of selling, possession, and manufacturing of illegal drugs. Weekly counts of each type of crime were aggregated and coded using Philadelphia’s Uniform Crime Report codes.


The study additionally used Geographic Information Software to geocode the recorded crimes throughout the observation period. This allowed a further time series analysis of the local impact of the treatment, but also to look at potential benefits and displacement effects in adjoining neighborhoods. For the geographically focused localized analyses, weekly crime counts were transformed into weekly counts/kilometer² (km²) to account for the differences in sizes of areas. An analysis of homicide counts in localized areas was not possible due to a small number of homicide cases.


This study was limited to the first 4 months of treatment data, which did not permit for analysis of the potential for waning program effects or lasting effects posttreatment.

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The cost of the Philadelphia Safe Streets program over 5 years was estimated at $100 million. It was partially funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance for police overtime pay.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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

Study 1

Lawton, Brian A., R.B. Taylor, and A.J. Luongo. 2005. “Police Officers on Drug Corners in Philadelphia, Drug Crime, and Violent Crime: Intended, Diffusion, and Displacement Impacts.” Justice Quarterly 22(4):427–51.

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Additional References

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

Wexler, Sanford. 2003. “The Philadelphia Story.” Law Enforcement Technology 10(30):10–16.

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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Hot Spots Policing
Used by many U.S. police departments, hot spots policing strategies focus on small geographic areas or places, usually in urban settings, where crime is concentrated. The practice is rated Effective. The analysis suggests that hot spots policing efforts that rely on problem-oriented policing strategies generate larger crime reduction effects than those that apply traditional policing strategies in crime hot spots.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Problem-Oriented Policing
These analytic methods are used by police to develop crime prevention and reduction strategies. The practice is rated Promising and led to a significant decline in crime and disorder.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Street-Level Drug Law Enforcement
This practice includes targeted-policing approaches for reducing drug and drug-related offenses. This practice is rated Promising in reducing reported, drug-related calls for services and offenses against persons. This practice is rated No Effects in reducing reported property offenses, public order calls for service, and total offenses.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Drug and alcohol offenses
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Violent offenses
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Property offenses
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Public order offenses
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
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Program Snapshot

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots

Program Type: Community and Problem Oriented Policing, Crisis Intervention/Response, Community Crime Prevention , Violence Prevention, Hot Spots Policing

Targeted Population: Serious/Violent Offender, Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Offenders

Current Program Status: Not Active

Brian Lawton
Assistant Professor
George Mason University, Department of Criminology, Law and Society
4400 University Dr MS4F4, 358 Aquia Building
Fairfax VA 20330
Phone: 703.993.9832