Operation Impact was a saturation foot-patrol initiative implemented in Newark, New Jersey. In 2006, the Newark Police Department underwent several changes in its overall strategy and mission. The primary strategy against violence became proactive enforcement that targeted street-level disorder and the illicit narcotics trade. The agency provided more coverage on nighttime and weekend shifts and committed to a place-based approach in its crime-prevention efforts. Operation Impact was launched in June 2008 and represented the agency’s placed-based strategy.
The design and enforcement strategy of Operation Impact was based on the New York (City) Police Department program of the same name (Smith and Purtell 2007). The initiative primarily involved 12 officers (under the supervision of three supervisors) patrolling a quarter-square-mile area of the city on a nightly basis. This represented an increase in police presence in the target area, as typically two officers would patrol Newark’s police sectors (averaging approximately three-square miles in size).
The foot patrols were deployed as a deterrence mechanism. Potential offenders would notice an increased risk of apprehension because of the strengthened presence of police. In addition, officers engaged in proactive enforcement actions that were expected to disrupt street-level disorder and narcotics activity in violence-prone areas. During the implementation of Operation Impact, the unit engaged in 3,186 specific enforcement actions, including 634 arrests, 1,202 quality of life summonses, and 1,350 field interrogations.
Newark is New Jersey’s largest city, stretching almost 25 square miles, with a population of almost 280,000 persons (U.S. Census Bureau 2013). The target area of Operation Impact was in Newark’s Fourth Precinct. This area was selected based on an in-depth analysis of the spatial distribution of street violence. The analysis examined incidents of murder, nonfatal shootings, aggravated assaults, and robbery that occurred from Jan. 1, 2005, through Dec. 31, 2007.
In Newark’s Fourth Precinct, the thoroughfare of South Orange Avenue stretches east to west across the center of the area. Along this main corridor are numerous apartment buildings, assorted business types (e.g., liquor and retail establishments), and many intersecting streets. A large housing complex is located in the eastern portion of the target area, consisting of 28 low-rise buildings situated in a particular fashion that forms a maze-like network of streets and walkways.
The officers and supervisors involved in Operation Impact comprised a special unit dedicated exclusively to patrolling the target area. The 12 officers were assigned to Operation Impact upon their graduation from the police academy. They remained on that detail until graduates from the ensuing academy class were selected as their successors. The supervisors (two sergeants and one lieutenant) were selected based on their levels of experience managing proactive enforcement units.
Operation Impact lasted roughly 2 years. However, in 2010, the Newark Police Department phased out Operation Impact because of severe cuts to the department’s budget and personnel.
Piza and O’Hara (2012) provided clear evidence that Operation Impact reduced overall violence, aggravated assault, and shootings in the targeted area of Newark, NJ. The evidence for murder was less clear due to statistical power issues. The initiative does not appear to have influenced the number of robberies.
The authors provided odds ratios for five outcome measures: overall violence, murders, robberies, aggravated assaults, and shootings. Two odds ratios were provided for each crime category: one comparing the target area to the precinct control area, and another comparing the target area to the Zone B control area.
There was a statistically significant odds ratio of 1.73 for overall violence, showing a reduction of 42 percent in the target area relative to the surrounding precinct control area. The intervention also achieved a statistically significant odds ratio of 1.58 for overall violence, reflecting a decrease of 30 percent in the target area relative to the Zone B control area.
There was a statistically significant odds ratio of 2.94 for aggravated assault, reflecting a decrease of more than 60 percent in the target area relative to the precinct control area. There also was a statistically significant odds ratio of 2.51, reflecting a decrease of 61 percent in the target area relative to the Zone B control area.
There was a statistically significant odds ratio of 2.61 for shootings, showing a reduction of over 60 percent in the target area relative to the precinct control area. There was an odds ratio of 1.62 for shootings relative to the Zone B control area—suggesting a crime reduction in the target area—though this effect was not statistically significant.
Relative to the precinct control area and Zone B control area, the odds ratios for murder were 2.57 and 5.25, respectively, suggesting that the intervention may have reduced murders. However, these odds ratios were not statistically significant. The authors attribute the absence of statistically significant effects on murders as a function of low statistical power due to the small number of murders in the area.
The odds ratio for robbery was 1.13 relative to the surrounding precinct control area. This suggests the possibility of a crime reduction in the target area; however, the effect was not statistically significant. The odds ratio for the Zone B control area was 1.03 and also nonsignificant. These findings suggest that the initiative either did not have an effect on incidents of robbery, or if such an effect existed, it was trivial.
Piza and O’Hara (2012) used a quasi-experimental design to evaluate Operation Impact. Data was collected from the Newark (NJ) Police Department’s geographic information system on incidents of murder, robbery, aggravated assault, and shootings. The 1-year pre-implementation period included crime incidents from June 4, 2007, through June 3, 2008. The 1-year implementation period included crime incidents from June 4, 2008, through June 3, 2009.
Crime incidents were measured within four areas: the target area, a surrounding catchment area, and two different control areas. The target area of Operation Impact was in Newark’s Fourth Precinct. The catchment area was an area extending approximately one block in each direction from the target area. The first control area was the Fourth Precinct minus the target area and surrounding catchment area. This control area included areas unrelated to Operation Impact that were primarily policed through standard law enforcement methods, such as routine patrols. The second control area was “Zone B,” which was a prospective target area identified through the target selection stage. It was selected as the second control area because it had the second-highest violent crime total of the five prospective target areas (making the violent crime problem comparable with the target area), and the geographic layout of Zone B was similar to that of the target area. Zone B was policed through numerous place-based strategies that were somewhat similar to Operation Impact but that also differed in many ways (for example, focused-patrol and street-level narcotics operations occurred on an intermittent basis in Zone B). Thus, Operation Impact’s intensive foot-patrol approach was compared with tactics specific to the two control areas: intermittent, placed-based enforcement in Zone B and standard responses to crime in the precinct.
The effect of Operation Impact was reported as an odds ratio (OR), which indicates the proportional change in crime in the control area compared with the target area. An odds ratio greater than 1 indicates a desirable effect on crime in the target area relative to the control area, while an odds ratio less than 1 indicates an undesirable effect.
The evaluation had a few limitations. First, the study was unable to measure the residual effect of Operation Impact, and earlier research has shown that certain placed-based interventions produce initial crime reductions only to have the deterrence effect fade over time (Mazerolle, Hurley, and Chamlin 2002). In addition, for some crime types, the number of incidents was small, making it difficult to reliably detect an effect of the intervention.
There is no cost information available for this program.
Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:
Mazerolle, Lorraine Green, David C. Hurley, and Mitchell Chamlin. 2002. “Social Behavior in Public Space: An Analysis of Behavioral Adaptations to CCTV.” Security Journal
Smith, Dennis C., and Robert Purtell. 2007. An Empirical Assessment of NYPD’s ‘Operation Impact’: A Targeted Zone Crime Reduction Strategy
. New York, N.Y.: Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
U.S. Census Bureau. 2013. “State and County Quick Facts: Newark, New Jersey.”