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Program Profile: Group Violence Reduction Strategy (Chicago, Ill.)

Evidence Rating: No Effects - One study No Effects - One study

Date: This profile was posted on November 21, 2018

Program Summary

This is a focused deterrence intervention that uses a data-driven approach to reduce shootings in Chicago, IL by identifying offenders who are responsible for a disproportionate share of shootings and delivering a “don’t shoot” message. The program is rated No Effects. The preponderance of the evidence suggests that the strategy had no impact on shooting behaviors in the year after the call-ins, but did have a statistically significant impact on the time until a shooting incident occurred.

Program Description

Program Goals
The Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS) is a focused deterrence intervention that is designed to reduce gun violence in Chicago, IL. The GVRS uses a data-driven approach to identify key offenders who are responsible for a disproportionate share of shootings in Chicago, and then delivers a “don’t shoot” message directly to them. The intervention is carried out by a collaborative group of law enforcement officials from multiple levels, community stakeholders, and service providers. The GVRS is based on the Boston CeaseFire model (Braga et al. 2001). It is designed to use a problem-oriented policing method to identify high-risk groups and gangs, and to advise gang members and other group-involved violent offenders (during “call-in” meetings) that they will be subjected to intensified enforcement and prosecution if they continue to engage in violent behavior. The program also provides these individuals with access to social services.

Target Population
GVRS Chicago targets members of gangs and criminally active groups who are involved in current and ongoing violent disputes, as identified by GVRS staff and partners through a process known as a group or gang audit. This audit uses the knowledge of gang experts, such as caseworkers and law enforcement officers, to analyze current shooting patterns in a specific geographic area. The goals of the audit are to identify all groups or gangs in the area, gather information on their members and their activities, locate gang-related territories, and create a social network map of gang-related relationships, whether they are alliances or disputes. Influential individuals from each of the gangs are asked to participate in the call-ins through customized letters and visits or calls from their probation or parole officers.

Program Activities
The 1-hour, call-in meetings include GVRS staff members and 15 to 20 individuals thought to be involved in shootings. These meetings are held in public places such as a library, nonprofit organization, park, or school. The setting is important, as it enhances the legitimacy of the strategy and its message. The call-ins are moderated by a GVRS Chicago staff member, who keeps meetings on task and stresses the strategy’s key points.

The message has three components: 1) law enforcement, 2)  community “moral voice”, and 3) social services. At the start of a call-in session, the moderator calls the meeting to order and clarifies that all participants will be allowed to return home when the meeting ends. The law enforcement component stresses the deterrence aspect of the strategy by having law enforcement officials from the local, state, and federal levels explain possible sanctions that will be used in the event of another shooting incident. Officials provide examples of recent shooting-related cases to illustrate their commitment to prosecuting offenders who continue to engage in violence.

Next, members of the community provide the “moral voice” component through sharing their experiences with losing loved ones to gun violence. This portion of the meeting can be emotional for participants.

The final component, social services, provides participants with free access to service providers from various sectors such as physical and mental health, housing, substance abuse treatment, education, and employment. At the end of the call-in meeting, GVRS participants are asked to “spread the word” to their associates involved in gun violence.

Program Theory
GVRS is a focused deterrence strategy, also known as “pulling levers” violence-reduction strategy, which was developed in the 1990s in Boston, Mass., through the Operation Ceasefire initiative (Braga et al. 2001). Deterrence theory suggests that crime can be prevented when potential offenders perceive the risk of apprehension and the seriousness and swiftness of sanctions to be greater than any benefits that will accrue from committing a crime. Focused deterrence is based on the idea that efforts to reduce crime are most effective when they target those groups or individuals who are responsible for a disproportionate share of crime (Papachristos and Kirk 2015).

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
The preponderance of the evidence from the study by Papachristos and Kirk (2015) suggests that the Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS) in Chicago had little-to-no impact on shooting behaviors, either as the victim or the offender, in the year after the call-ins. However, there was a statistically significant impact on the time to failure (i.e., the period of time until a shooting incident occurred).

Shooting Victimizations
There were no statistically significant differences between the GVRS treatment factions and control factions on the likelihood of being shot (i.e., shooting victimization).

Shooting Offenses
There were no statistically significant differences on suspected shooting offense rates between the treatment factions and control factions.

Time to Failure
After participation in the GVRS, the treatment factions went a longer period of time until a shooting incident occurred, compared with the control factions. This difference was statically significant.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Papachristos and Kirk (2015) used a quasi-experimental design to evaluate the effectiveness of the Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS) on shootings in Chicago, IL. The unit of analysis in this study was gang factions, which represent geographically bounded or neighborhood-based crews that operate independently but may also be part of larger gangs. The program sought to decrease shooting behavior among specific gang factions targeted by the GVRS and not among all gang factions in the city. This allowed for comparison between those gang factions targeted by GVRS and those gang factions not targeted.

The authors used data from the Chicago Police Department, including incident-level arrest records and homicide and nonfatal shooting records from January 1, 2006, to March 31, 2014. Group/gang audits were conducted in 25 police districts between 2009 and 2010. Between August 7, 2010, and December 31, 2013, there were 18 call-in meetings (where at least 1 member from 149 gang factions participated). The authors also used gang-related information collected during these audits.

Researchers created a faction-level database that included information on demographic, organizational, network, and crime involvement. Measures of criminal activity were aggregated from arrest records, including total number of arrests for aggravated assaults, drug-related crime, robberies, and all felonies. A shooting variable was created as a pretest measure of shooting involvement, which counted the number of fatal and nonfatal shootings of each participant (as either victim or offender) in the five years before the GVRS was implemented. The researchers created social network diagrams for each faction based on the “two-degree ego-network” for members of each faction. These diagrams provided insights into the gang’s network structure and have been found useful in previous research for understanding crime patterns, particularly gun violence. Structural variables were created to describe the organizational and network characteristics of each faction. Geographic variables were included to account for the size of each faction’s turf and its location in terms of police patrol areas. The dependent variable was the frequency of shooting involvement, both as victim and offender, for each gang faction in the 12 months after a call-in meeting.

Propensity score matching was used to match GVRS factions with up to three control factions that had not participated in the GVRS. Using this method, the researchers were able to match 148 of the 149 treated factions with at least one control faction that did not participate in the GVRS intervention. Before matching, certain differences were noted between GVRS participants and nonparticipants; however, no statistically significant differences were found in the final matched sample. Thus, the matching process was successful in creating statistically equivalent treatment and control groups.

The researchers compared the involvement in shootings (as either victim or offender) of GVRS participants with their matched controls at a 12-month follow up. They also conducted a supplemental analysis on time to failure (i.e., the time until a gang faction-involved shooting incident occurred) using propensity score weights in a Cox proportional hazards model. The study authors did not conduct subgroup analyses.
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Implementation Information

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Chicago’s Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS) is based on the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) strategy promulgated by the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. GVI programs are known by different names in different cities, where they are tailored to local conditions while preserving GVI’s core principles.

The website for the National Network for Safe Communities ( lists over 80 network member cities and indicates the strategies that have been deployed in more than 60 cities. An implementation guide is available on the website.
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Other Information

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The Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS) was implemented in Chicago at around the same time as the Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) intervention ( and the Cure Violence intervention ( While some overlap in the treatment areas existed, the GVRS staff worked with PSN program staff to minimize cross contamination between these efforts. In addition, a recent evaluation of Cure Violence suggested that GVRS and Cure Violence were not operating in the same areas during our GVRS study period (Papachristos and Kirk 2015, p. 551–2).
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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
Papachristos, Andrew V., and David S. Kirk. 2015. “Changing the Street Dynamic: Evaluating Chicago’s Group Violence Reduction Strategy.” Criminology and Public Policy 14(3):525–58.
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Additional References

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

Braga, Anthony A., David M. Kennedy, Elin J. Waring, and Anne Morrison Piehl. 2001. “Problem-Oriented Policing, Deterrence, and Youth Violence: An Evaluation of Boston’s Operation Ceasefire.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 38(3):195–225.

Corsaro, Nicholas, and Robin S. Engel. 2015. “Most Challenging of Contexts.” Criminology & Public Policy 14(3):471–505.

Fontaine, Jocelyn, Jesse Jannetta, Andrew Papachristos, David Leitson, and Anamika Dwivedi. 2017. Put the Guns Down: Outcomes and Impacts of the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Focused Deterrence Strategies
Problem-oriented policing strategies that follow the core principles of deterrence theory. The practice is rated Promising. The evaluation found that focused deterrence strategies (also referred to as “pulling levers" policing) can reduce crime.

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

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting, High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots

Program Type: Community and Problem Oriented Policing, Community Awareness/Mobilization, Gang Prevention/Intervention, Violence Prevention, Specific deterrence

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

Current Program Status: Active