Youth Violence Interventions

Innovative Policing

A growing number of police departments are modifying their traditionally reactive approach to law enforcement (i.e., answering 911 calls) to take a more proactive approach to crime control. Identification and suppression of crime "hot spots" is one example. Crime is not randomly dispersed in time or space. It is highly concentrated in identifiable neighborhoods and even places (e.g., certain bars or street corners). Through use of computer mapping, police resources can be more effectively deployed to counter such activity and restore a sense of safety in the neighborhood (Block 1991, Reiss 1993). In New York City, Police Commissioner Bratton applied this strategy to great effect (Bratton 1996). Proactive policing has been given a large share of the credit for New York’s recent decline in violent crime (Pooley 1996).

Targeting illegal carrying of firearms is another promising strategy. The Kansas City Police Department evaluated the impact of deploying a special unit to confiscate illegally-carried firearms in a neighborhood plagued by high rates of gun-related violence. During two intervention periods when this unit was actively looking for illegally-carried guns, firearm-related crime in the intervention neighborhood declined almost 50% . No such decline was noted in a control neighborhood a few miles away. There was little or no displacement of crime to surrounding neighborhoods (Sherman 1995).

A few years ago, the mayor of Cali, Colombia responded to a surge in the city’s rate of homicide by banning the carrying of firearms on "high-homicide" weekends (i.e., paydays, holidays and election weekends). During these periods of time, the National Police established checkpoints and instituted other measures to confiscate illegally-carried firearms. A subsequent evaluation of this policy revealed that the rate of homicide was significantly less on weekends when the policy was in effect compared to weekends when it was not in effect (Villaveces, 1996).

Obviously, any effort that involves confiscation of firearms has the potential to be controversial. Police engaged in this sort of activity must be carefully trained and rigorously monitored to ensure that searches are conducted in a constitutional manner. Community education is needed to increase the deterrence value of this strategy and engender neighborhood support. In Kansas City, officers went door to door in the intervention neighborhood before the program was put into effect (Sherman 1995). Controlled replications are needed before this strategy is put into widespread practice.