Focused deterrence strategies

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Law enforcement and community agencies that use focused deterrence strategies, also called pulling levers policing, unite to target a particular crime in a community. Program implementers research key offenders, behavior patterns, and context of offense then use all legal tools, or levers, against those offenders or groups of offenders and provide direct social services to them. Focused deterrence strategies often include direct communication with offenders and groups through group meetings, called forums or call-ins, with law enforcement, service providers, and other community organizations. Meetings inform the offenders of acts that will get law enforcement’s focused attention, how behaviors should change to avoid enforcement action, and which social services are available for support1. Focused deterrence strategies are primarily based on problem-oriented policing and are often less resource intensive than zero tolerance approaches2.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced crime

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is strong evidence that focused deterrence strategies reduce crime when applied with fidelity. Interventions targeted at gang or group violence and drug market-focused interventions have demonstrated particularly strong effects1.

Gang-involved shootings have been shown to decline among gangs that participate in Boston’s Operation Ceasefire, the initial focused deterrence-based effort, more than non-participating gangs3; this program also demonstrates benefits among non-participating gangs that are socially connected to participating gangs4. An evaluation of The Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS) in Chicago, based largely on focused deterrence principles, indicates greater reductions in shootings among gangs who participate in group meetings with law enforcement and are told about a focused deterrence message than non-participating gangs5.

In New Orleans, GVRS has been shown to reduce gang-involved homicide and firearm homicide. Following implementation, homicide rates in New Orleans decreased more than rates in other U.S. cities with similarly high chronic crime rates6. Focused deterrence efforts in Cincinatti and New Haven yield decreases in gang involved homicides 42 months and 24 months post intervention, respectively7, 8.

An evaluation of a North Carolina-based initiative that applied focused deterrence approaches to intimate partner violence (IPV) suggests this approach can also lead to decreases in IPV-related calls, victim injuries, and offender recidivism9.

In general, multi-dimensional community-based approaches such as focused deterrence strategies are more effective ways to reduce gun violence than less comprehensive approaches10. Strong commitment and leadership from local law enforcement and action plan development appear to be important components of successful focused deterrence policing efforts11.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated likely to decrease disparities.
Implementation Examples

Focused deterrence strategies are used in Boston’s “Operation Ceasefire” and in Philadelphia12, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Newark, Nashville, and some smaller cities1. A model of focused deterrence, the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) is implemented in a number of cities, including Chicago, New Orleans, Oakland, and Baltimore13

Implementation Resources

NIJ-CrimeSolutions - National Institute of Justice (NIJ)-CrimeSolutions. All programs and practices.

PSN-Resource coordination - Project SAFE Neighborhoods (PSN). Sustaining focused deterrence strategies in the middle district of North Carolina: Site and resource coordination. Practitioner Brief 2; 2013.


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1 Campbell-Braga 2012 - Braga AA, Weisburd DL. The effects of “pulling levers” focused deterrence strategies on crime. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2012:6.

2 Felbab-Brown 2013 - Felbab-Brown V. Focused deterrence, selective targeting, drug trafficking and organized crime: Concepts and practicalities. International Drug Policy Consortium, Modernising Drug Law Enforcement Report 2; 2013.

3 Braga 2014 - Braga AA, Hureau DM, Papchristos AV. Deterring gang-involved gun violence: Measuring the impact of Boston's Operation Ceasefire on street gang behavior. Journal of Quantitative Criminology. 2014;30(1):113-139.

4 Braga 2013 - Braga AA, Apel R, Welsh BC. The spillover effects of focused deterrence in gang violence. Evaluation Review. 2013;37(3-4):314-342.

5 Papachristos 2015 - Papachristos AV, Kirk DS. Changing the street dynamic: Evaluating Chicago's Group Violence Reduction Strategy. American Society of Criminology. 2015;14(3):525-558.

6 Corsaro 2015 - Corsaro N, Engel RS. Most challenging of contexts: Assessing the impact of focused deterrence on serious violence in New Orleans. Criminology & Public Policy. 2015;14(3):471-505.

7 Engel 2013 - Engel RS, Tillyer MS, Corsaro N. Reducing gang violence using focused deterrence: Evaluating the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). Justice Quarterly. 2013;30(3):403-439.

8 Sierra-Arevalo 2016 - Sierra-Arevalo M, Charette Y, Papachristos AV. Evaluating the effect of project longevity on group-involved shootings and homicides in New Haven, Connecticut. Crime & Delinquency. 2016:1-22.

9 Sechrist 2017 - Sechrist SM, Weil JD. Assessing the impact of a focused deterrence strategy to combat intimate partner domestic violence. Violence Against Women. 2017:1-23.

10 Makarios 2012 - Makarios MD, Pratt TC. The effectiveness of policies and programs that attempt to reduce firearm violence: A meta-analysis. Crime & Delinquency. 2012;58(2):222-44.

11 RAND-Saunders 2016 - Saunders J, Ober AJ, Kilmer B, Greathouse SM. A Community-based, focused-deterrence approach to closing overt drug markets: A process and fidelity evaluation of seven sites. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2016.

12 PSIJ-Focused deterrence - Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal (PSIJ). Focused Deterrence in Philadelphia: Fighting Crime with Redemption and Hope.

13 NNSC-GVI - National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC). Group Violence Intervention (GVI).