New Haven Focused Deterrence Strategy Associated with Significant Decline in Gun Violence

Authored By 
Michael Sierra-Arevalo
Blog contributor 
Graduate Student
October 21, 2015

In response to the 34 homicides that New Haven recorded in 2011, state and local officials cooperated with New Haven police, social services, and community members to implement Project Longevity, a gun violence reduction strategy based on the theory of focused deterrence. As part of a statewide initiative slated to eventually include Bridgeport and Hartford, Longevity follows a model pioneered in Boston by David Kennedy in the 1990s, and now supported by the National Network for Safe Communities and John Jay College of Criminal Justice in dozens of cities across the country.

As described in a previous policy brief, focused deterrence strategies move away from traditional deterrence activities like police sweeps or “broken windows” policing of low-level offenses. Instead, focused deterrence builds on the robust finding that gun violence is hyper-concentrated even within poor, high-crime neighborhoods, driven in large part by a small population criminally active offenders who are often in street groups like drugs crews or gangs.

Like previous focused deterrence programs used in cities ranging from metro areas like Chicago and Los Angeles to smaller cities like Lowell, MA and Rockford, IL, Longevity focuses law enforcement, social services, and community attention on members of street groups i.e., those most likely to be the victims and perpetrators of gun violence. The intervention uses call-ins, a meeting between the Longevity partnership and members of violent street groups, to disseminate a unified message to those called in: there is help for you if you want it, but the violence must stop; those that continue to engage in violent behavior will meet with serious legal consequences. No arrests are made at call-ins, only promises.

As the first site of the statewide Longevity initiative, New Haven’s call-ins began in November of 2012. To ascertain if Longevity was associated with a decline in group member involved (GMI) shootings and homicides, we compared the rate of GMI shootings before and after the start of Longevity, also controlling for a variety of potential confounds [see our brief and working paper for more details]. Our results suggest that Longevity is associated with a reduction of nearly 5 GMI incidents per month.

Our results in New Haven join a growing body of work that shows the efficacy of focused deterrence in contributing to reductions in gun violence. To be sure, we cannot conclusively say the reduction of GMI incidents in New Haven is solely the result of Longevity, any may be the combination of other unmeasured policies or services that were operating before and after call-ins began. Still, our results bolster the case for focused deterrence programs to be included in the public safety repertoire of U.S. cities, and demonstrate the feasibility of this alternative approach for ensuring community safety while keeping law enforcement action focused on those responsible for serious violence.

Michael Sierra-Arevalo is a doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at Yale University and an Affiliated Fellow at ISPS. His research focuses on policing, gangs, gun violence and criminal justice policy.