clear Deterring Gun Carrying in High-Crime Hotspot Areas

One of the key research findings of the last 10 to 15 years has been the discovery of the importance of hotspots of crime. Researchers have recently discovered that even within high-crime areas there are specific locales that generate the majority of calls for police service and response to crime.1 This discovery informs important theoretical work on problem-oriented policing,2 the community policing movement,3 and situational crime prevention.4 Hotspot analyses also have become increasingly important for police departments as they seek to move from a reactive to a proactive model of policing.5 Perhaps most reflective of this orientation is the New York City Police Department's COMPSTAT program, which systematically utilizes hotspot analyses in regular crime analysis meetings involving strategic planning and managerial benchmarking.6

Applying a hotspot perspective to firearm crime suggests a focus on both places and people. Research in Indianapolis found that only 3 percent of the city's addresses accounted for 100 percent of the gun crimes.7 Further, a small number of the city's blocks accounted for a disproportionate number of firearm calls for service. Another study in Washington, D.C., found that a small and select group of youth were arrested repeatedly on gun charges. This is consistent with research in Boston, which showed that approximately 1,300 gang members, representing less than 1 percent of the city's youth, were responsible for at least 60 percent of the city's youth homicides.8 Youth involved in homicides in Boston, both as victims and suspects, had long histories of involvement in the justice system, leading to the conclusion that "youth homicide was concentrated among a small number of serially offending, gang-involved youths."9

The fact that firearm-related violence is concentrated in select locations within a city also provides opportunities for prevention. As indicated in the program summaries described in this chapter, these opportunities may be based on interventions at specific locales, among certain groups of potential offenders, or may involve a combination of place and person. Two promising approaches that rest on these principles involve directed police patrol and the specific deterrence approach developed in Boston referred to as "pulling levers."

Directed police patrol

In 1992, the Kansas City Police Department, as part of its Weed and Seed program, implemented a directed patrol initiative in a police beat with very high levels of homicide and firearm-related violent crime.10 This was a beat that included a number of gun crime hotspots. For 6 months, a group of officers patrolled the beat, free from the responsibility of responding to calls for service. The directed patrol officers provided more than 1,200 additional hours of police presence in this beat, issued nearly 1,100 traffic warrants, and made approximately 600 arrests. Primarily relying upon vehicle stops, the police increased the number of firearm seizures by 65percent during the project period. This activity, in turn, was associated with a 49-percent decrease in gun crimes.

Given the success of the Kansas City Gun Experiment and facing an escalating homicide problem, the Indianapolis Police Department implemented a similar directed patrol project in the summer of 1997. The Indianapolis project focused on two areas for a 3-month period. The areas chosen in Indianapolis were two police beats selected for their high levels of violent crime. Two slightly different strategies were employed in each area. The officers working in the east target area utilized a "general deterrence strategy" maximizing the number of police vehicle stops to create a sense of significantly increased police presence. The North District used a "specific deterrence strategy" in which officers focused on stopping individuals suspected of being involved in criminal activity. Essentially, in the East District any type of traffic violation resulted in a stop, whereas in the North District officers were looking for additional bases for suspicion.

Examination of officer activity and output data suggested that the two strategies were implemented in a serious fashion.11 More than 4,800 officer hours resulted in more than 5,200 vehicle stops and just under 1,000 arrests. Homicides in the target areas dropped from 11 in the same 90-day period in 1996 to 1 during the project period. Upon closer inspection, the project appeared to have an effect in the north target area (total gun crimes dropped 29 percent; aggravated assaults with a gun and armed robbery each declined 40 percent) but not in the east target area (these offenses actually increased there). Surprisingly, given the Kansas City findings, it was the east target area that witnessed the largest increase in gun seizures. The east target area showed a 50-percent increase and the north target area only an 8-percent increase. Thus, the Indianapolis findings raise the question of whether the Kansas City and the Indianapolis north target area effects on firearm crime were due to seizing and removing illegal weapons from hotspot areas or from the increased police attention given to high-risk individuals within these areas.

Pulling levers

The notion that increased law enforcement attention to high-risk individuals may be effective in reducing crime receives additional support from the Boston "pulling levers" approach. Having found that in particular neighborhoods a small group of youth with extensive involvement in the justice system accounted for a majority of youth homicides, Boston officials sought to deliver a specific deterrence message to these youth. The result was the two-pronged "pulling levers" program.12 A multiagency law enforcement team convened a series of meetings with chronic gang offenders in which law enforcement communicated new standards for behavior (violence will no longer be tolerated). When the standards were violated, the multiagency law enforcement team responded by imposing all available sanctions (pulling levers). The initial examples of pulling levers with gang members then became the source of discussion in continued meetings with potential offenders. Since Boston implemented the strategy in 1996, youth homicides have fallen by two-thirds.

Firearm-related violence has often been considered largely impervious to law enforcement intervention. The Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Boston projects, and those implemented in other jurisdictions reported in this Report, suggest that this assumption may simply be erroneous. Certain questions do, however, remain. For example, is it the removal of guns from the streets or the direct communication of a deterrence message that has had an impact? Are youth no longer carrying weapons or have they temporarily ceased using them? Although these and related issues must be addressed, these studies indicate that significant reductions in violent crime may be possible. It appears that interventions based on a more precise understanding of the problem, as in those targeting high-risk individuals in high-risk areas, offer important prevention opportunities.

The following initiatives, including directed patrols, community policing, and other "hotspot" programs, use a common set of strategies to target individuals most likely to carry weapons. Several involve the creation of task forces or other steering committees to coordinate law enforcement efforts and some were funded through national initiatives such as the U.S. Department of Justice Weed and Seed initiative.


1. L.W. Sherman, "Hotspots of crime and criminal careers of places," in Crime and Place, edited by J. Eck and D. Weisburd, Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press, 1995.

2. H. Goldstein, Problem-Oriented Policing, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1990.

3. D.H. Bayley, Police for the Future, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1994.

4. R.V. Clarke, "Situational crime prevention," in Building a Safer Society, edited by M. Tonry and D. Farrington, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1995; and D. Weisburd, Reorienting Crime Prevention Research and Policy: From the Causes of Criminality to the Context of Crime, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, 1997.

5. M.K. Sparrow, M.H. Moore, and D.M. Kennedy, Beyond 911: A New Era for Policing, New York, NY: Basic Books, 1990.

6. W. Bratton and P. Knobler, Turnaround: How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic, New York, NY: Random House, 1998.

7. L.W. Sherman and D.P. Rogan, "Effects of gun seizure on gun violence: 'Hotspots' patrol in Kansas City," Justice Quarterly 12(4):673­693, 1995.

8. D. Kennedy, "Pulling levers: Getting deterrence right," National Institute of Justice Journal (July):2­8, 1998.

9. Kennedy, 1998.

10. Sherman and Rogan, 1995.

11. E.F. McGarrell and S. Chermak, Summary of Results of JPD's 1997 Directed Patrol Initiative, Indianapolis, IN: Hudson Institute, 1998.

12. Kennedy, 1998.

Previous Contents Next

Promising Strategies to Reduce Gun Violence OJJDP Report