Collaborating to Reduce Violence: The Impact of Focused Deterrence in Kansas City

AuthorAndrew M. Fox,Kenneth J. Novak
Date01 September 2018
Published date01 September 2018
Subject MatterArticles
untitled Article
Police Quarterly
Collaborating to
2018, Vol. 21(3) 283–308
ß The Author(s) 2018
Reduce Violence:
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611118758701
The Impact of
Focused Deterrence
in Kansas City
Andrew M. Fox1 and
Kenneth J. Novak2
This research examines the impact of focused deterrence on homicide and gun
violence in Kansas City, MO. In 2014, a coalition of police, prosecutors, city officials,
researchers, and others implemented Kansas City No Violence Alliance, a focused
deterrence violence reduction strategy. Using street-level intelligence and analysis,
groups involved with violence were identified and notified of the consequences
for future violent incidents. Leveraging existing social services, members opting for
nonviolence were offered assistance. This study evaluates the impact on violence
over 3 years of implementation. Using 2009–2016 police incident data on homicide
(including group member involved homicide) and gun-involved aggravated assault,
time series models were estimated to determine the effects of focused deterrence
during 2014–2016. Analysis indicated that focused deterrence implementation
resulted in an immediate reduction in homicides and gun-involved aggravated
assaults. This effect began to diminish around the 12-month postintervention
point. During the third year, overall and group member involved homicide numbers
returned to preimplementation levels, and gun-involved aggravated assaults
exceeded those levels. After achieving significant first-year reductions, despite
robust implementation and fidelity, violence returned to preimplementation levels
1Department of Criminology, California State University, Fresno, CA, USA
2Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, University of Missouri, Kansas City, MO, USA
Corresponding Author:
Andrew M. Fox, Department of Criminology, California State University, 2576 E. San Ramon Ave, Fresno,
CA 93740, USA.

Police Quarterly 21(3)
by the third year. Limitations to the focused deterrence model and the need for
continuous evaluation and innovation are discussed.
focused deterrence, gangs, homicide, gun violence
Focused deterrence is an offender-based policing strategy that differs from ear-
lier violence reduction strategies in that it does not attempt to transform serious
offenders into model citizens or to clear them out of specific geographic areas.
Rather, focused deterrence gives potential offenders reasons to cooperate in the
effort to put an end to violence. Policy makers and practitioners use analytical
and communication techniques, peer pressure, and stringent sanctions, along
with social services and support for those committing to nonviolence, to moti-
vate and enable nonviolent behavior. Essentially, focused deterrence strives to
alter the norms and high-stakes behaviors of chronically violent criminals
(Braga, Kennedy, Waring, & Piehl, 2001; Kennedy, 1996, 2012).
In 2012, a group of interested parties in Kansas City, MO, convened to
research and attempt to address the city’s chronically high rates of violent
crime. The coalition ultimately determined that a focused deterrence strategy,
similar to those that had succeeded in other cities, was a promising option.
Other jurisdictions had found focused deterrence to be challenging to sustain,
however, and so before proceeding, the coalition solicited long-range commit-
ments from its members, and then set out to create a detailed framework
designed to overcome problems encountered elsewhere. Two years later, early
in 2014, the Kansas City No Violence Alliance launched its focused deterrence
project, KC NoVA. The current study measures the impact of KC NoVA on
rates of targeted violent crimes in Kansas City from 2014 through 2016.
Focused Deterrence: A Violence Reduction Strategy
Focused deterrence as a violence reduction strategy can be traced back to the
Boston Gun Project (also known as Operation Ceasefire) of the mid-1990s.
Borrowing extensively from problem-oriented policing techniques, a group of
Boston stakeholders found that the city’s serious youth homicide problem was,
in fact, disproportionately concentrated in just a small number of groups (gangs)
and attributable to relatively few habitually violent individuals associated with
those groups (Kennedy, 2012). Boston Police, probation officers, street outreach
workers, community leaders, and others collaborated to identify the most pro-
lific offenders. In addition, applying focused deterrence principles, they notified

Fox and Novak
those offenders and other members of their groups that acts of violence engaged
in would have consequences for their group members, all of whom would expe-
rience increased certainty of system intervention, including enforcement of any
outstanding violations of the law, regardless of type. The underlying theory
was that group social pressure could moderate the behavior of violence-
prone individuals when their moderation was in the group members’ collective
self-interest. This effort was enhanced by a strong community voice, primarily
from African American churches’ Ten-Point Coalition, representing the moral
majority rejecting violence, and matching enforcement with support services to
embrace nonviolence (Kennedy, 2006).
Noting Boston’s initial positive outcomes, other cities soon followed suit with
their own variations on the focused deterrence strategy.1 In most jurisdictions,
the goal was to apply precision, certain punishment, and peer pressure to reduce
crime at its source (Braga et al., 2001; Braga, Pierce, Bond, & Cronin, 2008;
Braga, 2008; Corsaro & Engel, 2015; Corsaro, Hunt, Hipple, & McGarrell,
2012; Corsaro & McGarrell, 2009; Engel, Tillyer, & Corsaro, 2013; Meares,
Papchristos, & Fagan, 2009; Papachristos, Meares, & Fagan, 2007; Rivers,
Norris, & McGarrell, 2012; Tillyer & Kennedy, 2008). After Boston, cities like
Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Stockton, Lowell, Cincinnati, and others realized
measurable reductions in group-involved and gun-related violence with focused
deterrence projects (Braga & Weisburd, 2012; Tillyer & Kennedy, 2008).
Kennedy (2006) described focused deterrence as a strategy that “deploys
enforcement, [social] services, the moral voices of the communities, and
deliberate communication in order to create a powerful deterrent to particular
behaviors by particular offenders” (p. 156). Kennedy distilled six elements that
he considered essential to effective implementation: (a) selecting a particular
crime problem, (b) pulling together an interagency enforcement group, (c)
conducting research, with help from frontline officers, to identify key offenders,
(d) framing a special enforcement operation directed at key offenders who
commit further violence, (e) matching enforcement with supportive services
and community encouragement for embracing nonviolence, and (f) communi-
cating directly and often with offenders, letting them know that they are under
close scrutiny and informing them of exactly how they can avoid sanctions.
According to Nagin (1998, 2013), offenders’ perceptions that sanctions for
violent incidents will be certain is a significant factor in achieving focused
deterrence’s impact. Braga and Weisburd (2012) have noted that focused
deterrence relies upon confronting small numbers of sanction-vulnerable chron-
ic offenders with the clear message that violent behavior will not be tolerated
and specifying exactly what sanctions group members will face if violence
persists. That message is convincing only when certain, swift, and highly visible
law enforcement actions do, in fact, deliver the promised consequences the
very next time a violation occurs and consistently thereafter (Durlauf &
Nagin, 2011).

Police Quarterly 21(3)
Focused deterrence acknowledges that policing actions alone would be too
narrowly concentrated to achieve such results. Having a broad range of infor-
mation, services, and enforcement options at hand depends on a variety of key
stakeholders joining forces to form multiagency crime prevention and reduction
coalitions. Typically, focused deterrence coalitions would at least include the
police department, the county prosecuting attorney’s office, political and com-
munity leaders, social services, parole and probation agents, and members of the
criminal justice department of a nearby university (Tillyer & Kennedy, 2008). In
advance of launching this approach, those coalition members would select and
research their city’s highest priority crime problem, then develop a tightly coor-
dinated implementation plan grounded in the principles and techniques of
focused deterrence. Focused deterrence coalitions invest considerable time and
effort mining criminal and social justice data and the experiential knowledge of
their partners, then systematically reach consensus on the type of violence prob-
lem to be addressed and its definition. Analyzing the characteristics of that
problem, they aim to create a comprehensive, multifaceted response (Braga
et al., 2001). The success of the response relies on the quality of the preparation,
analysis, and planning and then on vigorous and consistent implementation with
sustained monitoring, assessment, and follow-up for the duration of the project.
Variations on focused deterrence approaches have delivered positive results
in several U.S. cities. In Boston, the Ceasefire project reduced the monthly rate
of youth homicide by two thirds; it also decreased gun trafficking and
the number of...

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