Criminology: Project Safe Neighborhoods in Chicago: looking back a decade later.

Author:Grunwald, Ben
 
FREE EXCERPT

Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is a federally funded initiative that brings together federal, state, and local law enforcement to reduce gun violence in urban centers. In Chicago, PSN implemented supply-side gun policing tactics, enhanced federal prosecution of gun crimes, and notification forums warning offenders of PSN's heightened criminal sanctions. Prior evaluations provide evidence that PSN initiatives have reduced crime in the first few years of their operation. But over a decade after the program was established, we still know little about whether these effects are sustained over an extended period of time. This Article examines PSN Chicago, an anti-violence program in operation since 2002. Consistent with a previous evaluation, we find that several program components were associated with reductions in violence in the initial target areas. These associations, however, are concentrated in the first few years of the intervention. We also examine the effect of PSN in several subsequent expansion areas and find no detectable effects. We suggest that the effects of PSN were diluted as the program expanded to larger areas of the city without an increase in funding or resources. Still, we recommend that future research consider PSN's strategies in Chicago that appeared effective in the early years and leverage those insights for future programs.

TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 132 I. PSN IN CHICAGO 136 A. Program Overview 136 B. Initial Evaluation: Design and Results 139 C. Program Expansion and Other Changes in Chicago 140 II. RESEARCH DESIGN AND DATA 142 A. Choosing Comparison Beats 143 B. Analytic Models 145 III. RESULTS 148 APPENDIX 158 INTRODUCTION

Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is a federally funded initiative that brings together federal, state, and local law enforcement with researchers and community organizations to devise context-specific strategies for reducing gun violence. Since 2001, Congress has allocated over a billion dollars to the U.S. Attorney's Office to oversee PSN programs in the 94 federal districts. (1) Each jurisdiction crafted a set of interventions that typically included increased federal prosecution of gun crimes. (2)

Prior case studies (3) and systematic empirical investigations (4) of PSN have generally been positive. Most recently, a national evaluation examined the association between PSN dosage and crime in 82 PSN sites and 170 control sites and found that high-dosage PSN sites experienced declines in violent crime relative to control sites, while low-dosage sites experienced no change. (5)

The current study examines the long-term effects of PSN in Chicago, where the program has operated for over a decade. Given the size of the city's population and its high rate of gun violence, the PSN taskforce initially focused on two of the highest crime police districts. The taskforce devised three primary strategies. First, it established a case review process to make strategic decisions about the prosecution of all gun-related cases. Suitable cases are diverted to federal court where more severe penalties are often available. (6) Second, the taskforce created a multi-agency "gun team" to investigate gun trafficking cases and trace all recovered firearms. (7) Third, drawing on the experiences of other focused-deterrence initiatives in cities like Boston and Richmond, (8) the PSN team in Chicago developed offender notification forums in which law enforcement officers and social service providers meet with parolees and probationers convicted of gun-related crimes. Forum attendees are cautioned about the consequences of committing further gun crimes and are offered social, educational, health, and employment services. (9)

An initial evaluation examined the effects of PSN Chicago from 2002 to 2004. (10) The investigation found evidence that several of these PSN initiatives reduced violent crime in the two target districts. Modest reductions in violence were associated with the number of PSN prosecutions and gun seizures, while larger reductions were associated with the percentage of eligible offenders who attended an offender notification forum. (11)

PSN Chicago did not stop in 2004. On the contrary, the program continues to this day in the original target districts. And, after the initial evaluation, PSN swiftly expanded to other areas of the city, often with no increase in programmatic resources. By 2007, both the case-review process and the multi-agency gun-teams had expanded citywide. And by 2009, the offender notification forums were distributed across 24% of the police districts in the city.

The present study seeks to answer two questions. First, do the original PSN districts continue to experience programmatic effects years later? Much has happened in Chicago since 2002, including an unprecedented decline in the city's homicide rate to a nearly 48-year low. (12) Second, have PSN expansion districts experienced programmatic effects that are comparable to those in the original districts? To answer these questions, the present study builds upon the initial evaluation by examining data that spans roughly eight years of the program and a larger geographic area.

Evaluations of anti-violence programs like PSN face a series of well-known methodological challenges. (13) Most importantly, the initial target areas for PSN were not selected randomly. They were selected precisely because they had the highest rate of homicide and gun violence in the city. (14) Two challenges result. First, non-random selection creates the potential for bias because we cannot apply an experimental design to evaluate the effects of the program. Second, PSN's decision to target the highest crime areas of the city creates the potential for statistical imprecision because there are few remaining neighborhoods for our comparison group. This problem is exacerbated by PSN's expansion throughout the city. The comparison groups from the earlier evaluation of PSN Chicago, for example, quickly became the second set of target areas when the program expanded.

The current study represents our best effort to overcome these challenges given the data and methodological tools available. We use propensity score matching to select a set of comparison areas for the original and expansion PSN districts based on neighborhood-level measures that are theoretically linked with violence. We apply growth curve and fixed effect models to estimate the effects on homicide of the dosage of three main program components: PSN prosecutions, gun seizures, and offender notification forums.

Our results are as follows. First, in the original PSN areas we find a modest negative correlation between homicide and the dosage of federal prosecutions and offender notification forums. These results are sensitive to some alternative model specifications, which we discuss in greater detail below. For instance, when we exclude the first three years of PSN from the analysis, the negative correlation between forum dosage and homicide decreases dramatically and is no longer statistically significant. This suggests that PSN may have reduced homicide in its early years, but as with other similar anti-violence programs, the effects may have dissipated over time. (15) Second, we find little evidence of programmatic effects in the expansion areas. Both of these findings may, to some extent, reflect greater levels of error in our measures of PSN dosage due to changes in data collection over time.

The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. Part I describes PSN Chicago, the initial neighborhoods targeted by the program, and the evaluation by Papachristos et al. It then reviews some of the challenges faced by the PSN team in sustaining the program over its long life. Part II describes the design of the current study, and Part III details our results. Part IV explores the implications of our work for PSN, other anti-violence programs, and future research.

  1. PSN IN CHICAGO

    1. PROGRAM OVERVIEW

      As described elsewhere, PSN Chicago is not a single program but a bundle of interrelated interventions aimed at reducing gun violence in high-crime communities. Since May 2002, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois has overseen a PSN taskforce of representatives from the Chicago Police Department, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, the Illinois Department of Corrections, the Cook County Department of Probation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the City of Chicago, a group of research partners, and more than twelve community-based organizations. The taskforce meets monthly to coordinate PSN operations. (16)

      PSN Chicago consists of three core strategies. First, the taskforce increased federal prosecutions of gun crimes. (17) Prosecuting gun offenders in federal rather than state court was thought to increase deterrence because federal prison sentences tend to be longer, federal inmates serve a minimum of 85% of their sentence, and federal prosecutions have a higher overall conviction rate. (18) To increase the number of federal prosecutions, the PSN taskforce designed a case review process in which federal and local prosecutors review all gun cases in Chicago to determine whether to prosecute in state or federal court. (19)

      Second, the taskforce established a PSN "gun team." The Chicago Police Department recovered between 10,000 and 16,000 guns per year between 1995 and 2002. (20) Yet at the time PSN was established, the department's gun-related policing efforts were primarily reactive, occurring after the commission of a gun crime or else as a supplement to criminal investigations of other types of offenses. PSN created a multi-agency "gun team" to investigate supply-side crimes like gun use, sales, and trafficking. The gun team also conducted seizures and served warrants on pending cases involving guns. (21)

      Third, the PSN taskforce developed offender notification forums (forums), one of the program's...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP