Law Enforcement Activities of Philadelphia’s Group Violence Intervention: An Examination of Arrest, Case Processing, and Probation Levers

Date01 June 2020
Published date01 June 2020
Subject MatterArticles
untitled Article
Police Quarterly
Law Enforcement
2020, Vol. 23(2) 232–261
! The Author(s) 2019
Activities of
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611119895069
Philadelphia’s Group
Violence Intervention:
An Examination
of Arrest, Case
Processing, and
Probation Levers
Caterina G. Roman1
Megan Forney1, Jordan M. Hyatt2,
Hannah J. Klein1, and
Nathan W. Link3
The number of jurisdictions implementing focused deterrence strategies targeted at
gangs continues unabated. Although recent research suggests positive impacts of the
strategy on reductions in gun violence, little is known about the particular mecha-
nisms operating behind the strategy. This article provides a descriptive analysis of the
law enforcement activities or levers undertaken after enforcement operations in
Philadelphia as a part of the focused deterrence strategy. The article quantifies the
execution of levers related to arrest, case processing, and probation sanctioning
during enforcement activities after shootings. The results show that Philadelphia
achieved success in implementing the enforcement levers as intended, and there
1Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA
2Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA
3Rutgers University—Camden, NJ, USA
Corresponding Author:
Caterina G. Roman, Temple University, 1115 Polett Walk, 5th Floor, Gladfelter Hall, Philadelphia, PA
19122, USA.

Roman et al.
was little evidence that arrest practices were overly aggressive. The authors suggest
that future evaluations seek to carefully document the wide array of levers used in
concert with an assessment of community understanding of and reactions to the
strategy as well as an examination of reactions of group members targeted.
arrest, crime reduction, deterrence, gang violence, gun violence, police enforcement
Considered a policing innovation over the past 20 years, pulling levers policing
strategies have been widely adopted by high-crime jurisdictions around the
United States (Weisburd & Braga, 2006) and more recently in Europe and
Mexico. The original pulling levers model, Boston’s Operation CeaseFire, was
developed in the 1990s as a response to a youth violence epidemic (see Kennedy,
Piehl, & Braga, 1996). This strategy uses a problem-oriented approach to assess
the crime problem and implement a targeted enforcement process that has a
wide range of legal levers at its disposal to put pressure on targeted individuals
to stop engaging in violence. The pulling levers strategy has also been referred to
as “focused deterrence,” and when directed at group or gang1 violence, it is
known as the Group Violence Intervention (GVI).
GVI is based on the principles of deterrence, focusing on offender groups and
their networks in an innovative manner, with the goal of challenging the collec-
tive norms that direct offender behavior—particularly shootings. Law enforce-
ment partners, with the support of community groups, communicate the
message that gun violence will no longer be tolerated and create group-wide
consequences for homicides and shootings. The intent of the strategy ultimately
is to be high on messaging activity and the offering of support to assist with
withdrawal from street-based criminal activity but low on law enforcement.
Over the past 15 years, GVI has been replicated and evaluated across a number
of contexts. Evaluation research has shown that, for the most part, strategies have
been implemented with fidelity. Furthermore, evaluation findings repeatedly
report positive impacts as described in two meta-analytic studies (Braga &
Weisburd, 2012; Braga, Weisburd, & Turchan, 2018). Although research shows
that GVI has had an impact on violence, some policing scholars have questioned
the mechanisms through which the strategy operates and suggested that more
research is needed to understand how community change comes about in practice
(Braga, 2012; Corsaro, 2018). Corsaro (2018) notes that a better understanding of
the implementation phase and theoretical mechanisms of the GVI strategy is
necessary. Braga (2012) specifically suggests that we have more to learn about

Police Quarterly 23(2)
how the strategy works, and Engel (2018) states that “it has been difficult to assess
the value of the individual components that collectively form focused deterrence
strategies” (p. 201). Indeed, a number of questions about the mechanisms behind
the strategy remain unanswered. For instance, how much of the effect of the
reduction in violence is simply due to removing the targeted offenders from the
street? Or, does the strategy mainly work through the extra threat of law enforce-
ment and regulatory pressures without arrest and incarceration—that is, general
These questions become more important with the publication of a recent
study of GVI in Philadelphia, PA that found that although community rates
of gun violence decreased after the strategy was implemented, compared with
control communities, the specific groups targeted by the intervention did not
exhibit statistically significant reductions in shootings. With the exception of one
study in Chicago, neither the Philadelphia evaluation nor other published stud-
ies have been able to directly measure (i.e., via survey) whether offenders and
potential offenders received the message of no tolerance for gun violence, or
who might have been influenced by it. A recent evaluation of Chicago’s GVI
(Fontaine, Jannetta, Papachristos, Leitson, & Dwivedi, 2017) found that group
members and community residents in the police districts in which the strategy
was implemented did not report significantly greater knowledge of the strategy
or the call-ins 1 year after the implementation than did residents in matched
comparison police districts. It also should be mentioned that a least two studies
(Braga, Apel, & Welsh, 2013; Guin et al., 2017) found network effects of the
intervention, meaning that groups allied or in contact with targeted group mem-
bers who attended call-in meetings showed reductions in violence but receiving
the “don’t shoot” message was not measured directly.
At this point in time, the field may not need more methodologically rigorous
evaluations; rather, scholars and practitioners need evaluations designed to elu-
cidate the critical components of these programs—results that show the theory
of change accurately represents the change mechanisms at work on the ground.
To gain a better understanding of these strategies, research should include not
only impact-centered outcomes but also an assessment of the potential mecha-
nisms for change at play when GVI strategies are implemented. This study
directly contributes to filling this gap in the literature by exploring the applica-
tion of a key set of levers in GVI in Philadelphia—levers related to arrest, case
processing, and probation or parole sanctioning during enforcement actions. In
Philadelphia, improving the certainty of particular wheels of the criminal justice
system, such as probation sanctioning and prosecution, was a key goal of the
partners. We recognize that these criminal justices processes make up only a
small part of the mechanics of GVI and do not fully capture or represent
the strategy’s range of sanctions and levers focused on the group.
However, examination of the criminal justice lever data available in
Philadelphia constitutes a step forward in the body of work evaluating GVI.

Roman et al.
GVI strategies generally have five main program components. The first com-
ponent involves the planning and targeting of the intervention, which includes
convening the interagency partner members. The targeted list of groups and
group members are determined by the members of the interagency partners.
The second component consists of the call-in notification meetings, where spe-
cific groups and offenders are explicitly given the message to cease engaging in
violence and are expected to pass the message onto their social networks. The
third component includes the aspects of postcall-in meeting follow-up and
enforcement activity subsequent to homicides or shootings. The fourth compo-
nent focuses on offering social services to the targeted group members. The fifth
component involves engaging the moral voice of the community, where
respected individuals and organizations from the community have direct contact
with group members (e.g., at the call-in meetings or other settings) to set clear
norms and expectations against violence and show that they are supportive of
the intervention and its goals. Community outreach by GVI partners can sup-
port these latter two components. The components of GVI have remained con-
sistent overtime. Cities implementing GVI often receive implementation training
and support by the National Network of Safe Communities, a U.S. organization
run by Operation Ceasefire’s chief architect, David Kennedy, that helps to
champion the model and assist jurisdictions around the country (and through-
out the world) with implementation.
Enforcements, a key focus area of this article, are central to the messaging
that law enforcement reactions will be swift and predictable. Law enforcement
levers are pulled on the entire group that perpetrated the shooting, regardless of
each group member’s involvement in the act that spurred the enforcement. This
aspect of GVI, as well as the concomitant use of putting individuals in a data-
base (see p. 27 of GVI’s “Implementation Guide”—National Network for Safe
Communities, 2016) or “gang list” as some...

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