Focusing on Focused Deterrence

A number of recent media reports have focused on the city’s Focused Deterrence program and this year’s pronounced reduction in South Philadelphia shooting victims and homicides.

A recent Philadelphia Inquirer story correlated the initiative with a 43 percent drop in South Philadelphia shootings, and with homicides dropping by more than 50 percent.

As we previously reported, the program identifies young men most likely to shoot or get shot, and offers job training and other benefits, but also promises increased enforcement when shootings take place.

Last week, an in-depth multimedia report from WHYY’s introduced to several key local stakeholders, and examined the roots of the program, asking: “Can the ‘Boston Miracle’ deter gun violence in South Philly?” (This was part of a continuing WHYY series on South Philly gangs.)

And yesterday, many of the same local sources spent an hour discussing the program on WHYY’s Radio Times. Listen to: Behind the reduction of gang violence in South Philadelphia.

City officials attribute the Focused Deterrence model to criminologist David Kennedy, who we featured in a report in early 2012: Don’t Shoot: David Kennedy on ending inner-city violence. We also introduced Kennedy’s work when we were invited to lead a Philadelphia City Council roundtable on gun violence solutions in 2012.

More recently, the Brookings Institution published a report from The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) entitled Focused Deterrence, Selective Targeting, Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime: Concepts and Practicalities, confirming that “focused-deterrence approaches and prioritized-interdiction concepts are to a great extent derived from Boston’s fight against violent gangs in the early 1990s.”

Operation Ceasefire’s Boston Gun Project was associated with a 63 percent reduction in youth homicides as well as “significant reductions in shots fired calls for service, and gun assault incidents,” according to a report from the Harvard Kennedy School.

According to the IDPC report, Focused Deterrence strategies are being increasingly embraced in law enforcement:

The broad concept is to move law enforcement forces away from random non-strategic strikes and blanket ‘zero-tolerance’ approaches against lowest-level offenders, and toward strategic selectivity to give each counter-crime operation enhanced impact.

Report recommendations include complimentary socio-economic development policies, avoiding policies that alienate marginalized populations, and resisting the temptation to declare victory when violence subsides:

“The relative calm should be seized to deepen police reform, build up intelligence capacity, advance community policing, and beef up socioeconomic policies focused on crime prevention so as to address the root causes of crime and violence.

Philadelphia Police data indicate that citywide homicides are down by 26 percent this year, but declines in other gun crimes have remained in single digits.

Finally, it should be noted that Boston’s Operation Ceasefire is not related to Philadelphia Ceasefire or CeaseFirePA, which take very different approaches to gun violence reduction.

Philadelphia CeaseFire is a public-health intervention program, employing “violence interrupters” and derived from Chicago’s Cure Violence program (formerly CeaseFire Chicago), which has been replicated in many cities and maintains data indicating that shootings and killings  have been reduced by 41 to 73 percent where employed in some sections of Chicago.

CeaseFirePA is a “network of communities, survivors, and citizens who are dedicated to taking a stand against gun violence,” against criminals, the gun lobby, and “politicians who lack the conviction to support commonsense reforms to reduce gun violence.”

If you want to get involved in gun violence reduction in Philadelphia, please consider volunteering your time or making a donation to one of the organizations listed under our Network tab at the top of this site. If you would like us to add your group to our list, please email us at

The Gun Crisis Reporting Project is an award-winning, independent, nonprofit journalism community striving to illuminate the epidemic of homicide by gunfire in Philadelphia — and to find solutions.

But we need your help. Click to see how your tax-deductible contribution can support our volunteer staff.


Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone