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Main Page breadcrumb triangle  Law Enforcement breadcrumb triangle  Offender-Based Policing breadcrumb triangle  What Are Offender-Based Policing?

What Are Offender-Based Policing Strategies?

Offender-based policing strategies are used by law enforcement agencies to address crime by focusing efforts and resources on the persons committing the crimes. These so-called "pulling levers" strategies are based on research that has shown that a relatively small number of offenders are responsible for a large number of the crimes that are committed.1 The logic behind these strategies is that violent, gun and drug crime can be reduced by identifying and targeting these offenders. Once identified, the offenders receive a direct and explicit message that is intended to deter them from future criminal behavior. This message is designed to inform the offender that police are aware of their illegal activities and if they continue engage in this behavior, there will be swift and certain legal sanctions. If the targeted offenders respond positively, they are provided with a variety of social services. If they fail to heed the deterrence message, they are subject to an array of enforcement actions. These enforcement actions are the "levers" that can be "pulled" in response to the offenders' continued criminal behavior. Though these strategies are often considered approaches to policing, they usually involve other actors in the criminal justice system, such as prosecutors. Some of these strategies also fall under the rubric of Smart Policing.

The "pulling levers" strategy has been described as a six-step process. These steps are: 1) selecting a target behavior; 2) bringing together the criminal justice and other agencies that will be involved; 3) delivering a direct and explicit deterrence message to the targeted group; 4) following through with the effort; 5) continuing to communicate with the target group; and 6) selecting a new target behavior once the original behavior has been controlled.2 While specific offender-based policing strategies may vary, these strategies often include some or all of the following elements:

  • Police-community partnerships
  • Interagency working groups (police, prosecution, courts)
  • Partnerships with researchers
  • General and focused deterrence messages
  • Social services delivery

Over the last 15 years, beginning with the Boston Gun Project, a number of offender-based policing strategies have been implemented in cities across the country to address a variety of problems. These strategies have included: Operation Ceasefire ("Ceasefire"), Strategic Approaches to Community Safety Initiative (SACSI), Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), High Point/Drug Market Intervention (DMI), and Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative (CAGI).

Operation Ceasefire

Operation Ceasefire, initially known as the Boston Gun Project, began in 1995 to address serious youth and gang violence in Boston. The strategy involves two key elements: 1) a direct law enforcement attack on illicit firearms traffickers supplying youth with guns, and 2) an attempt to create a strong deterrent to gang violence. The second element became known as "pulling levers." It involved delivering the explicit deterrence message to the gang members that violence would no longer be tolerated. This message was backed by applying a full range of legal sanctions, or "pulling levers," against gang members committing violence. During pulling levers actions, a working group composed of representatives from local and federal law enforcement, social service agencies, and community groups reiterated the deterrence message by explaining to all gangs that the enforcement actions directed against a particular gang were in response to violence committed by that gang.

Strategic Approaches to Community Safety Initiative (SACSI)

The Strategic Approaches to Community Safety Initiative (SACSI) was launched in 1998 by the Department of Justice. SACSI was designed to replicate the problem-solving process used in Boston's Operation Ceasefire in 10 other cities with high rates of violent crime. Nine of these sites focused on homicides and other violent crimes, with an emphasis on those involving firearms, while the tenth site focused exclusively on rape and sexual assault. The defining elements of the SACSI strategy were: U.S. Attorney leadership; development of a data-driven strategic plan; a full-time project coordinator in each site; multiagency and interdisciplinary partnerships; and local research partnerships.3

Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN)

Project Safe Neighborhoods started in 2001 with the goal of reducing gun and gang crime by providing existing local efforts with additional resources. The developers of PSN identified three elements that previously successful gun crime reduction strategies had in common-comprehensiveness, coordination, and being community-based-and made them the fundamental principles of PSN. Based on these principles, U.S. Attorneys responsible for PSN incorporated the following elements into their strategies: partnership among local, state and federal agencies, strategic planning, training, outreach, and accountability.4

High Point/Drug Market Intervention (DMI)

DMI built upon what was learned from previous focused deterrence efforts and applied it to drug markets. Implemented in 2004 in High Point, NC, DMI involved a three-phase process: identification, notification, and resource delivery/community support. The identification phase involves identifying a target area and targeting its most violent and dangerous individuals for arrest and prosecution. The notification phase involves the identification of low-level offenders and the "calling in," or notification, of these individuals for a community-based intervention. Offenders are confronted with their illegal behaviors in a roomful of law enforcement officers, social service providers, community figures, ex-offenders, family and friends. They are told that their activities are known, are unacceptable to the community, and that they need to stop. They are also told that they are valued members of the community and offered social services to help them stop dealing drugs. In addition, they are notified that the police have cases against them that are temporarily being put on hold; however, should they continue to deal drugs, these cases will be pursued. The resource delivery/community support phase involves the delivery of employment, housing, transportation, health care, and other social services to the targeted offenders.5

Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative (CAGI)

The Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative was developed as an extension of PSN and is intended to reduce gang crime and violence through the implementation of three strategies: 1) prosecution and enforcement; 2) prevention and intervention; and 3) prisoner reentry. The prosecution and enforcement strategy is driven by data and real-time intelligence, and includes both reactive and proactive efforts coupled with planning and coordination with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The prevention and intervention strategy provides gang prevention programming to youth at high risk for gang involvement. The prisoner reentry strategy provides mentoring and social services and treatment to gang-involved offenders returning to the community from prison.

1(Spelman & Eck 1989)
2(Kennedy 1998)
3(Roehl et al. 2005)
4(Project Safe Neighborhoods
5(Kennedy & Wong 2009)

BJA Resources Related to Drug Courts

Smart Policing Initiative (SPI)
Project Safe Neighborhoods
Drug Market Intervention Program

Other Resources for Drug Courts

National Institute of Justice - Gun Violence Prevention
George Mason University’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy's (CEBCP) Evidence-Based Policing Matrix
National Gang Center


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