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Oct 2-4, 2017 Houston, TX

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Administering and Leading a Focused-Deterrence Initiative

As one would expect, FDIs are particularly challenging to organize, lead, and administer because they involve multiple partner organizations, each with its own mission, culture, rules, management structure, and resource base. Moreover, at least at the outset, each organization is being asked to think anew about its work and its relationship to partnering organizations.44

Multi-agency collaborations, which are essential to FDIs, are notoriously difficult to sustain for the long term.45 It can prove difficult to keep all the law enforcement, social service, and community partners engaged in and committed to the collaboration and to the core principles of focused deterrence. This proved to be the case in several of the early FDIs.p Boston’s successful efforts of the late 1990s appear to have fallen apart by about 2000; when gun violence rates again rose substantially, the Boston initiative was revitalized, beginning around 2007.46

It is challenging to sustain effective collaborations over time. No one institution by itself can mount a meaningful response to complex youth violence problems. Institutions need to coordinate and combine their efforts in ways that could magnify their separate effects. (Braga, Hureau, and Winship, 2008)

FDIs can alter conventional information flows and decisionmaking protocols both within and among the participating organizations, and such disruptions have to be carefully managed.47 Heeding the recommendations below regarding program administration and leadership can help sustain FDIs over the longer term.


Ideally, the core partners should write and formally agree to a protocol for the FDI, which can be modified over time as necessary. At a minimum, the protocol should identify:

  • A consensus definition of the problem the collaboration is organized to address and its ultimate goals
  • What information will be shared with whom and on what basis
  • When and where partnership meetings will be held
  • Who will assume leadership of the collaboration, including for convening and running meetings, resolving disputes, and holding partners accountable for fulfilling promised actions
  • What actions will be taken and services provided by respective collaboration partners and under what conditions

Given that FDIs, by design, are multi-partner collaborations involving criminal justice, social service, and community organizations, such an initiative requires some organizational structure to support its management. Generally, multilevel steering groups are required to manage FDIs.48 They should include the following:

  • Top-level policymakers from the participating organizations to establish general policies and procedures, secure resources, monitor progress toward goals, and resolve major organizational disputes
  • Supervisors to provide daily oversight and supervision, select high-risk offenders, review analysis findings, manage high-risk offenders’ files, hold participating organizations accountable for promised actions, and resolve minor operational disputes and issues
  • Line-level representatives to implement specific responses for high-risk offendersq

There is no one sure formula, but some division of responsibility between policy and operations will almost assuredly be necessary. A degree of flexibility is required to adjust how the initiative is managed on the basis of local conditions.49

At some point, FDI partners will need to decide whether the initiative is intended to be short term only or more permanent. If the goal is to make it permanent, then it will be necessary to shift from the usual sort of task force management structure to something more institutionalized. For example, the Cincinnati FDI considered institutionalization, and it created a formal management structure and adopted corporate management practices that would not depend on particular individuals to sustain it. Even so, this new formalized structure endured a good deal of trial-and-error turmoil before it normalized.50 The High Point, North Carolina, FDI institutionalized the focused-deterrence approach to the point that subsequent extensions of the approach to other policing problems required far less explanation to or persuasion of key stakeholders.51

Various police organizational structures have been tried in implementing focused-deterrence strategies. Basically, there are two types: a specialist approach and a generalist approach, with some agencies opting for a blend of the two. In a specialist approach, a small group of officers and detectives has direct contact with the high-risk offenders, manages their cases, and directs enforcement actions against them. In a generalist approach, information about high-risk offenders is shared widely with officers throughout the police agency, and all are encouraged to take stricter enforcement action against them. The specialist approach is preferred for customizing interventions to each high-risk offender, but the generalist approach might be the only viable approach for police agencies with limited personnel resources.


FDIs also require strong leadership. Often police officials emerge as the natural leaders, partly because they squarely bear responsibility for addressing crime problems and partly because they are used to being in charge. However, too heavy a hand by police officials can compromise collaboration and run the risk that other partners will come to see the collaboration as primarily a police initiative. A sense of joint ownership of the initiative appears to be vital to its continued success. There is merit in having joint leadership, with at least one leader coming from the criminal justice partners and one from social service/community partners. Whoever exerts coordination and leadership needs to work hard to establish and maintain this sense of joint ownership.

Special care must also be given to leadership transition. It is often the case that highly competent people take the lead in launching FDIs, and eventually they get promoted in rank or transferred to other desirable positions. Their replacements must be similarly competent, credible, and committed. Changes in agency-level or unit-level leadership can bring about abrupt changes in support for focused-deterrence efforts, for better or for worse.

Leaders of FDIs, as well as line personnel who will work directly with high-risk offenders, must understand and support the principles underpinning FDIs. Because some principles run counter to the norms of criminal justice officials (as noted earlier) on the one hand, and of social service providers on the other, you should take great care to select personnel who will work directly with high-risk offenders. In addition to ensuring that they are properly skilled and experienced, these individuals must be properly educated about focused-deterrence principles.

It is also important that police personnel who are not directly participating in the FDI be educated about the focused-deterrence approach so that if and when their assistance is needed, they are more likely to give it enthusiastically.52 In several police departments, widespread support from officers was gained in large measure by having an officer with a solid reputation and credibility among other officers openly support the initiative.

A group of police officers


p See Tita et al. (2003), reporting on the difficulties in delivering promised social services in the East Los Angeles FDI; Braga (2008), reporting that studies of the Stockton, Los Angeles, Boston, and Minneapolis initiatives all reported difficulties sustaining the original collaboration beyond a few years; and Kennedy (2006), citing examples of FDIs in Boston, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Baltimore.

q See Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 7, Implementing Responses to Problems, by Michael Scott, for further discussion of managing the implementation of police problemsolving projects.