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The Role of Analysis in Focused-Deterrence Initiatives

It’s tempting for busy police departments to try to implement an FDI “off the shelf”—that is, to merely replicate the approach taken by another police agency. This will likely prove to be a big mistake. Central to the logic of both problem-oriented policing and Smart Policing is that all policing problems have important local dimensions that must be understood in order to develop responses that work in that community for that particular problem. Understanding the general principles of focused deterrence and how other jurisdictions have adopted (and adapted) it is important but not sufficient.

Every community’s problems are distinctive in some respects, even if they are similar in most respects to those types of problems in other communities. Often the key to success is in discovering the distinctive features of the local problem that suggest specific interventions tailored to those features.10 Perhaps one community’s problem is less about highly organized adult gangs and more about loose confederations of youths with overlapping group loyalties. Or in one community, violence is confined to small geographic areas, whereas it is dispersed over large areas in another. Perhaps the cultural norms of crime groups vary by location, or the weapons or drugs of choice differ. Any of these and a number of other factors, once understood, could point an FDI in a somewhat different direction than others. Local analysis of a problem will inform decision-makers as to which way to turn.d

The following conditions can vary across jurisdictions in ways that will be important to the development and implementation of a local FDI:

  • The nature and local dynamics of violence problems (e.g., gang-related, domestic-related, drug-related, money- related, gun-related, culture-related)
  • The local features of offenders’ social networks (e.g., the extent to which offender groups are organized, secretive, and territorial and have clear leadership)
  • The volume and severity of violent incidents
  • The specific law enforcement authority granted to police, prosecutors, courts, and corrections agencies under state and local laws
  • The availability of critical social services
  • The willingness of local law enforcement and social service agencies to support the collaboration
  • The willingness of the local community and high-risk offenders’ close relations to support the collaboration

Nearly all FDIs have been guided by careful data analysis for at least the following purposes:

  • To define the nature, scope, and severity of the local problem
  • To understand the local dynamics of the problem, including the motives, methods, and social networks related to the offenses being addressed and the multi-generational nature of the problem
  • To assist in selecting individuals to target
  • To craft specific interventions that match local conditions and resources
  • To assess whether the initiative is being properly implemented, as well as the impact the response is having on the specific problems being addressed

The following illustrate the types of analyses that might be beneficial in an FDI:

  • Mapping geographical turf areas of known gangs
  • Mapping the known network and state of relations among gangs (e.g., actively feuding, passive rivals, affiliated, no relationship)e
  • Classifying underlying motives to violent incidents
  • Interviewing known offenders to learn about motives, methods, and risk perceptionsf
  • Studying and depicting the social relationships, through social network analysis, of gang or group-involved offenders and their associates, friends, and relatives

Types of Analyses Conducted for FDIs

  • Analysis of official crime data (Uniform Crime Reports/National Incident-Based Reporting System)
  • Analysis of census data
  • Analysis of data on 10 years of homicides
  • Systematic ride-alongs with police
  • Incident reviews and analysis
  • Observations at homicide scenes
  • Interviews with family members of homicide victims
  • Observations at funerals of homicide victims
  • Review of homicide files for drug involvement
  • Focus groups with jail inmates
  • Focus groups with residents of high-crime neighborhoods
  • Analysis of autopsy and toxicology reports
  • Examination of school records for homicide victims and suspects and comparison with those of a matched sample of peers

Often overlooked is the need to collect and analyze data during FDI implementation. This ongoing assessment of what components are actually being implemented—both on the enforcement side and on the service-provision side—is vital to making mid-course corrections and to building a detailed record of implementation that will aid subsequent assessments of the initiative’s impact on the targeted problems.11

In most early FDIs, external researchers from local universities led or assisted in data analysis. Police analysts, if available, should likewise be involved. So, too, should the police detectives, patrol officers, gang- and drug-squad officers, prosecutors, and others who work directly with known offenders or who work the areas or cases associated with the problem, so that the data-driven aspects of an FDI can be validated with the experiences of police officers working on the problems on a day-to-day basis.12 Data analysts and line-level law enforcement officials bring different sets of knowledge and expertise to the analysis, both of which are critically important.

Keep in mind that FDIs are a still relatively new innovation and, as such, not all of the important issues concerning them have been thoroughly examined through careful research. Accordingly, some of the recommendations in this guide are based on a limited set of practitioner experiences rather than on firm research findings. There is much yet to be learned about FDIs through both practitioner experience and research.

d For further information, see Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 11, Analyzing and Responding to Repeat Offending, by Nick Tilley. See the Rochester, NY, reports (Klofas, Delaney, and Smith, 2005) for excellent examples of local problem analyses.

e For further information, see Intelligence Analysis for Problem Solvers, by John E. Eck and Ronald V. Clarke, available at: http://www.popcenter.org/library/reading/pdfs/Intell-Analysis-for-ProbSolvers.pdf.

f For further information, see Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 3, Using Offender Interviews to Inform Police Problem Solving, by Scott Decker.