Program Goals/Target Population
Originally developed by the Boston (Mass.) Police Department’s Youth Violence Strike Force, Operation Ceasefire is a problem-solving police strategy that seeks to reduce gang violence, illegal gun possession, and gun violence in communities. The goals of the program are to carry out a comprehensive strategy to apprehend and prosecute offenders who carry firearms, to put others on notice that offenders face certain and serious punishment for carrying illegal firearms, and to prevent youths from following the same criminal path. As a deterrence strategy, the intervention is based on the assumption that crimes can be prevented when the costs of committing the crime are perceived by the offender to outweigh the benefits of committing a crime. It targets high-risk youths as well as serious and violent juvenile offenders.
The program is just one element of a collaborative, comprehensive strategy (which also includes the Boston Gun Project and Operation Night Light) implemented in Boston, Mass., to address escalating gang activity and rising violent crime rates. It combines aggressive law enforcement and prosecution efforts aimed at recovering illegal handguns, prosecuting dangerous felons, increasing public awareness, and promoting public safety and antiviolence.
The Operation Ceasefire intervention is a focused deterrence strategy. Deterrence theory posits that crimes can be prevented when the costs of committing the crime are perceived by the offender to outweigh the benefits of committing the crime (Braga et al. 2001). Operation Ceasefire used a pulling-levers approach, which attempted to prevent gang violence by making gang members believe that severe consequences would follow from violence and gun use, which would persuade them to change their behavior. A key element of the intervention was the delivery of a direct and explicit “retail deterrence” message to a relatively small target audience of gang members regarding what kind of behavior would provoke a special response and what that response would be. The deterrence message applied to a small audience (all gang-involved youths) rather than to a general audience (all youths in Boston). This way, the Ceasefire intervention would target those gangs who were engaged in violent behavior rather than expending resources on those who were not.
The program’s suppression tactics include numerous warrants and long sentences for chronic offenders, aggressive enforcement of probation restrictions, and deployment of Federal enforcement powers. The prevention strategy is centered on an ambitious communications campaign involving meetings with both community groups and gang members. Everyone in the community is informed that gang violence will provoke a zero-tolerance approach and that only an end to gang violence will stop new gang-oriented suppression activities. Ideally, these activities should be combined with a variety of other law enforcement strategies and grassroots community initiatives to combat crime.
Operation Ceasefire’s first main element is a direct law-enforcement attack on illicit firearms traffickers who supply youths with guns. The program frames a set of activities intended to systematically address the patterns of firearm trafficking:
- Expanding the attention of local, State, and Federal authorities to include intrastate trafficking in Massachusetts-sourced guns
- Focusing enforcement attention on traffickers of those makes and calibers of guns used most often by gang members
- Focusing enforcement attention on traffickers of those guns showing a short time to crime (18 months or less)
- Focusing enforcement attention on traffickers of guns used by the city’s most violent gangs
- Attempting to restore obliterated serial numbers
- Supporting these practices through analysis of crime gun traces generated by the Boston Police Department's investigations and arrests involved with gangs or violent crimes
The second element, known as the “pulling levers” strategy, involves deterring violent behavior by chronic gang members by reaching out directly to gangs, saying explicitly that violence will not be tolerated, and by following every legally available route when violence occurs. Simultaneously, service providers, probation and parole officers, and church and other community groups offer gang members services and other kinds of help. The deterrence message was not a deal with gang members to stop violence. Rather, it was a guarantee to gang members that violent behavior would evoke an immediate and intense response. When gang violence did occur, Ceasefire agencies would address the violent group or groups involved, drawing from all possible legal levers. For instance, authorities could disrupt street drug activity, aim police attention toward low-level street crimes such as trespassing and public drinking, serve outstanding warrants, seize drug proceeds and other assets, request stronger bail terms (and enforce them), and turn potentially severe Federal investigative and prosecutorial attention toward gang-related drug activity. Because of the multitude of agencies involved in Operation Ceasefire, each gang who behaved violently could be subjected to such crackdowns. The operations could be customized to the particular individuals and characteristics of the gang in question.
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A simple pre/post comparison of time-series data conducted by Braga and colleagues (2001) found a statistically significant decrease in the monthly number of youth homicides in Boston, Mass., following implementation of Operation Ceasefire. There was a 63 percent reduction in the average monthly number of youth homicide victims, going from a pretest mean of 3.5 youth homicides per month to a posttest mean of 1.3 youth homicides per month. When control variables (such as Boston’s employment rate, and changes in citywide trends in violence) were added to the data analysis models to test whether other factors may have influenced or caused the reductions, the significant decrease in youth homicides associated with the Ceasefire intervention did not substantively change.
Citywide Gun Assaults
Ceasefire was associated with a 25 percent decrease in the monthly number of citywide gun assaults, and with a 44 percent decrease in the monthly number of youth gun assaults in district D–2. When control variables were added to the data analysis models, the significant reductions in gun assault incidents and youth gun assault incidents in District B–2 associated with Ceasefire did not change.
Calls for Service
The Ceasefire intervention was also associated with a 32 percent reduction in the monthly number of citywide shots-fired calls for service. When control variables were added to the data analysis models, the significant reduction in shots-fired calls for service associated with Ceasefire did not change.
New Handguns Recovered Citywide
Braga and Pierce (2005) found that the Ceasefire intervention made a large impact on the yearly percentage of traceable handguns that were new with a fast time-to-crime (which is the time between a firearm’s first sale at retail and subsequent recovery in a crime) recovered by the Boston (Mass.) Police Department. Simple pre/post comparisons showed that the percentage of traced handguns with a fast time-to-crime increased steadily between 1991 and 1996, reaching a peak of 53.8 percent of traced handguns in 1996. Then between 1997 and 1999, the percentage of traced handguns with a fast time-to-crime decreased dramatically to 15.6 percent and remained at this lower level through 2003. Counting 1997 as the first full year of gun market intervention, there was a 47 percent reduction in the percentage of new traced handguns in Boston, from an average of 40.4 percent between 1991 and 1996 to an average of 21.4 percent between 1997 and 2003.
Multivariate analysis (which controlled for other predictor variables) of new handguns recovered in Boston found that Operation Ceasefire was associated with a statistically significant reduction in the percentage of recovered handguns that had a fast time-to-crime. Ceasefire was associated with a 22.7 percent reduction in the average monthly percentage of all recovered handguns that were new and a 24.3 percent reduction in the average monthly percentage of all recovered youth handguns that were new, as well as with a 29.7 percent reduction in the average monthly percentage of illegal possession handguns that were new and a 17.4 percent reduction in the average monthly percentage of all recovered substantive crime handguns that were new (all reductions were statistically significant).