Operation Impact was a saturation foot-patrol initiative implemented in Newark, New Jersey. In 2006, the Newark Police Department underwent several changes in its overall strategy and mission. The primary strategy against violence became proactive enforcement that targeted street-level disorder and the illicit narcotics trade. The agency provided more coverage on nighttime and weekend shifts and committed to a place-based approach in its crime-prevention efforts. Operation Impact was launched in June 2008 and represented the agency’s placed-based strategy.
The design and enforcement strategy of Operation Impact was based on the New York (City) Police Department program of the same name (Smith and Purtell 2007). The initiative primarily involved 12 officers (under the supervision of three supervisors) patrolling a quarter-square-mile area of the city on a nightly basis. This represented an increase in police presence in the target area, as typically two officers would patrol Newark’s police sectors (averaging approximately three-square miles in size).
The foot patrols were deployed as a deterrence mechanism. Potential offenders would notice an increased risk of apprehension because of the strengthened presence of police. In addition, officers engaged in proactive enforcement actions that were expected to disrupt street-level disorder and narcotics activity in violence-prone areas. During the implementation of Operation Impact, the unit engaged in 3,186 specific enforcement actions, including 634 arrests, 1,202 quality of life summonses, and 1,350 field interrogations.
Newark is New Jersey’s largest city, stretching almost 25 square miles, with a population of almost 280,000 persons (U.S. Census Bureau 2013). The target area of Operation Impact was in Newark’s Fourth Precinct. This area was selected based on an in-depth analysis of the spatial distribution of street violence. The analysis examined incidents of murder, nonfatal shootings, aggravated assaults, and robbery that occurred from Jan. 1, 2005, through Dec. 31, 2007.
In Newark’s Fourth Precinct, the thoroughfare of South Orange Avenue stretches east to west across the center of the area. Along this main corridor are numerous apartment buildings, assorted business types (e.g., liquor and retail establishments), and many intersecting streets. A large housing complex is located in the eastern portion of the target area, consisting of 28 low-rise buildings situated in a particular fashion that forms a maze-like network of streets and walkways.
The officers and supervisors involved in Operation Impact comprised a special unit dedicated exclusively to patrolling the target area. The 12 officers were assigned to Operation Impact upon their graduation from the police academy. They remained on that detail until graduates from the ensuing academy class were selected as their successors. The supervisors (two sergeants and one lieutenant) were selected based on their levels of experience managing proactive enforcement units.
Operation Impact lasted roughly 2 years. However, in 2010, the Newark Police Department phased out Operation Impact because of severe cuts to the department’s budget and personnel.
Piza and O’Hara (2012) provided clear evidence that Operation Impact reduced overall violence, aggravated assault, and shootings in the targeted area of Newark, NJ. The evidence for murder was less clear due to statistical power issues. The initiative does not appear to have influenced the number of robberies.
The authors provided odds ratios for five outcome measures: overall violence, murders, robberies, aggravated assaults, and shootings. Two odds ratios were provided for each crime category: one comparing the target area to the precinct control area, and another comparing the target area to the Zone B control area.
There was a statistically significant odds ratio of 1.73 for overall violence, showing a reduction of 42 percent in the target area relative to the surrounding precinct control area. The intervention also achieved a statistically significant odds ratio of 1.58 for overall violence, reflecting a decrease of 30 percent in the target area relative to the Zone B control area.
There was a statistically significant odds ratio of 2.94 for aggravated assault, reflecting a decrease of more than 60 percent in the target area relative to the precinct control area. There also was a statistically significant odds ratio of 2.51, reflecting a decrease of 61 percent in the target area relative to the Zone B control area.
There was a statistically significant odds ratio of 2.61 for shootings, showing a reduction of over 60 percent in the target area relative to the precinct control area. There was an odds ratio of 1.62 for shootings relative to the Zone B control area—suggesting a crime reduction in the target area—though this effect was not statistically significant.
Relative to the precinct control area and Zone B control area, the odds ratios for murder were 2.57 and 5.25, respectively, suggesting that the intervention may have reduced murders. However, these odds ratios were not statistically significant. The authors attribute the absence of statistically significant effects on murders as a function of low statistical power due to the small number of murders in the area.
The odds ratio for robbery was 1.13 relative to the surrounding precinct control area. This suggests the possibility of a crime reduction in the target area; however, the effect was not statistically significant. The odds ratio for the Zone B control area was 1.03 and also nonsignificant. These findings suggest that the initiative either did not have an effect on incidents of robbery, or if such an effect existed, it was trivial.