Gun Violence Programs: Operation Ceasefire
In 1995, Boston police faced a crisis of gang-related youth homicides. They teamed up with community groups and NIJ-funded
researchers to apply an evidence-based, problem-solving approach to the problem. The working group included community-based, street-wise individuals familiar with the local gang
culture, such as a police gang unit known as the Youth Violence Strike Force (YVSF). The group struggled for months to design,
implement and test an intervention; the result was Operation Ceasefire, which reduced firearm violence by 68 percent in one year.
The two main elements of Ceasefire were (1) a direct attack on illicit firearms traffickers and (2) a set of intervention
actions that gave gang members a strong deterrent to gun violence. Police placed strong and targeted enforcement pressure
on gang members to discourage gun carrying. The researchers called this strategy "lever pulling" and called efforts to spread the word among gang members about increased enforcement "retailing."
Why Ceasefire Worked
The "levers" were the youths' vulnerabilities to a wide range of penalties, from deportation, to going to prison for parole
violations, to receiving a sentence for 10 years without parole in a federal penitentiary. Intervention operations involved
cooperation between local police and federal law enforcement:
A King [gang member,] stopped one evening by a YVSF officer[,] was carrying a mask, gloves, and a semiautomatic pistol, which
he drew on the officer before thinking twice and dropping the weapon. Normally, that case would have been prosecuted by Massachusetts
authorities; instead, alerted by the Working Group, the U.S. Attorney took the case. Judges, kept up to date by probation
officers, imposed strict bail conditions on Kings arrested during the operation. ATF [U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms
and Explosives] agents rode and walked the streets with BPD [Boston Police Department] officers. (p. 34)
A key part of the "retailing" was ensuring gang members knew that the police were cracking down because of the violence and
that "if this violence does not stop, you are next."
The Ceasefire researcher team used local crime data, and the whole working group collaborated to ensure that the intervention
was carefully planned and executed. Activities and outcomes were closely monitored and continually evaluated, with ongoing
feedback from the researchers to the program. If something was not working or was problematic, program design and implementation
were adjusted accordingly:
The way the Operation Ceasefire group had imagined working, [a group member] pointed out, was too inflexible for the situations
the streets kept putting forward. Some violent or potentially violent situations had to be addressed as soon as YVSF or Streetworkers
heard of them: Decisionmaking could not always wait for the Working Group to convene or even consult. At the same time, not
all situations and not all gangs seemed to require or deserve a full-force Ceasefire intervention. (p. 42)
This approach is sometimes referred to as "action research."
The main components of the Ceasefire program can be replicated through a dedicated collaboration between local, state and
federal partners that is evidence-based, uses proven tactics and strategies, continually monitors progress, and adjusts to
Date Created: June 25, 2008