To maintain public safety and reduce gun violence, a strong need exists for understanding police strategies, practices, and related issues in addressing gun crimes. This article includes a review of articles on police strategies targeting gun crimes including both innovative programs and routine activities that have been used in the U.S. and is aimed at developing a general understanding on how police handle gun crimes, how effective they are, and what need to be done to improve their effectiveness. A key-word search was conducted to locate related publications in Criminal Justice Abstract and other online sources resulting in ninety-nine related articles. Upon closer examination, most of these publications do not address police anti-gun strategies and only twenty-six were relevant and selected for review. The review covers the theoretical frameworks, evaluation methods, police strategies, and results of implementing the strategies.
Theories behind various police strategies targeting gun crimes fall generally under problem-oriented policing, community-oriented policing, and situational crime prevention perspective. Problem-oriented policing, which is often combined with community policing, is based on the idea that finding and addressing the root causes of a certain crime problem is the key to solving it. Problem-oriented policing as a theory to reduce gun violence can be applied to places, persons, and risks. Situational prevention is applicable to policing gun crimes because it involves the specification of “the situational conditions that permit or facilitate the commission of the crimes in question” and that the immediate environment and organizational activities could influence crimes .
Evaluation methods used to study police gun-crime strategies include time-series design, quasi-experiment, case-file analysis, survey, and descriptive
analysis. Quasi-experiments rest on the assumptions that the
comparison group is in fact comparable and the most critical difference between the targeted and control areas is the police intervention. Case-file analysis involves the creation of a gun case database using gun case files and analysis of the database to understand the effects of related police activities. Most studies of police strategies are descriptive in nature and many police programs against gun crime have not been formally evaluated .
About two dozen evaluations of police anti-gun strategies are available for review. Program titles include Operation Ceasefire, Project Exile, Project Safe Neighborhoods, Project Felon, Project Triggerlock, and so forth. Most strategies are based on the problem-oriented policing concept or its variations, with community-oriented policing elements (Braga, et al, ; Kennedy, et al. ; McGarrell, et al. ; O’Shea, ; Payne, et al. ; Sherman, et al. ; and Tita, et al. ), and very few on the situational prevention perspective or routine activity concept (Drawve, et al, ; Jiao, ). Problem-oriented policing strategies include place-oriented strategies, directed/targeted patrol, hot-spot policing, gun suppression, and gang- or offender-based suppression. Police strategies designed to address gun violence have been implemented in various metropolitan areas including Kansas, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, New York, St. Louis, Boston, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Richmond, Buffalo, Oakland, Little Rock, and Eastern City. While most of them used problem-oriented policing strategies, two were examined with situational and routine activity perspectives.
Most of the studies reviewed suggest that focused police efforts have a significant effect on gun crime. Problem-oriented policing, community policing, and situational and routine activity strategies all seem to suggest that certain police efforts focused on gun violence have an effect on gun crime, whether they are place-oriented, target-oriented, offender-focused, behavior-focused, or based on environmental and operational variables. Most evaluations were able to link key components of police interventions to subsequent gun crime or individual behaviors subjected to the interventions. Previous reviews of gun studies (Sherman, ; National Research Council ) and national survey (Koper et al. ) also show that directed/targeted strategies against gun crimes work .
Further and more systematic research on police strategies, however, is warranted to understand how these efforts really work in reducing gun violence . There is a need for more in-depth research on gun-related enforcement and prevention practices, their effectiveness, and the organizational and
environmental factors that facilitate or hinder them. Many
complex factors affect the problem of gun violence and because
data used for most studies were not derived from a true
experimental design, it is often difficult to specify the exact role
a police strategy played in the reduction of gun crime.
While police can learn from previous studies about effectiveness
of police strategies, types of gun crimes, types of guns, and
gun trace, they should also understand the contexts and police
operations related to gun incidents. The association between
public areas and substantive gun crimes indicates that police
should target public areas prone for gun crime not only with effective
strategies but also with situational and routine activities.
They need to address also public perception of certain areas and
create a sense of security .
The amount of research and knowledge on police effectiveness
in handling gun crime remains limited. Although some police
strategies and quasi-experiments reviewed seem to be effective
in reducing gun violence, they were implemented as new
interventions, subject to funding availability, and their effects
may be transient and cannot always be explained by police interventions
alone as many confounding factors remain elusive.
Available studies also rarely address the immediate environment
of gun incidents and routine police activities related to gun
crimes. The situational crime prevention perspective focused
on environmental factors and routine activities rather than new
police tactics seems underutilized in understanding the police
role in reducing gun violence. The dynamics of gun incidents and
their investigations as influenced by the immediate environment
and daily police activities need to be studied further.
Clarke Ronald V (1992) Situational Crime Prevention: Successful Case Studies. Albany NY: Harrow and Heston, USA.
National Research Council (2005) Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review. In: Committee to Improve Research Information and Data on Firearms. Charles F Wellford, et al. (Eds), Committee on Law and Justice, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, USA.
Braga Anthony A, Kennedy David M, Waring Elin J, Piehl Anne Morrison (2001) Problem-Oriented Policing, Deterrence, and Youth Violence: An Evaluation of Boston’s Operation Ceasefire. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 38(3): 195-225.
Kennedy David M, Braga Anthony A, Piehl Anne M, Waring Elin J (2001) Reducing Gun Violence: The Boston Gun Project. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, USA.
O Shea Timothy C (2007) Getting the Deterrence Message Out: The Project Safe Neighborhoods Public-Private Partnership. Police Quarterly 10(3): 288-307.
Payne Brian K, Gainey Randy R (2008) Guns, Offense Type, and Virginia Exile: Should Gun Reduction Policies Focus on Specific Offenses?. Criminal Justice Policy Review 19(2): 181-195.
Sherman Lawrence W, Shaw James W, Rogan Dennis P (1995) The Kansas City Gun Experiment. Research in Brief. Washington: National Institute of Justice, USA.
Tita George E, Riley K Jack, Ridgeway Greg, Greenwood Peter W (2005) Reducing Gun Violence: Operation Ceasefire in Los Angeles. Washington, D.C.: Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, USA.
Drawve Grant, Stacy C Moak, Emily R Berthelot (2014) Predictability of gun crimes: a comparison of hot spot and risk terrain modelling techniques. Policing and Society: An International Journal of Research and Policy 26(3) 312-331.
Sherman Lawrence W (2001) Reducing Gun Violence: What Works, What Doesn’t, What’s Promising. Criminal Justice 1(1): 11-25.
Koper Christopher S, Woods Daniel J, Kubu Bruce E (2013) Gun violence prevention practices among local police in the United States. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 36(3): 577-603.