Operation Ceasefire: Boston Gun Project

The Boston Gun Project was a problem-oriented policing initiative expressly aimed at taking on a serious, large-scale crime problem - homicide victimization among young people in Boston. Like many large cities in the United States, Boston experienced an epidemic of youth homicide between the late 1980s and early 1990s. Boston youth homicide (ages 24 and under) increased 230 % --from 22 victims in 1987 to 73 victims in 1990. Youth homicide remained high well after the peak of the epidemic. Boston averaged about 44 youth homicides per year between 1991 and 1995.

Sponsored by the National Institute of Justice and directed by David M. Kennedy, Anthony A. Braga, and Anne M. Piehl of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Project included:

  1. Assembling an interagency working group of largely line-level criminal justice and other practitioners;
  2. Applying quantitative and qualitative research techniques to create an assessment of the nature of, and dynamics driving, youth violence in Boston;
  3. Developing an intervention designed to have a substantial, near-term impact on youth homicide
  4. Implementing and adapting the intervention; and
  5. Evaluating the intervention's impact.

Core participating agencies, as defined by regular participation in the Boston Gun Project Working Group over the duration of the project, included the Boston Police Department; the Massachusetts departments of probation and parole; the office of the Suffolk County District Attorney; the office of the United States Attorney; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (juvenile corrections); Boston School Police; and gang outreach and prevention "streetworkers" attached to the Boston Community Centers program. Other important participants, either as regular partners later in the process or episodically, have included the Ten Point Coalition of activist black clergy, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Massachusetts State Police, and the office of the Massachusetts Attorney General.

The Project began in early 1995 and implemented what is now known as the "Operation Ceasefire" intervention, which began in the late spring of 1996. Operation Ceasefire was an innovative partnership between researchers and practitioners brought together to assess the city's youth homicide problem and implement an intervention designed to have a substantial near-term impact on the problem. Operation Ceasefire was based on the "pulling levers" deterrence strategy which focused criminal justice attention on a small number of chronically offending gang-involved youth responsible for much of Boston's youth homicide problem. The Program in Criminal Justice performed a rigorous evaluation of the project.

Our impact evaluation suggests that the Ceasefire intervention was associated with significant reductions in youth homicide victimization, shots fired calls for service, and gun assault incidents in Boston. A comparative analysis of youth homicide trends in Boston relative to youth homicide trends in other major U.S. and New England cities also supports a unique program effect associated with the Ceasefire intervention.

Youth Homicides in Boston, 1976 - 2009

Operation Ceasefire chart illustrates Youth Homicides in Boston, 1976 - 2009

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