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Focused deterrence

A strategy that combines communicating the consequences of violence with support for developing positive routes away from it.

Estimated impact on violent crime:


Evidence quality:

1 2 3 4 5


1 2 3

Prevention Type

  • Tertiary


  • Community

What is it?

Focused deterrence is an approach to violence reduction that was developed in Boston (USA) in the mid-1990s. It recognises that most serious violence is associated with a small group of people who are themselves very likely to be victims of violence, trauma, and extremely challenging circumstances. Their involvement in violence is often driven by exploitation, victimisation and self-protection. Some versions of focused deterrence, including the original “Boston Ceasefire” intervention of the 1990s, focus primarily on groups rather than individuals. These approaches recognise that violence is often driven by conflict between groups. If two groups are engaged in violent conflict, focusing on the individuals who have committed violent crimes is unlikely to prevent future conflict between other members in the groups.

Focused deterrence attempts to identify the people most likely to be involved in violence and support them to desist. The age of the people involved depends on the context and the crime problem identified but projects have worked with children as young as 14 or 15. For example, the average age of participants in a focused deterrence project in Glasgow was 16.

It combines several core strategies.

  • Support. Help for people involved in violence to access positive support and social services.
  • Community engagement. Engaging the wider community to communicate that they want violence to stop and those involved to be safe, provide support, and encourage reintegration in the community. Projects will often arrange engagement between the people who are the focus of the intervention and victims’ family members, reformed former group members, and faith leaders.
  • Deterrence. Clear communication of the consequences of violence and swift and certain enforcement if violence occurs.

Focused deterrence usually includes a combination of the following steps.

  1. The approach begins by identifying a specific problem – such as knife crime, violent conflict between groups, or drug dealing – as the target for intervention. A dedicated project team is formed which includes the police and law enforcement, social services, and the local community.
  2. The team combines their knowledge of the selected crime problem and identifies the people involved.
  3. The team begin to directly and frequently communicate with the people involved in the crime problem. Programmes might start this communication at a ‘call-in’ meeting. The meeting often involves gathering together people from rival conflicting groups, the parents of victims of violence, police and other law enforcement agencies, social services, and community representatives. The team will emphasize that the affected community needs violence to stop and wants those involved to be safe. The team will offer help and access to positive opportunities and services, and make explicit the (sometimes new) consequences that will follow violence.
  4. The project team continue to develop relationships with the people targeted by the approach. This could involve members of the local community coming together to work out how best to provide support. Or the team could help participants with access to services like education, training, housing, healthcare, and treatment for substance misuse.
  5. If the people involved do not desist from violence, the project team could enforce sanctions. This could include increased police presence and surveillance, arrest and swift prosecution for minor offences, disruption of illegal money-making activity, or attention to driving transgressions or unpaid fines.

Different focused deterrence models vary in how much they emphasize different stages of this process. Models which emphasize enforcement might focus on using ‘call-in’ meetings to communicate the consequences of violence and taking swift action if the people involved do not desist. Other models might not use ‘call-in’ meetings at all, have minimal emphasis on enforcement, and instead emphasize developing relationships, rehabilitation and early intervention.

There are several potential explanations why focused deterrence could prevent serious crime and violence. The involvement of the community and social services could provide positive routes away from crime and violence. The potential for targeted, swift and certain sanctions might act as a deterrent. The people who are the focus of the approach might not understand the legal consequences of their actions – simply informing them of those realities might have an impact. Finally, collaboration between the community and police could develop relationships and legitimacy, improving the efficacy of future crime prevention activity.

Is it effective?

The research suggests that the average impact of focused deterrence on violent crime is likely to be high.

Our estimate is based on a review of 24 studies which suggests that, on average, focused deterrence strategies reduced crime by 33%. Many of the studies included in this review had a specific focus on violent crime as an outcome. The strongest crime reduction impacts were found in 12 studies on programmes designed to reduce serious violence generated by conflict between groups. Interventions targeting individuals and drug markets had smaller but still positive impacts.

On average, focused deterrence strategies reduced crime by 33%.

How secure is the evidence?

We have  high  confidence in our estimate of the impact on violent crime.

The estimate is based on one high-quality review of many studies. We did not give this topic the highest security rating because there is a lot of variation in the studies in the review. Some studies suggested that the impact was higher and others suggested it was lower. 22 of 24 studies in the review found positive impacts. The two remaining studies found very small negative effects.

Most of the available research was conducted in the USA. Only one study in the review, an evaluation of the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) in Glasgow, is from the UK. This project was modelled on the Boston Ceasefire project and the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence and aimed to address high levels of violence in a deprived area of Glasgow. It offered access to diversionary activities, personal development, and employment preparedness in exchange for a “no violence, no weapon” pledge. The evaluation suggested that offensive weapons possession crimes reduced by half for young people who participated in the intervention for two years, but there was no change in serious violence.

The YEF identified two further evaluations of focused deterrence in England and Wales:

  • A project was piloted between 2015 and 2016 in three London boroughs. This project identified a total of 19 groups and 321 individuals. The project invited 103 individuals to at least one call-in and 27 attended. This research provided no clear indication that the approach led to reductions in violent offending. The evaluators concluded that the lack of impact was due to implementation challenges and the study had not provided a clear test of the focused deterrence model.
  • The College of Policing has funded an evaluation of a project in Northamptonshire.

How can you implement it well?

Adapt the principles of focused deterrence to your local context

Teams which have used the approach in the UK have found they need to adapt it to fit their local context. For example, the CIRV project in Glasgow noted that the groups involved in violent conflict in Glasgow are quite different to those in Cincinnati. In Glasgow these groups tend to have no organised hierarchy, use knifes rather than guns, and tend to be much younger. While the Cincinnati project worked with the adult prison population, the Glasgow team developed activities for the under-16 age group, including children who were at the early stages of involvement but had not yet committed any offences.

Work closely with those already doing violence prevention work

Focused deterrence requires close collaboration between community members and service providers committed to violence prevention. Successful focused deterrence model tend to identify key stakeholders and design and implement the work with them. The developers of focused deterrence argue that much of the most effective work will be happening outside mainstream actors and institutions and projects should work with and learn from these actors.

Create a dialogue between the police and community

Poor communication between the police and community around official strategies and actions can increase community distrust. It is important the police maintain a dialogue with the community throughout the intervention. The police should communicate the legitimate reasons for working with a particular community and the positive outcomes they are aiming to achieve.

Consider how you will support effective collaboration

Focused deterrence is a complex approach which requires coordination between many stakeholders. It is likely to require careful planning to ensure stakeholders are prepared to collaborate and share information.

Train staff on the programme

Providing clarity on the aims of the programme, how to implement it and what the right balance between deterrence and protection is, can help ensure the programme is implemented as intended. For example, the Glasgow team received initial training from the original developers of CIRV in the USA.

Plan how to manage the dynamics of any call-in meetings

The call-in meeting should be on neutral territory, otherwise it is less likely to serve its intended purpose. Planning what messages police communicate could help strike the right balance between deterrence and protection and make it less likely the police alienate community representatives.

Provide evidence on why groups are the focus

It must be made clear that focused deterrence attends to groups because of their involvement in violence and this violence must be addressed to protect them and others. It should be clear that the selection of groups is driven by violence prevention rather ethnicity or identity.

How much does it cost?

On average, the cost of focused deterrence is likely to be high.

There is information available about the cost of two focused deterrence projects in the UK.

  • A recent project in Northamptonshire was funded through a £627,000 Home Office grant from the Serious Youth Violence Early Intervention Fund. This is approximately £1,200 per participant.
  • The Glasgow CIRV project had a total budget of £1.4 million. This is approximately £2,500 per participant.

Costs include paying service providers, additional time and resources spent targeting crime groups and coordinating between different services, any additional staff to deliver the intervention, and finding a neutral location for call in-meetings.

Topic summary

  • On average, focused deterrence projects have led to large reductions in violence.
  • The approach originated in the USA but there have been several recent attempts to implement it in the UK. The best UK impact evaluation is from Glasgow and suggests a beneficial impact for weapons possession crimes.
  • Focused deterrence is a complex approach which requires close collaboration and careful planning between many stakeholders. How will you ensure that you secure the commitment of everyone who needs to be involved?
  • Focused deterrence focuses on the people most closely associated with violence. This could include people of any age – it is not focused on children and young people specifically. How will you ensure that activities are appropriate for children? The evaluations of the Glasgow and Northamptonshire projects describe how they developed specific activities for the children involved.

Evaluation of Glasgow CIRV
An evaluation of the CIRV project in Glasgow 

Group Violence Intervention London: An Evaluation of the Shield Pilot CIRV
An evaluation of the Shield Pilot in London

Summary of an evaluation of Community Intervention to Reduce Violence in Northamptonshire.