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Project Safe Neighborhoods

A STUDY OF a nationwide effort to reduce gun violence, called Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), found a significant decline in gun violence for two cities that strongly implemented the program. But the overall effectiveness of PSN was less certain, according to the Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice study.

Originally launched by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2001, the program has cost about $3 billion through the 2008 fiscal year. Some of the tactics PSN focused on were stronger federal prosecution of gun charges, training, outreach, and intervention.

The study found that since PSN was essentially implemented everywhere, there were no true control groups. Another problem researchers had was in finding timely crime data.

Due to the lack of control groups, the researchers chose to examine case studies in cities where the program was strongly implemented (“target” cities) to see what impact PSN had in those areas. Overall, the target cities were found to have a 4.1 percent decline in violent crimes, while nontarget cities experienced about a 0.9 percent decline. Additionally, the overall decrease in crime was greater in cities that had a higher “dosage” of PSN.

The researchers also compared the target city data with overall crime patterns. Two of the cities that implemented a strong increase in federal prosecution with a media deterrence campaign, Mobile and Montgomery, Alabama, experienced significant gun violence declines in comparison to property crime trends and appeared to indicate a PSN impact.

Of five target cities that followed a problem-solving, intervention strategy, the results were more mixed. All saw gun violence decline, but one decline was not statistically significant, and another was comparable to declines in nearby communities.

The report also found that target cities in areas with a high level of federal prosecution experienced a 13.1 percent decline in violent crime, while nontarget cities with low-level federal prosecution saw only a 7.8 percent decrease in violent crime.

The report provided recommendations for how to administer projects like PSN going forward. In addition to promoting better crime reporting, the report advises that funds be allocated toward gun crime reduction based on risk levels of the city or area.

The report also recommends that governments conduct a needs and capacity assessment prior to spending money to better ascertain which type of program would work in each area. Finally, the report recommends establishing control sites. For example, researchers should choose potential sites, and implement the program in only half of those sites initially so that there can be a comparison between the two to assess effectiveness before going for broader implementation of the program.