Hot spot policing focusing on guns is most effective strategy for reducing gun violence in Baltimore, study finds

January 12, 2018 by Alicia Samuels, Johns Hopkins University

A Baltimore program that assigns detectives to work in neighborhoods at high risk for gun violence was more effective at reducing gun violence in Baltimore than other initiatives, a new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health finds.

The so-called hot spot program, which focuses on individuals with a history of gun and curtailing illegal gun possession, led to significant reductions in homicides and nonfatal shootings.

The findings are part of a new report, "Estimating the Effects of Law Enforcement and Public Health Interventions Intended to Reduce Gun Violence in Baltimore," from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. The report analyzes data from 2003 through 2017 to estimate the effects of and interventions designed to reduce gun violence within high-crime areas in Baltimore.

The report found that the hot spot program focused on guns, which is run by the Baltimore Police Department's Violent Crime Impact Section, led to a 12 to 13 percent reduction in homicides and 18 to 20 percent fewer shootings in areas where it was implemented between 2007 and 2012. Somewhat similar efforts were mounted in 2013 but were not linked with reductions in gun violence. In contrast, other programs that saw a reduction in gun violence in the short term saw an eventual return to previous levels. However, while successful in reducing gun violence, the behavior of some VCIS officers generated complaints of abuse and costly lawsuits for the city.

"The reductions in shootings connected with Baltimore's VCIS are consistent with the experiences of other cities that have used specialized police units targeting illegal gun possession in areas with the highest rates of shootings," says Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Bloomberg School and the study's lead author. "But it is important for these programs to be carried out in a manner that is legally justified, professional, and acceptable to the communities they serve with appropriate accountability."

Webster also directs the Johns Hopkins-Baltimore Collaborative for Violence Reduction, which is assisting the Baltimore Police Department in the development of policies to improve the quality, acceptability, and accountability of proactive gun law enforcement.

Baltimore has long been plagued by high rates of homicide, with guns playing an important role. The city has implemented several law enforcement and public health strategies designed to reduce shootings. In addition to hot spot policing targeting illegal guns, the report examined:

  • Drug law enforcement and the community effects of increases or decreases in arrests for illegal drug possession or distribution
  • Ceasefire, a group violence intervention program that aims to identify and deter individuals and groups tied to gun violence
  • Safe Streets Baltimore, a public health program that provides mentors and role models for those at greatest risk for involvement in gun violence

For their study, the researchers used data obtained from the Baltimore Police Department, the Baltimore Health Department, and Open Baltimore, a citywide public information database. Major drug busts were identified by systematic searches of news stories from local media outlets, including The Baltimore Sun, to estimate each intervention's effects.

Contrary to the positive effects found for policing programs targeting guns and gun offenders, policing activities focusing exclusively on drug offenses did not lead to lasting protective effects on homicides. In fact, the most direct measures of Baltimore Police Department's drug law enforcement provide evidence that these arrests were more likely to spur more gun violence than to reduce it. Although surges in arrests for illegal drug distribution within an area may reduce violence for one or two months, there appears to be violence-generating effects up to a year after these surges in drug arrests. Higher numbers of shootings also tend to follow increases in arrests for illegal drug possession.

"The findings on drug arrests aren't entirely surprising, as published evidence to date provides little evidence that common policing approaches to drug law enforcement are effective in reducing violent crime," Webster says. "We did, however, find that major busts in Baltimore that typically involve coordinated efforts with state and federal prosecutors and tend to target individuals and groups believed to be behind a lot of gun violence were associated with a 25 percent reduction in shootings within the areas affected during the six months following the busts. This suggests that is most effective in reducing gun violence when it is highly focused on the most violent individuals."

The researchers found that the group intervention program, Ceasefire, was not associated with any change in the number of homicides and nonfatal shootings in the areas where the program was active.

Safe Streets Baltimore was associated with a 12 to 13 percent reduction in nonfatal shootings; however, the reduction was not significant. Site-specific analyses revealed that the site in Cherry Hill, a neighborhood in South Baltimore, led to a significant reduction—39 percent—in homicides. Earlier evaluations of the program revealed more robust program effects through 2013.

"The historic rates of gun violence that Baltimore has experienced during the past three years and the large number of these shootings in which perpetrators are not brought to justice likely leave Safe Streets workers with many more potentially lethal conflicts than they are able to manage with available resources," Webster says. "I believe with increased commitment, resources, and collaboration with other community organizations, these programs could produce the same kind of meaningful reductions in in Baltimore that they have produced in other cities."

Explore further: Simulation model finds Cure Violence program and targeted policing curb urban violence

More information: Estimating the Effects of Law Enforcement and Public Health Interventions Intended to Reduce Gun Violence in Baltimore, www.jhsph.edu/research/centers … nce-in-Baltimore.pdf

Related Stories

Simulation model finds Cure Violence program and targeted policing curb urban violence

December 14, 2017
When communities and police work together to deter urban violence, they can achieve better outcomes with fewer resources than when each works in isolation, a simulation model created by researchers at the UC Davis Violence ...

Broader gun restrictions lead to fewer intimate partner homicides

November 29, 2017
State laws that restrict gun ownership among domestic abusers and others with violent histories appear to significantly reduce intimate partner homicides, indicates a groundbreaking national study led by a Michigan State ...

Join forces to reduce US violence, says UK expert

March 30, 2017
Violence in the US can be reduced if police and health agencies join forces, says a leading UK expert.

Community-level violence linked to teens' risky sexual behavior

January 26, 2016
Teens' experiences with violence—either through fear of violence, observing violent events, or being victims of violence themselves—are associated with how likely they are to have sex and use condoms, new research from ...

Gun violence in the US kills more black people and urban dwellers

November 8, 2017
On Nov. 5, just 35 days after the deadly Las Vegas shooting, a man walked into a church in a small Texas town and murdered 26 people with an assault rifle. The coverage dominated the news.

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Anonym496357
not rated yet Jan 12, 2018
There's another way to reduce gun violence, but it hasn't been scientifically proven - yet. The United Nations' World Health Organization says every year billions of dollars are spent worldwide on injuries related to punching incidents. Punching incidents often escalate in to using more deadly weapons - guns, knives, etc. Reduce punching incidents and it should reduce gun violence. One Punch Homicide is a documentary made to reduce punching incidents, it's getting great reviews, and it can be seen free online. ShelterMe - its actual spelling - Nebraska, a domestic violence shelter, wrote "I encourage you to show it to your kids about it on its facebook site.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.