‘The Boston Miracle’
The programs that have best managed to reduce gun violence use a public health approach to target the young men most likely to be involved in shootings with a combination of assistance and policing. Almost all of them are modeled on Operation Ceasefire, an initiative that started in Boston in 1996 and ended four years later. Its many spinoffs have produced results in cities across the country even as attempts to pass national gun legislation have fallen short.
A recent ProPublica story highlights the accomplishments of Operation Ceasefire and its incarnations in other cities, as well as the difficulties community leaders have had in maintaining federal support for the programs.
Operation Ceasefire was a collaborative effort between Boston police, black ministers and social scientists, who came together in 1996 to curb rising youth homicides. Instead of focusing on guns, they looked at the people. Research shows that a small number of young, gang-related men are responsible for the large majority of murders. And so, the coalition of law enforcement and civil society leaders began by identifying them -- the “small groups of young men most likely to shoot or be shot,” writes reporter Lois Beckett.
Ceasefire’s leaders then used a carrot-and-stick approach to confront the at-risk individuals in person. They would “promise an immediate crackdown on every member of the next group that put a body on the ground -- and immediate assistance for everyone who wanted help turning their lives around,” Beckett writes.
The technique yielded such dramatic results, it earned the nickname “the Boston Miracle.” In the following two years, the average number of youth murders per month declined 63 percent, Beckett reports. The Department of Justice gave the program high marks, characterizing it as one of just a few crime prevention programs that has a proven record of effectiveness.