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Gun Violence Programs: Project Safe Neighborhoods

Date Published
June 11, 2009

Project Safe Neighborhood (PSN) is a nationwide program aimed at reducing gun violence in the United States.

An NIJ-funded evaluation of the effectiveness of this major multiyear, multiagency crime prevention initiative found:

  • Reduced violent crime overall in PSN cities; reductions were greater in cities with a high-level of federal prosecution.
  • A decline in gun-related violence in nine PSN cities that were studied in depth.
  • Key factors for success included United States Attorneys Offices leadership, cross agency buy-in and the flexibility of the program to adjust to the realities of individual jurisdictions.

Project Safe Neighborhoods Reduces Violent Crime

Violent Crime Reduction
Cities (pop. > 100K) Violent Crime Rate
With PSN (n =82) -4.1%
Without PSN (n =170) -0.9%

Researchers analyzed violent crime statistics in cities with populations greater than 100,000. Comparing 82 PSN ("target") cities to 170 ("non-target") cities that did not implement PSN, they found a 4.1-percent decline in violent crime in cities where PSN was implemented compared to a 0.9-percent decline in cities where it was not.

Level of Federal Prosecution
Level of Federal Prosecution Violent Crime Rate
High -13.1 percent
Low +7.8 percent

The researchers also used crime statistics to analyze whether the level of PSN implementation — for example, the level of federal prosecution against gun crime — affected violent crime. They found a 13.1-percent decrease in violent crime in PSN target cities with a high level of federal prosecution. In stark contrast, during this same period of time, they found an increase of 7.8 percent in violent crime in nontarget cities in low federal prosecution districts.

Case Studies Show Reduction in Gun Violence

In their second evaluation strategy to determine if PSN worked, the researchers conducted in-depth analyses of nine target cities: Durham, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem (N.C.), Lowell (Mass.), St. Louis (Mo.), Chicago (Ill.), Stockton (Calif.), and Montgomery and Mobile (Ala.). In these individual case studies, the researchers were able to go beyond general violent crime statistics to specifically consider data on gun-related crime. Each of the nine sites showed a decline in gun-related violence after PSN was implemented. Here are the findings from six sites:

Decline in Gun Crime by City
City Decline in Gun Crime
Chicago Very significant decline in gun crime in police districts that implemented PSN compared to neighboring districts.
Stockton Significant decline in gun crime compared to other California cities.
Mobile Decline in admissions to the trauma center for gunshot wounds and a significant decline in gun crime compared to the trend in property crime.
Montgomery Significant decline in gun crime compared to the trend in property crime.
Durham Decline in gun violence, although it was not statistically significant.

Key Success Factors for Preventing Violent Crime — Lessons Learned from Project Safe Neighborhoods

Project Safe Neighborhood is a nationwide program that NIJ-funded research has shown to be effective at reducing violence. Several factors emerged as key to PSN's impact on reducing violent crime.

  • United States Attorney's Office leadership. The level of involvement among the country's 94 federal judicial districts varied widely; however, the researchers found that, in target cities where there were high levels of PSN implementation, there was a correspondingly high level of commitment by the United States Attorney's Office.
  • Crossagency buy-in. The most successful PSN task forces showed what the researchers called “distributed leadership,” that is, active buy-in to the program among key agency leaders, such as the chief of police, the local prosecutor, the chief of probation and parole, and the mayor or city manager.
  • Flexibility. PSN recognized that relying exclusively on increased federal gun prosecution would have limited value, since most gun crime is prosecuted in state and local courts. PSN also recognized that, because there are significant differences among U.S. communities in the level and nature of gun crime, the program needed to be able to adapt to the needs of each local jurisdiction. To allow jurisdictions maximum flexibility, PSN was built around five basic components:
    1. Partnerships: among law enforcement agencies, state and federal prosecutors, parole and probation agencies, and community groups (some of these partnerships resulted in joint case reviews, lists of those who chronically commit violent offenses, meeting regarding notifications of those committing offenses, and directed police patrols in hot spots).
    2. Strategic Planning: aimed at enforcement, prosecution, deterrence and prevention.
    3. Training: more than 17,000 PSN members had received training by 2005.
    4. Outreach: including "Hard Time for Gun Crime," a nationwide public service announcement campaign.
    5. Accountability: through various reporting mechanisms.

About This Article

This article is based on the full PSN evaluation, "Project Safe Neighborhood: A National Program to Reduce Gun Crime" (pdf, 230 pages).

Date Published: June 11, 2009