Crime & Justice Policy

PPC and local law enforcement working on crime reduction initiative

A man stands in front of a projection screen, presenting data.

Several members of local law enforcement – including the Cedar Rapids Police Department, Iowa City Police Department, Linn County Sherriff’s Office and Marion Police Department – as well as U.S. Attorneys from the Northern and Southern Federal Court Districts in Iowa and members of the Iowa Department of Public Safety recently met with members of the University of Iowa Public Policy Center’s Crime and Justice Policy Research Program.

Mark Berg, Director of the Crime and Justice Policy Research Program and associate professor in the UI Department of Sociology, brought the group together to learn about social network analysis (SNA) and focused deterrence from Marion Police Chief Joe McHale and Andrew Fox, Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminology at California State University, Fresno.

SNA is a data-driven policing strategy. Focused deterrence uses SNA to target high risk serious violent offenders who are core actors in offender networks, responsible for a high amount of crime and violence and connected to similar actors. Numerous studies find that a small fraction of offenders are responsible for a large amount of serious criminal violence.

SNA/focused deterrence is a new model of targeted policing that relies less on random police patrol and more on social science methods to engage in precise policing to maximize public resources and reduce the footprint of police in local communities. There is also a community and social services component to the program. Offenders who are identified as central in the violent networks are first called to meet with prosecutors, clergy, community organizers and others where they are warned about their role in the network and informed that they are the subject of intense law enforcement scrutiny. Additionally, they are actively connected to social services with the primary goal of community reintegration.

“Studies find that actors who occupy central and influential positions in these networks have a very high risk for homicide offending and victimization and for involvement in gun violence,” Berg said. “After mapping these actors on offender networks the police dedicate a large amount of their resources to target the high rate offenders for arrest; and state and federal prosecutors also partner with the police to bring the most serious criminal charges that typically result in lengthy prison sentences.” 

McHale, a former Division Commander with the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department, was instrumental in creating an SNA program in Kansas City, called the Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KC NoVA). KC NoVA contributed to an approximately 20 percent reduction in homicide after the first year of implementation.

McHale and members of the PPC Crime and Justice Policy Research Program are currently working with members of Linn County law enforcement and the Northern and Southern Federal Districts to implement a similar SNA/focused deterrence program in Eastern Iowa.