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Operation Ceasefire

Ages 15-24

Rating: Level 3


Originally developed by the Boston Police Department’s Youth Violence Strike Force, Operation Ceasefire is a problem-solving police strategy that seeks to reduce gang violence, illegal gun possession, and gun violence in communities. As a deterrence strategy, the intervention posits that crimes can be prevented when the costs of committing the crime are perceived by the offender to outweigh the benefits of committing a crime. It targets high-risk youths as well as serious and violent juvenile offenders. The program is just one element of a collaborative, comprehensive strategy (which also includes the Boston Gun Project and Operation Night Light) implemented in Boston, Mass., to address escalating gang activity and rising violent crime rates. It combines aggressive law enforcement and prosecution efforts aimed at recovering illegal handguns, prosecuting dangerous felons, increasing public awareness, and promoting public safety and antiviolence.

The program’s suppression tactics include numerous warrants and long sentences for chronic offenders, aggressive enforcement of probation restrictions, and deployment of Federal enforcement powers. The prevention strategy is centered on an ambitious communications campaign involving meetings with both community groups and gang members. Everyone in the community is informed that gang violence will provoke a zero-tolerance approach and that only an end to gang violence will stop new gang-oriented suppression activities. Ideally, these activities should be combined with a variety of other law enforcement strategies and grassroots community initiatives to combat crime.

The goals of the program are to carry out a comprehensive strategy to apprehend and prosecute offenders who carry firearms, to put others on notice that offenders face certain and serious punishment for carrying illegal firearms, and to prevent youths from following the same criminal path.

Operation Ceasefire’s first main element is a direct law-enforcement attack on illicit firearms traffickers who supply youths with guns. The program frames a set of activities intended to systematically address the patterns of firearm trafficking:

  • Expanding the attention of local, State, and Federal authorities to include intrastate trafficking in Massachusetts-sourced guns
  • Focusing enforcement attention on traffickers of those makes and calibers of guns most used by gang members
  • Focusing enforcement attention on traffickers of those guns showing a short time to crime (18 months or less)
  • Focusing enforcement attention on traffickers of guns used by the city’s most violent gangs
  • Attempting to restore obliterated serial numbers
  • Supporting these practices through analysis of crime gun traces generated by the Boston Police Department ‘s investigations and arrests involved with gangs or violent crimes

The second element involves deterring violent behavior by chronic gang members by reaching out directly to gangs, saying explicitly that violence will not be tolerated, and by following every legally available route when violence occurs. Simultaneously, service providers, probation and parole officers, and church and other community groups offer gang members services and other kinds of help.


Operation Ceasefire has been evaluated using a basic one-group, time-series design and a nonrandomized quasi-experiment to compare youth homicide trends in Boston with youth homicide trends in other large U.S. cities. No control groups were used in the evaluation for three reasons: 1) the aim of the program was to address serious youth violence wherever it presented itself in the city, 2) the target of the intervention was defined as the self-sustaining cycle of violence in which all gangs were caught up and to which all gangs contributed, and 3) the communications strategy was explicitly intended to affect the behavior of gangs and individuals not directly subjected to enforcement attention.

The key outcome variable in the assessment of the Ceasefire program was the monthly number of homicide victims age 24 and younger. The homicide data were obtained from the Boston Police Department’s Office of Research and Analysis (January 1991 through May 1998). The evaluation also examined the monthly counts of citywide shots-fired, citizen calls for service data, and citywide official gun assault incident report data (January 1991 through December 1997).


The Operation Ceasefire program was officially implemented on May 15, 1996. Boston had averaged 44 youth homicides per year from 1991 through 1995. In 1996 the number of youth homicides decreased to 26 and further decreased to 15 in 1997.

A comparison of Boston’s youth violence trends with other cities during the program period suggests that Operation Ceasefire may have been effective in reducing youth homicides, gun assault incidents, and “shots fired” calls for service. The intervention was associated with a statistically significant decrease (63 percent) in the monthly number of youth homicides. However, Operation Ceasefire was but one element of a collaborative, comprehensive strategy implemented in Boston. Others included Boston’s 10-Point Coalition. The Operation Ceasefire program has been replicated in other cities, including Minneapolis, Minn.; St. Louis, Mo.; and Los Angeles, Calif.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Favorable attitudes toward drug use/Early onset of AOD use/Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Gun possession/Illegal gun ownership and/or carrying
  • Lack of guilt and empathy
  • Life stressors
  • Poor refusal skills
  • Victimization and exposure to violence


  • Family history of the problem behavior/Parent criminality
  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Family violence


  • Dropping out of school
  • Inadequate school climate/Poorly organized and functioning schools/Negative labeling by teachers
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school
  • School suspensions
  • Truancy/Frequent absences


  • Availability of alcohol and other drugs
  • Availability of firearms
  • Community crime/High crime neighborhood
  • Community instability
  • Economic deprivation/Poverty/Residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood
  • Low community attachment
  • Neighborhood youth in trouble
  • Social and physical disorder/Disorganized neighborhood


  • Association with delinquent and/or aggressive peers
  • Gang involvement/Gang membership
  • Peer alcohol, tobacco, and/or other drug use

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Effective parenting
  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family


  • High quality schools / Clear standards and rules
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults


  • Clear social norms / Policies with sanctions for violations and rewards for compliance
  • High expectations
  • Nondisadvantaged neighborhood
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Prosocial opportunities for participation / Availability of neighborhood resources
  • Rewards for prosocial community involvement
  • Safe environment / Low neighborhood crime


  • Good relationships with peers
  • Involvement with positive peer group activities


Braga, Anthony A., David M. Kennedy, Elin J. Waring, and Anne Morrison Piehl. 2001. “Problem-Oriented Policing, Deterrence, and Youth Violence: An Evaluation of Boston’s Operation Ceasefire.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 38(3):195–225.


James Jordan or Gary French
Boston Police Department
One Schroeder Plaza
Boston, MA 02120–2014
Phone: (617) 343-4200
Fax: (617) 343-4481
Web site: