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Project Safe Neighborhoods (Lowell, Massachusetts)



Part of the DOJ-sponsored Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) initiative, Lowell, Massachusetts, was one of 11 target cities that the U.S. Attorney, District of Massachusetts, selected for PSN implementation. PSN gun-violence prevention strategies were developed in Lowell using a problem-oriented policing framework. Researchers from Harvard University and Northeastern University worked closely with criminal justice practitioners in Lowell to assess the nature of their homicide and serious nonfatal gun violence problem and to develop appropriate interventions. The PSN gang violence reduction strategy was fully implemented by October 2002 under the leadership of the Lowell PSN Task Force.

The PSN Task Force launched a “traditional” pulling levers-focused deterrence strategy that involved deterring violent behavior by chronic gang offenders, with the specific objective of reducing gang-related gun violence in Lowell. Lowell’s PSN gang violence reduction strategy borrowed heavily from Boston’s Operation Ceasefire intervention. An interagency partnership, comprising criminal justice organizations, social service agencies, and community-based groups, focused prevention, intervention, and enforcement activities on gang members involved in violent conflicts. When gang violence occurred, task force members and their social service and community-based affiliates communicated to violent gang members that they were “under the microscope” because of their violent behavior. Police officers, probation officers, and DYS
caseworkers presented themselves on the targeted gang’s turf and communicated to gang members that their presence was due to the violence. They stated that they wanted the violence to stop and that they supported the efforts of their law-enforcement counterparts to cease the violence.

The PSN intervention was associated with a statistically significant decrease in the monthly number of gun homicides and gun-aggravated assault incidents. A comparison of youth homicide trends in Lowell with gun violence trends in other Massachusetts cities suggested that Lowell’s significant assaultive gun violence reduction associated with PSN was distinct when compared with assaultive gun violence trends in the state and in most major Massachusetts cities. A meta-analysis found that the Lowell study reported the largest statistically significant effect size of any deterrence-focused intervention.

In 2006, Lowell, Massachusetts, adopted the Comprehensive Gang Model, which expanded the prevention and intervention goals along with law enforcement suppression that was stressed in the PSN model. A partnership between the City of Lowell and its police department and local action research partners (LARP) from Suffolk University was established in 2007 which, as a result of strategic problem analysis, identified retaliatory gang violence as a broader target than youth homicides that were targeted in PSN. The LARP began working closely with Lowell partners on the development, monitoring, and assessment of Comprehensive Gang Model outcomes. This process continues.

Risk Factors


Exposure to firearm violence

Gang involvement in adolescence

General delinquency involvement

High alcohol/drug use

High drug dealing

Illegal gun ownership/carrying

Mental health problems

Physical violence/aggression

Violent victimization


Availability and use of drugs in the neighborhood

Availability of firearms

Feeling unsafe in the neighborhood

High-crime neighborhood

Neighborhood physical disorder

Neighborhood youth in trouble


Association with antisocial/aggressive/delinquent peers; high peer delinquency

Association with gang-involved peers/relatives

Peer alcohol/drug use


National Gang Center: Effective program


Dr. Anthony A. Braga
Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University
79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone: (617) 495-5188
E-mail: [email protected]


Bond, B. J., Rivers-Kustanovitz, N., and McLaughlin, E. (2012). Defining and measuring retaliatory gang violence. In E. Gebo and B. J. Bond (eds.). Beyond suppression: Community strategies to reduce gang violence (pp. 105–127). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Braga, A. A., and Hureau, D. M. (2012). Strategic problem analysis to guide comprehensive gang violence reduction strategies. In E. Gebo and B. J. Bond (eds.). Beyond suppression: Community strategies to reduce gang violence (pp. 129–151). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Braga, A. A., G. L. Pierce, J. McDevitt, B. J. Bond, and S. Cronin (2008). The strategic
prevention of gun violence among gang-involved offenders. Justice Quarterly, 25, 132–162.

Braga, A. A., and Weisburd, D. L. (2012). The effects of focused deterrence strategies on crime: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the empirical evidence. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 49, 323–358.

McGarrell, E. F., Corsaro, N., Hipple, N. K., and Bynum, T. S. (2010). Project Safe Neighborhoods and violent crime trends in U.S. cities: Assessing violent crime impact. Quantitative Criminology, 26, 165−190.

Date Created: April 7, 2021