In the early 1990s, funerals for children and teenagers were all too common in Boston; 155 youths were murdered, nearly all by guns, between 1990 and 1994. In the following two years after the formation of Operation Cease Fire there was a remarkable turnaround. There were no homicides among people under age 17 and the number of firearm homicides among victims between ages 17 and 24 decreased by 64 percent.
Operation Cease Fire is a strategy of systematic and targeted intervention, using knowledge developed by a network of collaborators, to deter youth firearm violence.
With the Boston Police Department's Youth Violence Strike Force at its core, Operation Cease Fire coordinates the work of all public safety and criminal justice agencies in the City. It also enlists the cooperation of clergy, social workers, educators, academic experts--and gang members themselves.
Rather than view gang members as simply the "enemy," these key players are brought into the solution and given incentives to comply. Intelligence data helps police identify potential "hot spots" of gang trouble. The police, district attorney, and probation and parole officers then implement an intervention plan. They begin by convening a meeting of gang members from the area of brewing conflict and issue a warning: all gang members must agree to a nonviolence pact or be subject to intensive police scrutiny including "crackdowns" on all levels of criminal activity, no matter how minor.
Noncompliance to the "ceasefire" or possession of guns or ammunition results in swift and severe punishment. The City's district attorney and the U.S. attorney work together; offenders can face federal as well as local sentencing. For example, one gang linchpin earned a 15-year federal sentence for possession of a single bullet, based on his criminal past and role as catalyst for firearm violence.
One component of Operation Cease Fire is Operation Night Light, in which police and probation officers visit homes of high-risk probationers, many with gang involvement, to enforce curfews and other terms of probation. Since probation officers are not armed and police officers cannot enter the homes of probationers without a warrant, the teaming of these two on nighttime home visits enhances the ability of law enforcement to keep an eye on youth most susceptible to street violence.
Operation Cease Fire relies on a wide circle of resources. Community participants include the Ten Point Coalition, a group of activist black ministers, and Boston Streetworkers, a city-employed gang-outreach social service. Policy scholars are also part of the effort to stop youth violence in Boston. Researchers from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government conducted a study of youth gun trafficking and the offenders and victims of gun violence. The findings from this ongoing study have provided the basis for Operation Cease Fire's intervention strategy. While Operation Cease Fire addresses intervention and enforcement, the City also works to prevent youth violence by offering educational and employment opportunities.
Operation Cease Fire represents a shift in public safety strategy from reactive to pro-active. The program's achievement and innovation have been recognized by President Clinton, who used Boston's approach to juvenile crime as a model for the country.