Justice Department gives Detroit crime reduction programs ‘no effects’ ratings

National Institute of Justice gave the “no effects” rating to Detroit’s Ceasefire and Project Green Light programs.

A sign for Detroit's Project Green Light program hangs outside of a gas station.

A sign for Detroit's Project Green Light program hangs outside of a gas station.

Hailed as a “central strategy” to reduce youth gun violence and gang activity in Detroit, the city’s Ceasefire intervention program has been given a “no effects” evidence rating by federal law enforcement researchers.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), which evaluates and develops criminal justice policy on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, found Ceasefire led to “no statistically significant differences” in weapons arrests or shooting victimization among 15-to-34-year-olds across several years.

“A No Effects rating implies that implementing the program is unlikely to result in the intended outcome and may result in a negative outcome,” the NIJ notes in its CrimeSolutions program profile of Ceasefire Detroit.

Federal officials also gave a “no effects” evidence rating for Project Green Light, a police surveillance program that feeds closed-circuit television camera footage at businesses like gas stations and liquor stores directly to the Detroit Police Department. The program was first implemented in January 2016 and covers more than 850 locations in the city today.

“There were no statistically significant effects on disorder occurrences or violent crime,” the NIJ notes on Project Green Light. “The intervention did result in statistically significant reductions in property crime around treated businesses, compared with matched control businesses, at 1-year postimplementation.”

Both program ratings cite evaluations published in various peer-reviewed criminology journals led by Giovanni Circo, an assistant professor in criminology at the University of New Haven. In one study of Ceasefire, researchers focused on the program’s effect on shooting victimizations from 2011 to 2019 — analyzing nearly 10,000 shooting incidents and more than 11,000 victims — comparing areas of Detroit where Ceasefire was active to other census tracts in the city. A second study focused on 254 people who attended Ceasefire outreach meetings between 2013 and 2016.

Utilizing Circo’s research, NIJ found that attendees of Detroit Ceasefire’s call-in meetings had a 29% lower likelihood of being arrested and a 47% lower chance of being arrested for violent offenses, both statistically significant findings.

In his study of Project Green Light, Circo compared crime incidents at nearly 290 businesses before and after the surveillance program was implemented at the location. Participating businesses pay between $4,000-$6,000 to install cameras, with monthly maintenance fees.

“In terms of a method that’s going to definitively reduce crime, we don’t necessarily have the evidence to say that Green Light is particularly effective at that,” Circo previously told WDET.

Despite the mixed results of the studies, officials with the Justice Department still uphold Ceasefire’s use as a focused deterrence model to identify violent offenders.

“However, we will look to other districts to learn how we can improve what we are doing with Detroit Ceasefire,” said U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison in a statement, adding that the NIJ is seeking ways to improve the communications of its findings.

In contrast to Detroit’s rating, federal evaluations of Ceasefire programs in Boston, Mass. and Oakland, Calif. resulted in “effective” evidence ratings, which implies that programs are resulting in intended outcomes.

“We are always trying to improve. But based on our office’s experience with Detroit Ceasefire, we believe it is still a strong strategy, and our office is committed to our partnership with Detroit Ceasefire,” said Ison. “We will build on the strengths of the program and continue to explore ways to improve it, as well as find innovative solutions to addressing violent crime in Detroit and the rest of the Eastern District of Michigan.”

DPD officials say the results of NIJ’s review of Ceasefire are in line with expectations of the program.

“Ceasefire call-ins are effective with the individuals who attended, with reductions in arrests and violent arrests of those individuals, but not effective with the broader community that was not involved in Ceasefire,” DPD spokesperson Sgt. Jordan Hall wrote in a statement. “This gives us clear direction on how Ceasefire can be more impactful as we work to reduce violence and increase the quality of life for Detroiters.”

Commenting on Project Green Light, DPD questions the ability of researchers to differentiate prevailing crime trends from changes at participating locations. The agency claims the ability to gather video evidence from Green Light locations for investigative purposes as a benefit.

“While deterrence is difficult to analyze, some measures of solvability are easier to observe. Previous department analysis has found that PGLD cases with video evidence had a higher closure rate than non-PGLD cases with or without video evidence.”

The Justice Department declined to comment on Project Green Light.

Ceasefire expands

Announced in August 2013, the Justice Department lauded the implementation of Detroit’s Ceasefire program, which was modeled after similar gang violence reduction initiatives in other U.S. cities. In describing the program, officials outline how “violent street group members” would meet with law enforcement to explain the penalties of their actions and how social services and re-entry programs like job training and substance abuse counseling would be provided.

“But the key component that makes Ceasefire unique is the third meeting component, comprised of individuals from the street groups’ own communities — clergy members, ex-offenders and families of victims of violent crime,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan wrote in an announcement of the program. “Community members describe in graphic and personal terms the consequences of violence in their neighborhood, and insist that they help stop the violence.”

Since the program’s launch, Ceasefire has become a mainstay of DPD’s strategy, with outreach organizers frequently appearing alongside leading law enforcement to address gun violence in the city.

“We’re not going to arrest ourselves out of crime. However, we want to disrupt opportunities to commit crime by providing resources,” said Detroit Police Chief James White during a press conference last August following a shooting spree that killed three people.

“One of the most powerful components that we have is Ceasefire. That’s a piece, a tool. But it’s not a replacement for enforcement and arrest,” said White at the time.

Over the years, the program has benefited from thousands of dollars in grants and public funding. From the program’s inception to 2019, the Skillman Foundation granted more than $1.6 million to Ceasefire and the affiliated Detroit Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. Last year, Ceasefire received a $715,000 grant from a Justice Department program, providing support staff and emergency housing assistance.

While billed as a “community-based violence reduction partnership,” recent program announcements suggest Ceasefire has increasingly grown to include more police enforcement.

As outlined in Detroit Police’s 2022 community safety strategy, Chief White announced an expansion of the program, describing how Ceasefire teams would work in conjunction with the department’s Gang Intelligence Unit on “proactive target enforcement for gangs/groups” and weekly “Restore Order” operations with Special Operation officers.

“Initiatives may include ‘Ticket and Tow’ details, arrest warrant sweeps, youth and alcohol enforcement, execution of warrants for criminal activity such as narcotics sales, and restore (maintain) order operations,” officials note in their Ceasefire enforcement plan.

Following requests for clarification on the program’s various implementations, DPD did not elaborate on the distinction between Ceasefire enforcement and Ceasefire outreach beyond a written statement.

“Ceasefire Enforcement utilizes a targeted law enforcement response to promote part one of the Ceasefire message: violence is unacceptable and any future violence will result in targeted enforcement.”

Ceasefire enforcement operations have resulted in at least one officer involved shooting. Last November, Chief White told various media outlets that a member of the Second Precinct’s Ceasefire team shot a passenger fleeing from a traffic stop, with officers recovering a ski mask and a gun at the scene. DPD did not provide an update on the incident upon request after the individual was listed in temporary serious condition.

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  • Eli Newman
    Eli Newman is a Reporter/Producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.