Comparing Project Safe Neighborhoods with Lean Six Sigma Principles

by Brion Hurley

While reading the book, Above the Law by Matthew Whitaker, I learned about the Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) program that has been deployed in many neighborhoods in the United States to reduce gun violence.

“[PSN] is a nationwide initiative that brings together federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and community leaders to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in a community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them.”

US Department of Justice

The features of the program include:

  1. Leadership by the United States Attorney to convene all partners;
  2. Partnerships at all levels of law enforcement and with the community
  3. Targeted enforcement efforts that utilize the full range of available data, methods, and technologies to identify the offenders within each district
  4. Prevention of additional violence by raising public awareness of the strategy and enforcement results, communicating directly to offenders about the consequences, and supporting prevention and reentry efforts
  5. Accountability for results based on outcome (reduction in violent crime), not merely output (numbers of investigations or prosecutions).

The program was based on success in Boston, Massachusetts in the mid-1990’s, called Operation Ceasefire. Within two years of implementation, the number of youth homicides dropped from an average of 44 (1991 to 1995) to ten (1997). They accomplished this using the popular improvement method, the Pareto principle. They found that they only had to focus on 0.5% of the city’s population that is connected to about 50-75% of all homicide in the city.

The Boston program had the following traits, and I’ve added comments in italic to align these statements with existing improvement concepts:

  • Assembled a multi- and interagency working group composed largely of line-level criminal justice practitioners (involving front-line workers in improvement)
  • Applied qualitative and quantitative research techniques (Six Sigma)
  • Created an assessment of the nature of and dynamics driving youth violence in Boston
  • Adapted the intervention after implementation, and continued to do so throughout the program; and
  • Evaluated the intervention’s impact (PDCA).

In Wikipedia, this initiative was called “problem-oriented policing (POP),” which recommends the following twelve-step model of what agencies should do. I’ve again added some comments in italic to align these statements with existing improvement concepts.

  1. Focus on problems of concern to the public. (Voice of the Customer)
  2. Zero in on effectiveness as the primary concern. (Check stage of PDCA)
  3. Be proactive. (FMEA)
  4. Be committed to systematic inquiry as a first step in solving substantive problems. (Problem Statement)
  5. Encourage the use of rigorous methods in making inquiries.
  6. Make full use of the data in police files and the experience of police personnel (Data Analysis, Collaboration, Teamwork)
  7. Group like incidents together so that they can be addressed as a common problem (Affinity Diagram)
  8. Avoid using overly broad labels in grouping incidents so separate problems can be identified.
  9. Encourage a broad and uninhibited search for solutions (Collaboration, Teamwork, Value Stream)
  10. Acknowledge the limits of the criminal justice system as a response to problems.
  11. Identify multiple interests in any one problem and weigh them when analyzing the value of different responses (Impact-Ease Matrix).
  12. Be committed to taking some risks in responding to problems.

Why is this different than traditional policing? Often times, a patrol officer might answer repeated calls to a certain problem area or “hot spot” and deal only with each individual incident. Under POP, that same officer is encouraged to discover the root cause of the problem and come up with ways of solving it, instead of merely treating the symptoms.

Let’s look back at Boston. In 2005, youth homicides began to climb back up to 37, reaching a peak of 52 in 2010. The cause stems from a change in supervising personnel within the Boston police department and city government and lack of continued maintenance of the program. This also sounds familiar for those of us who work in process improvement programs. I’ve been involved with programs where leadership felt it was “fully embedded into the culture” and no longer needed structured support from our department (we did not agree), and not surprisingly, the program reverted back to old ways within a few years, and had to be restarted. In appears that PSN efforts are still ongoing in Massachusetts.

When I think about how Lean and Six Sigma methods can be used in government to make improvements, I believe this program follows many of the same principles, whether intentionally or not.

To recap, here is why I think this program has been successful, like many process improvement programs:

  • Involving the entire value stream (community leaders, different law enforcement agencies, job placement programs, etc)
  • Data-driven using Pareto principle to focus efforts on most impactful areas
  • Focus on getting to the root causes of the problems
  • Proactively working to legally mitigate potential problems in the future

Have you been involved with PSN? Do you know of any criminal justice programs that have gone through Lean or Six Sigma training? Please contact us to let us know!