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Submitted 12:57 p.m.
04.24.2016
Letter to the Editor

Reform is hard. As we see in Boston, Cincinnati, and elsewhere, progress is generally slow, uneven, and incremental in nature, but that doesn’t make it any less real.”

Thomas Abt

Your recent feature identifies a “Chicago model” of policing, portrays the model as a failure, and then seems to suggest that others are wrong to apply this allegedly failed model. I would respectfully disagree on all three counts.

First, there is no “Chicago model” of policing. Unlike New York City’s association with Compstat, broken windows, and stop and frisk tactics, Chicago is generally not connected within the field with any particular police policy or procedure. As noted in the article, two evidence-informed strategies, focused deterrence and procedural justice, were recently launched in Chicago. Both strategies have been carefully and rigorously studied in other jurisdictions. A systematic review of focused deterrence found that “[n]ine out of ten eligible studies reported strong and statistically significant crime reductions.” A similar review of procedural justice strategies showed that across thirty studies, “every single one of our outcome measures… is in a positive direction.”

Second, however you might label them, the efforts in Chicago did not fail. Instead, they were rolled back or undermined before they were fully implemented. Both efforts were in their infancy when their strongest champion, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, was ousted. Your piece suggests these efforts were tried but didn’t work, when in reality they were interrupted just as they were getting underway.

Third, the feature questions whether focused deterrence, procedural justice, and the police/researcher partnerships that created them are worthy of imitation in other jurisdictions. Based on the evidence mentioned above, the answer is an emphatic yes, but with a cautionary note: no individual strategy is a panacea for criminal justice success, and every strategy is dependent on the larger context in which it operates.

Reform is hard. As we see in Boston, Cincinnati, and elsewhere, progress is generally slow, uneven, and incremental in nature, but that doesn’t make it any less real. In its failure to set realistic expectations for systematic change, your feature does a disservice to focused deterrence and procedural justice strategies specifically, police/researcher partnerships more broadly, and the cause of justice reform most generally.

Thomas Abt, Senior Research Fellow, Adjunct Lecturer, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University