Despite these apparent associations between crime and policing policy, however, the available research evidence on the effects of policing and sentencing enhancements on firearm crime is limited and mixed. Some sentencing enhancement policies appear to have modest crime-reducing effects, while the effects of others appear to be negligible. The limited evidence on Project Exile suggests that it has had almost no effect on homicide. Several city-based quasi-random interventions provide favorable evidence on the effectiveness of targeted place-based gun and crime suppression patrols, but this evidence is both application-specific and difficult to disentangle. Evidence on Operation Ceasefire, perhaps the most frequently cited of all targeted policing efforts to reduce firearms violence, is limited by the fact that it is a single case at a specific time and location. Scientific support for the effectiveness of the Boston Gun Project and most other similar types of targeted policing programs is still evolving.

The lack of research on these potentially important kinds of policies is an important shortcoming in the body of knowledge on firearms injury interventions. These programs are widely viewed as effective, but in fact knowledge of whether and how they reduce crime is limited. Without a stronger research base, policy makers considering adoption of similar programs in other settings must make decisions without knowing the true benefits and costs of these policing and sentencing interventions.

The committee recommends that a sustained, systematic research program be conducted to assess the effect of targeted policing and sentencing aimed at firearms offenders. Additional insights may be gained from using observational data from different applications, especially if combined with more thoughtful behavioral models of policing and crime. City-level studies on the effect of sentencing enhancement policies need to engage more rigorous methods, such as pooled time-series cross-sectional studies that allow the detection of short-term impacts while controlling for variation in violence levels across different areas as well as different times. Another important means of assessing the impact of these types of targeted policing and sentencing interventions would be to conduct randomized experiments to disentangle the effects of the various levers, as well as to more generally assess the effectiveness of these targeted policing programs.

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