Focused Deterrence: Looking to Past Success to Determine Future Uses

Recent research has shown that traditional policing strategies from the 20th century, such as rapid response, random patrols, and reactive policing, have been widely ineffective. In response to increasing violent crime, drug offenses, and gang activity in the 1980s, along with empirical evidence demonstrating issues with traditional police strategies, law enforcement began to investigate new and innovative strategies—one of which was focused deterrence.

Noted Enlightenment scholars, Cesare Bonesana di Beccaria (1764) and Jeremy Bentham (1789), first proposed the foundations of the deterrence theory, which was based on the utility of the crime (pain versus pleasure) and this utility in coordination with specific behavior. Based on these foundations, U.S. economist Gary Becker modernized deterrence theory in the 1960s, creating the version still widely utilized in law today. According to deterrence theory, criminal decision-making is determined by the offender choosing a course of criminal behavior versus noncriminal behavior. Criminologist David M. Kennedy (1997) explained that focused deterrence is based on the premise that most serious crime is committed by repeat offenders who are a part of gangs or groups.