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Research in Brief: What Do We Get out of Homicide Reviews?

By Mallory O’Brien, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The IACP Research Advisory Committee is proud to offer the monthly “Research in Brief” column. This column features evidence-based research summaries that highlight actionable recommendations for Police Chief magazine readers to consider within their own agencies. The goal of the column is to feature research that is innovative, credible, and relevant to a diverse law enforcement audience.

A recently released study evaluated comprehensive crime incident review processes focusing on homicides. In February 2005, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) funded the Harvard School of Public Health to evaluate the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission (MHRC).1

The MHRC was formally established in January 2005; the goal was to support innovative homicide prevention and intervention strategies through strategic problem analysis. For eight years, over 100 entitites have participated in MHRC’s homicide reviews, an information sharing and strategic problem-solving process that starts with a structured and comprehensive review of a homicide or shooting case, with input from mulitple stakeholders (police, prosecutors, corrections, community service providers, and so forth). The reviews can identify additional leads as well as gaps in the system (for example, “what could have been done differently to prevent this incident”) and possible solutions in the form of action items or recommendations. Some recommendations are “quick fixes” and others can take years (particularly legislative recommendations). Some involve one partner and others require the commitment of several partners. Each review seeks to develop a detailed description of each homicide, individualand community-level risk factors, and systemslevel prevention recommendations.

Initially set up as a pilot project, the reviews included homicides only from select police districts. Currently, the reviews cover the entire city and include a Criminal Justice Review (monthly meeting with criminal justice professionals), Community Service Provider Review (bimonthly review of closed cases with community service) and a Domestic Violence (DV) Review, (bimonthly review) Additionally, weekly nonfatal shooting reviews and bimonthly near fatal DV reviews occur. Finally, a semiannual Community Member Review, a review with residents and community leaders, occurs.

The MHRC was designed and implemented by practitioners and academics based on their joint recognition that ongoing data collection, analysis, and performance measures are key elements in dealing with urban homicide problems. Homicide problems evolve over time and cities must be positioned to identify and understand new trends, implement appropriate strategies, and adjust strategies as necessary. Dynamic and adaptable processes, rather than tactics and specific programs, are needed to manage and control urban violence. The MHRC provides a neutral forum for the ongoing analyses of homicide problems.

Evaluation: Does It Work?

The evaluation, which used a randomized matched pair design, covered January 2005 through December 2007. Overall, the homicide review process revealed that homicides in the city’s intervention districts were largely clustered in very specific places among active offenders who were well known to the criminal justice system. Homicides were often the outcome of an ongoing dispute between individuals or groups (usually gangs) and involved disrespect, status, and retribution as motives.

The principal “product” of the MHRC has been a comprehensive set of actionable recommendations developed by the review teams and ratified by the Working and Executive Committees of the MHRC, implementation of which was continually monitored by the MHRC. In general, the MHRC recommendations better positioned criminal justice, social services, and community-based organizations to address high-risk places and high-risk people central to recurring homicide problems. These recommendations have led to significant changes in the policies and procedures of the criminal justice agencies and are credited by participants for improving both criminal justice and community provider capabilities to prevent violence. A key to this increased ability has been improved communication, information sharing, and cooperation both within and among criminal justice agencies, community service providers, and community members.

Using a time series of monthly counts of homicides in the control and treatment districts (January 1999 – December 2006), the impact evaluation revealed that the implementation of the MHRC interventions was associated with a statistically significant (52 percent) decrease in the monthly count of homicides in the treatment districts. The control districts experienced a nonsignificant (9.2 percent) decrease in homicides, controlling for the other covariates. While these analyses cannot be used to specify the exact effect of the MHRC interventions, they do make a solid case that the MHRC interventions were associated with a noteworthy decrease in homicides. As such, the evaluation concluded that the homicide review process adds considerable value to understanding the nature of urban homicide problems, crafting appropriate interventions to address underlying risks associated with homicides, implementing innovative strategies to address these risks, and assessing the impacts of these strategies.

Training and Technical Assistance Opportunities

The review model is being replicated in other jurisdictions. In 2010, the Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services awarded MHRC funding through a cooperative agreement to train other urban jurisdictions in the homicide review process as a community oriented policing method to reduce violent crimes, specifically homicides and shootings. As a result of the project, over 90 jurisdictions to date have been trained on the homicide review method. Several jurisdictions are starting their own reviews; including Baton Rouge, Birmingham, Chicago, Indianapolis, New Orleans, and Saginaw.

     Action Areas
  1. Visit for more information on the MHRC, including training and technical assistance opportunities.

  2. Consider replicating a homicide review commission in your jurisdiction to better problem solve around high-crime issues.
The homicide review model blends public health and criminal justice approaches into one comprehensive process that spans the gamut from prevention, intervention, and suppression. The MHRC model is unique; it reduces silos, increases collaboration among nontraditional partners, enhances interagency accountability, and greatly expands an agency’s ability to target finite resources. Jurisdictions that do not have high homicide or violent crime rates recognize these benefits and are adopting the review method to combat other crimes such as sexual assaults and robberies. Some departments might not have developed a specific review process to the extent that that Milwaukee has, yet they are modifying existing partnerships to reflect key elements of the homicide review process, focusing particularly on systematic case reviews, enhanced partnerships, and improvements in communications and information sharing. ♦


1Deborah Azrael, Anthony A. Braga, and Mallory O’Brien, Developing the Capacity to Understand and Prevent Homicide: An Evaluation of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission (January 2013), (accessed May 8, 2013).

Please cite as:

Mallory O’Brien, "What Do We Get out of Homicide Reviews?" Research in Brief, The Police Chief 80 (June 2013): 12.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXX, no. 6, June 2013. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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