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Two Major Cities Are Notching Big Victories Over Crime

Boston and Dallas have achieved success in bringing down murders and other violent crimes by deploying an array of promising programs and approaches.

Closeup of a white Boston police car that says "Boston Police" on the side in blue letters.
The number of murders in Boston declined last year by 82 percent from 2022. The city has relied on a variety of crime-reduction strategies. (Dreamstime/TNS)
The two cities whose teams battled it out in the NBA Finals also share another commonality: They are championing promising public safety approaches. Cities across the nation can learn from their successes, even as Boston and Dallas must strive to continue their momentum.

When it comes to putting public safety points on the board, Boston takes a back seat to no one. The city had 37 murders in 2023 — a stunning 82 percent decline from 2022. Even better, through May of 2024 the city suffered just three homicides. While one murder is still too many, that represents another sharp decline and a figure to which other large cities can aspire.

Dallas differs in many ways. Still, it is also on a public safety winning streak. Through April 2024, violent crime was down 19.6 percent compared to 2023. And the 2023 violent crime rate represented a 13.8 percent drop compared with 2022.

These numbers are even more impressive than the national decline in murders and violent crime following the spike in 2020 and 2021. While there is no way to precisely determine what factors cause crime to rise or fall, we can identify some ways in which each city has become a national leader, whether through steps taken two decades ago or just last year.

First, any plan for preventing and solving violent crime must start with granular, timely data, since many of the most effective interventions target specific places. Crime not only fluctuates from one block to the next within neighborhoods but also according to the time of day. Pursuant to its research-driven 2021 Violent Crime Reduction Plan, Dallas divided the city into 101,000 grids. The city then uses this evolving data to decide where to surge law enforcement officers and other resources. Data indicates the drop in crime has been more pronounced in the targeted micro hot spots.

Boston is no slouch on crime data either. Not only does it post a crime trends dashboard online, but the dashboard was enhanced over the last two years to include details such as the location and time of day, not only for murders but also for non-fatal shootings. Data on non-fatal shootings is sorely lacking in most cities, where those incidents are simply counted among assaults or aggravated assaults. In addition to being a model for transparency, Boston, like Dallas, is leveraging this data to deploy resources. With this approach, it realized significant crime reductions through its partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Smart Policing Initiative that dates back to 2009.

In addition to data, another component of the plan that Dallas adopted in 2021 to fighting violent crime is “focused deterrence.” Notably, Dallas’ plan specifically cited Boston’s pioneering role in implementing this strategy more than two decades ago through Operation Ceasefire. Focused deterrence initiatives can take many forms, but are known for their call-ins through which individuals involved in gang activity are offered a stark choice between services and prosecution while surrounded by crime victims and their families, clergy, service providers and law enforcement. This strategy has been found to produce statistically significant reductions in offending.

Like focused deterrence, both cities are pursuing another approach anchored in teamwork. Known as “co-responding,” this involves responding to mental health calls with teams composed of both officers and clinicians. Boston’s program handled 4,230 such encounters in 2023 alone. Launched in 2018, Dallas’ RIGHT Care teams responded to more than 6,600 calls in just their first 18 months, with more than two-thirds of incidents either being resolved at the scene or through making a connection to services and less than 2 percent requiring an arrest.

While focused deterrence and co-responding involve both police and the community, leaders in these cities recognize that a robust public safety portfolio must also include solutions that lie outside of law enforcement. For example, in 2006, the Boston Medical Center launched one of the nation’s first hospital-based violence intervention programs, targeting victims of gun violence with services to reduce the risk of retaliation and increase the odds of positive health outcomes. Though such programs are still being refined, research suggests that they reduce subsequent violent incidents.

For its part, Dallas rolled out a street lighting initiative in 2021 in the southern part of the city that had long suffered from underinvestment. Research has demonstrated that improving street lighting results in fewer crimes.

Nonetheless, neither city can let up. Just as in other jurisdictions, boosting clearance rates for homicides and non-fatal shootings is imperative. An analysis of Boston cases suggests that this can be achieved through additional investigative resources and a greater willingness of witnesses to assist police.

However, a 2024 survey found that even after reforms following the murder of George Floyd, the Boston Police Department is viewed with considerable distrust in the Black community. In December 2023, Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia acknowledged similar challenges in announcing the formation of a “Constitutional Policing Unit” designed to foster accountability and trust.

It’s too early to assess the results of this initiative or Boston’s 2024 Summer Safety Plan, which admirably engages a diverse roster of agencies and community groups, but it’s clear that both cities are increasingly crafting a winning public safety playbook.

Governing’s opinion columns reflect the views of their authors and not necessarily those of Governing’s editors or management.
Marc A. Levin is the chief policy counsel for the Council on Criminal Justice. He can be reached at and on X at @marcalevin. He and Khalil A. Cumberbatch lead the council’s Centering Justice initiative.
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