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Assessment – a problem-solving approach to homicide

Assessing the impact of your homicide prevention activity

First published
Homicide problem-solving guide
5 mins read

Assessment forms part of the SARA model and can be used as part of a problem-solving approach to homicide. 

The primary aims of assessment are to: 

  • determine whether the response has had a causal impact on the selected problem. For example, whether the outcome has been affected in the way you anticipated 

  • document your learning to inform the continued delivery or adaptation of the response 

  • inform future problem-solving activity in a new context and share with the wider homicide prevention community  

Understanding the impact of a homicide intervention  

There are things that an individual officer, analyst or force can do to better understand whether a homicide intervention is moving in the right direction. These involve measuring a combination of process, outputs and outcomes.  

Wherever possible, these changes should be compared to a similar period of time to see whether there have been changes beyond what you would expect if the intervention was ineffective. For example, comparing violence in August to violence in September will almost always show a reduction because of changes in the weather and people’s activities. Calendar months can also have four or five weekends, which can invalidate comparisons for a night-time economy intervention.  

If possible, you should also include a comparison area or group of individuals who have not been targeted. This helps to add another dimension to your assessment. 

Record your activity

Firstly, in line with the theory of change you’ve developed, carefully record what activity was done.  

  • Assess whether the actual activity matched the planned activity.  

  • Assess to what extent and for how long the activity was implemented. 

  • If there were deviations (and there almost always are), assess what impact these might have had on the target of the intervention. 

Assess the intermediate outcomes

Secondly, if changes in homicide and near-miss homicide are too rare to identify over the short term, assess what intermediate outcomes can you use. These might include the precursors of homicide, such as strangulation in domestic abuse incidents or incidents of violence in a night-time economy.  

Observe positive changes

Thirdly, assess whether you can observe positive changes in the behaviour or characteristics of the targets. For example, examine whether have there been fewer reported fights between rival groups. If these fights have become less frequent, assess whether there have there been changes in the number of fights in other locations – commonly known as ‘displacement’. 

These measures will not provide a definitive answer about the effectiveness of an intervention but they are achievable and vital pieces of information on which you can build your homicide response strategy. 

Challenges of demonstrating an intervention's impact 

The procedures for assessment can be complicated and this aspect of problem solving is the basis of an entire field – evidence-based policing.  

Demonstrating that an intervention actually changed something as rare as homicide is a considerable challenge. It may require years of intervention or rolling out the intervention in multiple sites.  

For example, an intervention where young people at high risk of perpetrating violence were given intensive multi-systemic therapy was simulated using criminal record data. The simulation found that to detect a 25% reduction in risk of serious violent offending in this group, between 700 and 1,300 young people would need to be treated.  

It may therefore be pragmatic to select other, less rare outcomes that would feasibly lead to reduced homicide in the future. For example, reductions in related forms of serious violence.  

Alternatively, the integration of police records through new administrative data sets means that large multi-site collaborations are now feasible and effects of rarer outcomes may be detected. Even if a multi-site roll out is beyond your reach, police analysts are becoming increasingly skilled in evaluation and external researchers are often willing to collaborate.  

Evaluating your interventions 

Our policing evaluation toolkit includes evaluation design and implementation strategies. These can be used to make sure that evaluations are designed well and enable strong statements of causal impact. 

The toolkit can help you to: 

  • assess whether an intervention is effective and the strength of its impact 

  • identify the most effective practices and guide future decisions 

  • effectively prioritise your resources 

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