Does the “Community Prosecution” Strategy Reduce Crime? A Test of Chicago's Experience

Thomas J. Miles

A new strategy of criminal prosecution, called “community prosecution,” emerged in the past two decades. The strategy breaks with the traditional approach to prosecution in which a prosecutor works in an office adjacent to a criminal court, processes a large volume of cases, and measures success with conviction rates and sentence lengths. In community prosecution, a prosecutor works directly in a neighborhood, develops relationships with local groups, aligns enforcement priorities with residents' public safety concerns, and seeks solutions to prevent crime. This article presents the first estimates of community prosecution's impact on crime. Over a fifteen-year period, Chicago's top prosecutor twice applied the community prosecution strategy in some (but not all) neighborhoods, and this sequence of two “off/on” policy episodes permits plausible identification of the strategy's impact. Differences-in-differences estimates show that community prosecution reduced certain categories of crime, such as aggravated assault, but had no effect on other categories, such as larceny. The diversity of practices under the rubric of community prosecution makes generalization difficult, but the estimates from Chicago show that the strategy has the potential to produce cost-justified reductions in crime.