Focused Deterrence, Selective Targeting, Drug Trafficking and Organised Crime: Concepts and Practicalities

20 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2013

Date Written: February 5, 2013


Focused-deterrence strategies, selective targeting, and sequential interdiction efforts are being increasingly embraced as more promising law enforcement alternatives. They seek to minimize the most pernicious behavior of criminal groups, such as engaging in violence, or to maximize certain kinds of desirable behavior sometimes exhibited by criminals, such as eschewing engagement with terrorist groups. The focused-deterrence, selective targeting strategies also enable overwhelmed law enforcement institutions to overcome certain under resourcing problems. Especially, in the United States, such approaches have produced impressive results in reducing violence and other harms generated by organized crime groups and youth gangs. Such approaches have, however, encountered implementation difficulties elsewhere in the world.

This report first outlines the logic and problems of zero-tolerance and undifferentiated targeting in law enforcement policies. Second, it lays out the key theoretical concepts of law-enforcement strategies of focused-deterrence and selective targeting and reviews some of their applications, as in Operation Ceasefire in Boston in the 1990s and urban-policing operations in Rio de Janeiro during the 2000s decade. Third, the report analyses the implementation challenges selective targeting and focused-deterrence strategies have encountered, particularly outside of the United States. And finally, it discusses some key dilemmas in designing selective targeting and focused-deterrence strategies to fight crime.

Keywords: law enforcement, transnational crime, drug policy

Suggested Citation

Felbab-Brown, Vanda, Focused Deterrence, Selective Targeting, Drug Trafficking and Organised Crime: Concepts and Practicalities (February 5, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Vanda Felbab-Brown (Contact Author)

Brookings Institution ( email )

1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

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