The e-newsletter of the COPS Office | Volume 1 | Issue 8 | August 2008


One of aims of the Dispatch is to assist law enforcement practitioners in more effectively addressing crime and social disorder in their communities. To help meet that objective, this month we introduce a special feature section that will serve as a venue for presenting new ideas and theories. Although not tested in the field, these ideas are rooted in the principles of community policing and problem solving, and may help spark discussion and innovation in your agency. We invite readers to comment on the ideas presented and to share new and promising ideas they may have. Send your comments and ideas to the attention of the editorial board at

The Murder Prevention Star: A Tool for Developing Community-Based, Homicide-Prevention Strategies

How can police and local leaders better mobilize the citizenry to stop the killing in their communities? After all, homicide is a community problem with solutions to the problem present in the community. As Washington, D.C.’s Chief of Police Cathy L. Lanier pointed out after a rash of homicides in early June, there is a limit to how much law enforcement alone can do to prevent killings.1


As this summer season sees a spate of killings in communities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Prince George’s County in Washington’s Maryland suburbs, politicians and community leaders are calling for action. These communities and others like them are searching for long-term strategies that focus on preventing murders. Some leaders, like Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley, have called for summits made up of community stakeholders to try to develop strategies for preventing the persistent violence that is terrorizing some neighborhoods.2

Being tasked with developing a murder-prevention strategy can be intimidating and overwhelming for some participating stakeholders. After all, how can they prevent one person from killing another? When viewed in that broad context, the answer probably is that they can’t. But if they are able to focus on conditions that lead to a murder, breaking them down into manageable parts and discussing them, how stakeholders may be able influence or eliminate one or more of those contributing conditions becomes clearer.

The “murder prevention star” is a problem-solving tool that can help stakeholders more easily identify specific strategies on which they can focus to prevent homicides in their community. Each of its five points depicts an element that must be present for a murder to occur: 1. victim; 2. offender; 3. means; 4. opportunity; and 5. motive. If any of the star points, or elements, is removed there is no murder.

The murder prevention star can help in developing a comprehensive strategy that could affect criminal homicide the same way the crime triangle (victim, offender, and location) is used as a tool in the development of basic crime-prevention strategies. Where the crime triangle focuses on the three elements necessary for a crime, the murder prevention star depicts the elements that must be present for a murder to occur.

This helps participating stakeholders to better direct their attention to how they might be able to have an impact on the larger problem of murder. They can focus on the elimination of a single star point (element), thereby contributing to the larger goal of preventing murder. It can help them see the link between their expertise or area of responsibility or interest and social services, education, business, community organizing, and other aspects, in preventing murders in their neighborhood.

murder star

Focusing on the victim point of the star, for example, could be in the form of educating those who fit the victim profile, that is, what makes them particularly vulnerable and how can they avoid that which creates their vulnerability such as places they frequent, particular lifestyles, or associates. The goal would be the elimination of the victim element by modifying behavior through educational or after-school programs, peer-to-peer counseling, or public service campaigns. As another example, focusing on the means point of the star could take the form of a comprehensive program to remove illegally possessed handguns from those fitting the offender profile. The offender point may be broken from the star by implementing a variety of gang intervention measures, prisoner reentry programs, or attempts to curb the emerging elements of the prison culture that are beginning to appear in some neighborhoods.

Viewing the individual star points in this way permits individual stakeholders to better see how they may be able to influence an element. It may also make it easier for stakeholders to see how they can partner with others to have an effect on one or more elements or points of the murder prevention star.

The murder prevention star represents one problem-solving tool that may provide concerned citizens with an easier way to identify their role in preventing killings in their community. It will not by itself provide a plan or a strategy, but it may help to make the journey smoother.

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