C3: Counter Criminal Continuum

A method for eliminating gang violence and crime by strengthening the communities where it happens

How might we reimagine policing to address the systemic, complex challenges communities face in the 21st century?

The Story

Counter Criminal Continuum (C3), draws on strategies used in US military campaigns against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. State Trooper Mike Cutone and Thomas Sarrouf were Army Green Berets, trained in counter-insurgency strategies on multiple tours of duty. Home in Spring-field, Massachusetts, they realized gang members and criminals act similarly to insurgents: inserting themselves into poverty-stricken neighborhoods where they thrive on the passive support of intimidated communities. Now a handful of troopers and dozens of local community leaders apply C3 strategies — essentially the social design process — with a dramatic reduction in crime and violence.

The essential premise of C3 Policing is that instead of simply arresting criminals, police work with the community to build trust, strengthen the community’s will and ability to come together to address the challenges it faces. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “Community policing is comprised of three primary components: (1) Community Partnerships, described as ‘collaborative partnerships between the law enforcement agency and the individuals and organizations they serve to develop solutions to problems and increase trust in police’; (2) Organizational Transformation, described as ‘the alignment of organizational management, structure, personnel, and information systems to support community partnerships and proactive problem solving’; and (3) Problem Solving, described as “the process of engaging in the proactive and systematic examination of identified problems to develop and evaluate effective responses” (U.S. Department of Justice, 2012). Problem Solving offers the operational model SARA: Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment. Response describes ‘developing solutions to bring about lasting reductions in the number and extent of problems’”.

Process and Measurement

Amount of Design: Ingredient

The C3 process includes principles such as, “Work by, with and through the local population,” and “Detect, degrade, disrupt and dismantle criminal activity.” Unity of effort is crucial to C3 suc-cess. These are concepts taught during counterinsurgency training in the Army Special Forces. Describing the rationale for these principles, founder Cutone says “traditional methods address symptoms but not root causes. Tactics like sting operations and raids temporarily move gangs from streets but don’t fix the reasons for the problem.” He compares these tactics to a Labrador retriever chasing seagulls off a beach, where the birds fly off, but come back as soon as the dog moves on.

Eight other principles guide the process, coming directly from the counter-insurgency training the officers received.

1. Legitimacy is crucial to our goals. There is a need to build trust with the local community.

2. We must understand our environment; not through the officer’s lens, but through the lens of the person living in the poverty stricken community.

3. Unity of efforts is essential. All organizations have different goals, different mission statements, and different agendas. For this work, leaders need to “get everyone on the same side.”

4. Intelligence drives operations. In law enforcement this means “Why is this crime here, why are the gang members operating here, etc.” Making a bunch of arrests never answers the why question.

5. Prepare for the long-term commitment. Any successful commitment takes 5-10 years. These neighborhoods did not become the way they were overnight.

6. Local factors are primary. Who is living there? What are the local dynamics and realities?

7. Security under the rule of law. If citizens don’t feel safe, it will be tough for law enforcement to gain legitimacy with community.

8. Gangs and drug-dealers must be separated from their cause and support. The primary reason for gangs for young men is a sense of family. The common denominator is they come from a broken family. Picture a kid being raised in an environment where he has to shoot his mom with heroin. The gang becomes a sense of belonging.

The following process steps are excerpted from:

Counter-Gang Strategy: Adapted COIN in Policing Criminal Street Gangs

by John A Bertetto

Read the full article here.

Create and Adhere to a Mission Statement

Locate and Establish Relationships with Trusted Community Leaders

Recruit Local “Street Leaders”

Develop Intelligence Gathering and Processing Capabilities at the Tactical (Street) Level

Use Questions-Based Organizational Analysis at the Tactical (Street) Level with Regular Reassessment

Use Social Network Analysis to Identify Criminal Networks and Target Critical Nodes

Drive Operations Based on Intelligence

Comprehensive Strategic Communications Operations

Whole of Government Approach with Law Enforcement Hand-Off

Central to the work is a weekly community meeting, attended by the troopers and local community leaders, some directors of organizations and agencies, some informal leaders. The cast of characters changes week to week, but the commitment to this work is a constant. Meetings begin with Trooper Cutone stating the purpose of the gatherings, reminding people of the mission that brought them together: to “promote a safe and secure environment” and “reduce gang activity and violence.” “You are the greatest resource,” he says. One by one, people go around the room with news of progress or challenges. Nothing that affects the safety of the community is too small to mention, from a single arrest that week (down from dozens each week when the program began) to a broken street lamp on a corner that, when dark, is too tempting a spot for crime. Led by Trooper Cutone and Deputy Chief John Barbieri of the Springfield Police Department, who embraced the project immediately upon hearing Cutone’s ideas, the meetings are advertised by word of mouth.

Ideas are suggested at the meetings, and are quickly prototyped and refined. Karen Pohlman, a nurse practitioner with Baystate Medical Hospital, had an idea for a “walking school bus,” where teachers chaperone students as they all walk together to school every morning. It’s been a great success. Another resident suggested publicly posting photos and names of people involved in the drug trade. Jose Claudio from the New North Citizens Council, seems to know everyone in town. He put together a team of residents who serve as a network of eyes and ears, alert for criminal behavior and reporting whatever they hear to local authorities. Troopers, city police of-ficers and community leaders go door to door, enlisting residents’ support and informing them about social services and programs like Text-a-Tip, which allows them to provide information anonymously by texting it from cellphones.

The U.S. Department of Justice (2012) defines community policing as “a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.”

Relative to criminal street gangs and the violence associated with them, the word “problem” is wholly inadequate. Law enforcement is left to determine whether this word choice is deliberate because of the wide array of issues it might cover or because the proponents of community policing do not mean to include criminal street gangs as something that is “solvable” through community policing. Certainly, community policing makes no direct reference to combating criminal street gangs.

The Role of Measurement

C3 policing did not begin with a formal strategy for tracking the process and outcome of the intervention. However, as the program began to gain traction with neighborhood residents, its leaders observed an increase in active involvement by the community in preventing and reporting crime and increased community commitment to joining the fight against crime. Community members began to protect their homes and property, passed on crime-tips through an app.

Later, Dr. Kit Parker from Harvard University introduced a formal evaluation of the program to compare a range of metrics in program areas with those of a control area over the period of 2008 to 2012. The study focused on quantitative and qualitative measures of crime and quality of life in both settings, before and after C3 policing was launched (2009). Proposed program effects included changes in health, economy, education, politics, housing, crime, community, and community perception of changes in these outcomes.

The study found that the North End of Springfield had fewer incidences of gunshot wounds and stabbings from 2008 to 2010 per ER admissions. There was some evidence of a reduced truancy rate but it was not consistent over time. Yet, the community formed “a walking bus” to provide safe escorts for children to and from school.  Other signs that things were changing include property owners who began to evict residents who has been arrested, because they were confident of the support they received from the police.

In practical terms, researchers observed reduced incidences of graffiti (by 68% in 2011) and litter. Reduced graffiti is valued because graffiti is used to mark gang territories.  For local crime, the study found increased arrests (2007 – 2012) including a two-fold increase between 2010 and 2011, an indication of the community taking ownership for reporting crime demonstrated by more calls for service. A conflicting report from the Springfield police notes that violent crime in the targeted areas of Springfield fell 25 percent in 2012, while drug offenses dropped 50 percent. The study also noted that what people see as a measure of progress is equally important as the statistics emerging from analyzing routinely reported data. Community members reported that they have seen reduced crime and open-air drug selling in the North End.

Looking ahead, researchers suggest the need for more systematic efforts to introduce data collection as the program advances, to better understand the effects of C3 policing and use these data to adapt the program and tailor it to ensure effect.  They are also using available data to “ help police to improve their methods. They have created a ‘war room’ where they are working on social-network analysis and computational social science in an effort to predict where crime may happen.”

More recent data from FBI aggregated crime reports show substantial decline in both violent and property crime in Springfield from 1985 to 2016. From 2012 to 2016, crime statistics show a 45 percent decline, which city officials said is due to a “combined effort of pro-active policing and community involvement.”(cite article) In 2013, the total number was 11,348. In addition, the data show an increase in 911 calls representing increased involvement by the community to report and combat crime. City officials cited the C-3 policing program where officers meet regularly with neighborhood residents, businesses and community leaders to share information and focus on preventing crime, and the community beat management teams throughout the city. They are our eyes and ears. Without them, very little gets done.

Team Structure and Dynamics

The team working on the project now includes a lieutenant, Michael Domnarski, also a veteran, and several other troopers. There are no external design consultants, rather this process is em-bedded into the work that troopers and local leaders conduct on the ground. When additional of-ficers are needed, they require dedicated time for building relationships and trust.

Geography and Reach

The C3 team has expanded from a North End Unit in Memorial Square, one of the city’s smallest neighborhoods, to the North End. Other C3 policing units now operate in the South End, Forest Park and Mason Square neighborhoods of Springfield. Last year, its target area was expanded to about 30 blocks from 8.


The officers behind the C3 Trinity project want to revolutionize policing at the patrol, supervisor, and chief level. Their goal is to spearhead efforts that meet and exceed the complex challenges that law enforcement and communities face in the 21st Century. Us-ing the terminology from their Special Forces backgrounds, they want to “win decisively.”

In practice, this requires building trust with communities by creating safe and secure environments, reducing gang activity and violence, reducing drug activity and establish-ing positive, effective youth and parental programs.


In a neighborhood where drug dealers were once seen riding motorcycles while carrying semi-automatic rifles, police report progress. Crime is down 21 percent in the North End district, com-paring 2008 to 2014 statistics. The largest drop was in aggravated assault, with 28 fewer report-ed — a 38 percent decrease. There has also been a decrease in larcenies, breaking and enter-ing. The number of house break-ins dropped from 79 to 56 – a 29 percent decrease – and larce-nies fell 23 percent, from 212 to 164.

There was an increase in reported crimes in two areas: robbery and stolen motor vehicles. Robberies increased by 43 percent, with 40 reported. Three dozen vehicles were reported stolen in 2014, an increase of one when compared to 2008. Three rapes were reported seven years ago while none were in 2014. No murders were committed in the area either year.

Dashboard and Documentation

Next Steps

Mike Cutone and Thomas Sarrouf are launching a consulting practice to bring what they have learned to other communities. They frequently welcome law enforcement and residents of neighboring cities and other states to their weekly meetings, to experience for themselves how the process works. Many of them come, according to Cutone, and love what they are seeing, “but then they leave and don’t know how to replicate it.” Because the police academy doesn’t teach people how to engage, partner and lead with the community. You only get that training with the green berets. Cutone and Sarrouf are working to change that. They want to transform the way law enforcement is done in America.