Friday, November 4, 2011

Criminologist David M. Kennedy on NPR’s Fresh Air

Earlier this week, Criminologist David M. Kennedy the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City had an interesting conversation with Fresh Air contributor Dave Davies, on National Public Radio.
Kennedy has written a new book, Don’t Shoot, which chronicles his work across the country to stop violence in America’s inner cities. Kennedy’s unorthodox approach to stemming violence has been hailed in some quarters as a ‘miracle.”
Operation Ceasefire which was used to slow rampant gang violence in Boston has been called the ‘Boston Miracle.’  Kennedy suggested that a significant majority of violence is committed by, and on, a very small fraction of the population.  He refers to the small minority as the five percent.
Violence in those inner city neighborhoods is terrifying and a part of everyday life for those who work the streets.  Kennedy said, “The national homicide rate is now about 4 per 100,000, but the homicide rate for members of gangs and neighborhood turf groups is dramatically higher: as many as 3,000 per 100,000 a year.”
As Kennedy spent time in these troubled neighborhoods he learned that the inhabitants, even the guys working the streets, didn’t like the life of terror and mayhem.  He said drug dealers and gun toting thieves told him they were terrified and they hated the lifestyle.
What Operation Ceasefire did was to take a three pronged approach to gang violence.  First, law enforcement determined the worst of the worst gangs and groups on Boston’s streets.  They brought members of those gangs and associations to a meeting and told them that they were doing enormous damage to the community.  They then offered them the assistance of the community and social services to go in a different direction.  Finally, they made clear if the criminal conduct continued the wrath of law enforcement would sweep down upon them.
The operation worked and violence decline dramatically in Boston.  There has been a resurgence of violence in Boston and Kennedy attributes it to a lack of commitment.  “This cannot be someone’s pet project.”  The operation must become ingrained in the community.
Kennedy had an interesting spin on the dramatic decline in crime in New York City. I have long argued that the decline in crime in NYC can be attributed to resources.  NYC has long had the largest police force in the country and city leaders threw loads of money at crime control.  Kennedy compared the ‘Broken Window’ theory of crime control, popularized in NYC, as an ‘occupation’ by the police.  Much the same way a triumphant nation in war would occupy a defeated nation.
Kennedy suggested that in time the occupied begin to resent the occupiers.  An army or police department can never win an occupation—things are never stable.  Once the city stops throwing in the resources the city is lost.  
However, Operation Ceasefire is not much different.  If the hammer of law enforcement disappears, or if those resources are reallocated, the first two prongs of Operation Ceasefire become ineffectual as well.  Crime fighting is resource driven.  As many cities bask in the light of lower crime rates, will tighter budgets and less resources mark a resurgence in violent crime?
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