Saturday, March 31, 2012

Les Miserables - reinventing the wheel?

Nothing to do in Chichy, France. It could be anywhere in the world.
My focus on North American cities results from my current travel agenda, not because cities elsewhere are very different when it comes to crime. Recent news about the French presidential election provides a reminder that we are all very much alike.

Consider France. To experienced travelers France is known as the place for exceptional cuisine, wine, and enviable high speed rail. France is celebrated for progressive social programs: eight weeks paid vacation for most employees, the world's best public healthcare.

Yet as elsewhere French cities too have high crime neighborhoods where misery outweighs civility. One is Chichy-sous-Bois, a so-called Banlieue (what Americans disparagingly call "the projects").

Chichy is a poor, run-down suburb of Paris. Some writers describe Chichy as a nondescript suburb without a center, wedged between high-rise apartments and four-lane highways. No public transit means two hour commutes downtown, only 10 miles away. Residents feel isolated and ignored. Except for public transit, that is also an apt description for Toronto's Jane/Finch corridor where San Romanoway is located.

The famous TGV high speed train. France produced this...

...apartment towers in Chicy. France produced this too.
Journalists describe Chichy as a "high crime area where police rarely bothered to venture". Crime and violence seem endemic. Until recently, that was an apt description for Hollygrove, the New Orleans neighborhood featured earlier.

There is discrimination against Chichy's immigrant residents. When two Chichy teen boys were accidentally killed while running away from police in October 2005 it erupted into three weeks of violence, looting and arsons that later spread nation-wide. Over 9,000 cars burned, 3,000 arrests. Ironically, last year the same thing happened in Tottenham, UK.

Referring to the Tottenham riots I wrote that festering poverty and deprivation dries up collective goodwill, what sociologists call community efficacy.

The French in Chichy, Canadians in San Romanoway, Americans in Hollygrove, or British in Tottenham. Same lesson: If you respond to (but don't prevent) crime, underfund public transit, ignore repairs to dilapidated homes, fail to address get a tinderbox.

The French are pinning their hopes on $500 Billion urban "renewal" in areas surrounding Chichy (completely ignoring Chichy) and a new police station in a nearby neighborhood. Hopefully they'll discover throwing cops and money at nearby neighborhoods seldom works to tamp down tinderboxes. Meanwhile, Hollygrove is coming back from the brink and San Romanoway was the first SafeGrowth success.

They don't have to reinvent the wheel to fix Chichy.

5 Replies so far - Add your comment

Anonymous said...

The 2005 Paris riots started when two men were electrocuted while running away from police officers. There were conflicting accounts as to whether the men were being chased by police at the time. I don't think it is reasonable to say that they were "killed by police".

Tim Hegarty said...

You frequently mention individual success stories, like San Romanoway, but is there research out there that examines multiple success stories to determine what they have in common? Or to put it another way, we all know "Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn't, and What's Promising" like the back of our hands. And at least for some agencies, that work and others that followed made a tremendous difference. The police can now select strategies that have been proven to work and can avoid those doomed to fail. Has anyone done the same thing for community efficacy? If not, it's long overdue.

GSaville said...

Thanks Anonymous for the correction. I have changed the wording to read "while accidentally killed after running from police". However, I think it's fair to say those teens would be alive today if not for running from police.

Yes I know one might say they shouldn't have been wrongdoing in the first place (or doing whatever they were running from). But given the deplorable conditions allowed to fester in hotspots like Chichy, that's easier said than done when what is "normal" for us is very far away for them.

GSaville said...

Thanks Tim for that excellent question. For methods and procedures how to do a SafeGrowth plan we published this:

As for evidence in community development programs it does exist though it rarely shows up in the form of the "Preventing Crime" publication. For example The CPTED Bibliography has 1,000 studies over 35 years. It's online here:

Side note: The community-development "evidence" isn't like the evidence-based stuff suggested for prevention by Larry Sherman. He says prevention needs to be like medicine, more evidence-based and less anecdotal. I agree. We must move beyond anecdote and ideology in crime policy.

However, the example of medicine overstates the case. It is a flawed method for our work. It uses rigorous data for theory-testing. Those data are tangible - bacteria levels, blood types, etc.

Not so in the social world where things are intangible and poorly measured (like crime). We should still strive to clarify, quantify, and make tangible. But medicine is simply the wrong model for asking what works.

Malcolm Sparrow has wrote a blistering critique called "Governing Science". NIJ has posted it here:

Stan Lieberson has also written on scientific sociology (from which evidence-based criminology emerges). In "Barking Up the Wrong Tree" he promotes another model. Harvard has posted it here:

Tim Hegarty said...

I'm reminded of the Far Side cartoon where the student, with the small head and large body, asks to be excused because his brain is full.

For an agency looking to do something rather than the nothing of traditional policing, evidence-based policing (EBP) is a huge step forward. It's easy in one regard, that often it does not require sustainable partnerships within the community, and guess what, it does work to reduce crime. On the other hand, it's no trick making a lot of money...if what you want to do is make a lot of money. If nothing lasting comes out of EBP, if it does not increase community efficacy, especially when the police role changes- new chief comes in, money dries up, crisis in legitimacy (Trayvon Martin)- what good it? What happens to the crime reduction?

I think that these is a place for both, EBP and problem solving, though I don't think anyone has yet to come up with a Grand Unified Theory to show how they can work together to compliment each other. I think that police and social scientists should work closely and share responsibility for the governing science of policing. I think communities need to focus on improving what already exists rather than on new development. And I think that one of the real tragedies of the great recession is the loss of COPS funding that could have been used to further some of this.