Saturday, December 21, 2013

A perfect storm for Christmas - cutting murders

Last week New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu announced early results from their homicide reduction program. Unknown at the conference, this creates a fantastic new opportunity. It all starts with the following hypothesis:

Neighborhoods infused with SafeGrowth will help violence reduction strategies like Ceasefire to cut crime more effectively and longer than neighborhoods without.

New Orleans homicide strategy includes the Chicago-style Interrupters, blight reduction and other SafeGrowth-like programs. It also includes David Kennedy's anti-gang violence program called Ceasefire. It's this latter program that caught my eye.

New Orleans' Hollygrove neighborhood - photo Megan Carr
For years I've been a supporter of David Kennedy's Ceasefire. And David is still on the job in places like New York. Ceasefire tackles neighborhoods wracked by violence by calling-in gang members and giving them a choice between arrest and targeted sanction or job training, counseling, housing, and social help.

The message to gang members: We care about you because you are part of our community, but the violence has to stop! As Mayor Landrieu said at the press conference, "the laws of engagement on the streets of New Orleans have changed."

He credits Ceasefire with a big reduction in homicides.


Here's the thing; New Orleans' Hollygrove neighborhood already had a huge decline in homicides when residents and AARP instituted SafeGrowth and other programs a few years ago. Murders declined from over 24 to less than 6 with no Ceasefire whatsoever.

That's not to slam Ceasefire - it's a good program. True, there has been some criticism that Ceasefire doesn't work or just fizzles out. But now we have the perfect storm for a researcher, an ideal opportunity to test the hypotheses that SafeGrowth creates conditions for programs like Ceasefire to sustain lower homicide rates longer than in other neighborhoods!

I gave up my own evaluation research years ago. Practitioner work takes too much time. But I always encourage researchers to dig in. This meets all the conditions for a natural experiment...a perfect holiday gift for an enterprising criminologist. It could help communities everywhere.

Merry Christmas!

4 Replies so far - Add your comment

Tim Hegarty said...

The criticism of Cease Fire is an example of one of the more frustrating occurances in policing. The most successful crime intervention strategies are usually developed for very specific problems and implemented in very specific ways. Cease Fire is intended to stop gang-driven shootings, and Kennedy's book is very specific regarding how to do just that. It fails when applied to a different homicide problem or when the recipe isn's followed. For example, if the police reject the legitimacy piece, it will fail. When community leaders focus on jobs and education, it will fail. When it fails, the community says it may have worked in Boston, but it doesn't work here.

The same things happens with other strategies. Some chief or mayor reads about it and brings it to their community to address a problem that the strategy wasn't intended to solve or implements it differently, then when it doesn't work the strategy gets blamed. It may have worked in High Point, but it doesn't work here.

While I am being a bit critical hear, the take away should be that there are very good solutions to all kinds of crime and disorder problems. Leaders just need to assess the problem, craft the right solution, and implement it correctly.

GSaville said...

Thanks Tim for the insight. It's interesting that once again we come back to the quality of police leadership and those who govern them. Or, in most cases, the lack thereof.

I've said it before - when it comes to critical thinking, problem-solving, and the criminology-of-the-street, much of the police profession is Medieval. It still uses bloodletting to break the fever - or in this case, arrest, retroactive investigation and random patrol while waiting for calls for service.

But we both know police education, academy training, and in-service upgrades rarely rise above the lowest common denominator - PowerPoint slides, lectures from the front, and sage-on-the-stage war stories sprinkled with the odd scenario here and there. With such archaic values inculcated from the start of the profession, can we really expect graduates of such nonsense to start thinking critically and truly appreciating the nuances of programs like Ceasefire?

Sorry, it's a rhetorical question.

You, and some other champions I've met in police leadership, are the rare exceptions. We need more like you.

Tod Schneider said...

Sounds great, Greg! Tim's feedback sounds spot on -- Kennedy goes to great lengths to articulate the problem with half-baked application of his approach failing.

GSaville said...

True, Tod.

Makes one wonder about the real measure of police leadership. Maybe it isn't just reading books and self-directed learning to self-improve. Maybe it isn't just swaying those inside the organization.

Maybe it's just as important to master the skill of influencing those who govern, politicians and the public? Doing so might make Ceasefire implementation more rational!