The city of Pittsburgh is launching an anti-violence program. Reading about it, it reminds me of Cease Fire Chicagco, with a twist.
The program is based on the work of David Kennedy, a professor in the anthropology department at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. It involves “call-in sessions” that bring gang members face-to-face with relatives, community leaders and law enforcement officials who tell them of the pain they cause and offer to help them escape the street life — or threaten to crack down on the whole group if one member commits another act of violence.
So far, Pittsburgh hasn’t held any such sessions. But city Councilman Ricky Burgess thinks one can happen as soon as the fall.
And more from the same article:
“There’s a nearly 15-year history now of the kind of work that Pittsburgh is undertaking,” Mr. Kennedy said last week. “There have been many, many cities that have done this. Everyone who has been serious about sticking to the core elements has been successful.”
Boston, the first city to undertake the program, demonstrates the limits of such success. After posting a two-thirds decline in youth homicides in the late 1990s, the murder rate started to climb again as police and community groups lost their focus on gang violence.
The process pioneered by Mr. Kennedy is complicated and labor intensive. Organizers must create a list of a city’s most violent groups. They then identify group members who are already under probation or parole and compel them to attend a first call-in session, often in a courtroom.
At the session, relatives of homicide victims talk about their anguish over the death of a loved one, while clergy members or other community leaders describe how violence is harming a community.
And I like this anecdote from North Carolina:
[Police Chief James Fealy of High Point, N.C.] cites as an example one man with an extensive criminal record who was threatened with hefty consequences if he didn’t stop selling drugs. Three months after the call-in session, officers caught the man smoking marijuana. But he was only charged with possession.
“We didn’t tell him he couldn’t smoke dope. He wasn’t dealing drugs,” Chief Fealy said.
Planners in some cities have to be ready to adjust tactics as the situation on the ground changes.
Imagine that: NOT arresting someone for smoking pot. What a concept!
I like this concept Pittsburgh is considering because it dares to look at things differently. Endless incarceration is not the best path to a crime-free society. Incarceration is a simplistic and inadequate solution.
The solution that works actually takes more work than that. Any real solution is going to be “complicated and labor intensive,” and that’s the only solution to violence that will last.