Friday, October 7, 2011

Don't Shoot.

Last night I heard David Kennedy and LA Police Chief Charlie Beck talk at the Aloud Program about reducing gang violence. Kennedy's theory, which is described in his new book, and which has been implemented successfully in a number of cities, including Los Angeles, sounds almost too good to be true. As I understand it, the approach has several parts. First, recognize that the number of people responsible for the vast majority of violence in most cities is relatively small. So concentrate on those people. Next, let the street gangs know that violence will no longer be tolerated. The police will keep track of which gangs are responsible for the most violence, and will make life as miserable as possible for those particular gangs. That gives each gang a powerful incentive to lower their violence profile. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, utilize other forces in the community--peer groups, families, other community institutions--to pressure gang members to put their guns away. What happens? Everybody starts to understand that they are safer and better off if they stop resorting to shooting one another to solve their disputes. And dramatic reductions in gang violence start to occur.

In the question and answer session, audience members kept trotting out one after another pet theory for reducing crime (in this audience mostly liberal pet theories): What about reducing poverty? How about gun control? Why not legalize drugs? The chief and the author acknowledged each of these issues, but showed how none of these approaches has as much effect on the specific problem of gang violence as the so-called "ceasefire" approach. It turns out that if your goal is to reduce gang violence, you just need to focus on that. That means that the conservative nostrums for crime reduction, which Chief Beck recounted with a brief history of the LAPD's various militaristic responses to gangs over the last couple of decades, don't work either. Young men pay more attention to their mothers than to the police. Who knew? And if you enlist all available forces in the community to communicate the message that gang violence is no longer acceptable, people get that message.
 

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