Last year, Assistant Police Chief Mark R. Pawlina informally proposed a stronger partnership between the Hartford police and the city school system. His idea: When police saw a child beginning to run with the wrong crowd or get in trouble, the officer would contact the school. School officials would then form a team of educators, social workers, a police officer, and a clergy member or neighborhood leader who would work with the child and family to reel the youngster back to the straight and narrow.
It was a good idea; unfortunately, Mr. Pawlina left to take a police chief's position in Massachusetts before he could implement it. But someone should. It's the kind of thinking that's needed to short-circuit the gang violence that plagues the city every decade or so.
The recent spate of 16 shootings in five days heralds the arrival of another onset of pointless, self-defeating wounding and death. If this follows what has become the usual pattern - and there's no reason to think it won't if Mayor Eddie Perez and Gov. M. Jodi Rell will stop their pointless, self-defeating bickering - law enforcement agencies will suppress the violence and send a bunch of the young perpetrators to prison.
Everyone will then congratulate each other and call it a day. But the conditions that keep producing the gang violence - the poverty, single-parent families, drugs, teen pregnancies, crummy schools and isolation - will still be here. Unless there is some major change, there'll be another spate of shootings and funerals in another eight or 10 years.
This is frightening for a number of reasons, one of which is that the youngsters involved in this idiocy are younger than they were in the Latin Kings/Los Solidos violence of the 1990s. Their groups are less organized; their violence more random. That young teenagers are getting guns and settling disputes with them is insane.
The police know they've got to arrest the shooters and keep trying to get guns off the street. (Why the legislature didn't help them by passing the lost and stolen gun law remains a mystery.) Mr. Perez's efforts to improve the schools and bring jobs and homeowners into the city are essential as well. We need new ways to deal with the illegal drug trade.
When a teenager is out at 1:30 a.m. with a gun, that is a sign of minimal parental influence. Mr. Pawlina understood that the community network has to respond at the first sign of such neglect, because by the time the kid is on the street with a gun, it's often too late. A team or case management approach for the children who need it, coordinated by school officials, would be a way to do it. It would build on an existing partnership between police and the board of education, which has succeeded in keeping violence out of the schools.
If the community cannot reach the younger children, it invites another wave of thoughtless violence.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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