Weekend Shootings: A more holistic approach might reduce city violence
Hartford Courant Editorial
June 15, 2012
In crime as elsewhere, statistics have the power to mislead.
For example, in early 2008 Mayor Eddie Perez announced that in the previous year, crime in the city had fallen to its lowest level in 30 years. This was technically accurate but misleading. The reduction was almost entirely due to fewer stolen license plates, thanks to a change in state law requiring that registration stickers be put inside windshields instead of on license plates.
This week, the city put out a press release saying Hartford was No. 1 in the state in the seizure of illegal weapons. The numbers are sobering — Hartford police grabbed more than 440 firearms last year and 109 so far this year — and they show that police are doing something.
But as with the license plates, the numbers don't tell people what they really want to know, which is whether or not the city is safer.
Indeed, the press released followed a tragic weekend of shootings that left two dead and nine injured, incidents that contradict the notion that seizing guns means fewer shootings. Thanks to the years of hard work by the gun lobby, the country is awash in handguns and they are easy to replace.
Beyond the pointless loss of life — the victims were 24 and 16 years of age — there are other troubling aspects of last weekend's bulletfest. Acting Police Chief James Rovella was anticipating trouble — shootings have spiked in June in recent years, for whatever reason — and had a lot of cops on the streets for days before the shootings. Also, some of the shootings took place in parts of the city not known for gunplay.
In areas where statistic are meaningful, Hartford is doing better at reducing gun crime. Even with last weekend's shootings, shooting incidents are down from 65 at this time last year to 47, and homicides are down from 17 to 8 (which the city's press release also reports). The city was seeing around 200 shooting incidents annually a few years ago; this year the number could be half that.
Since last summer Mr. Rovella, an able and respected leader, has headed a shooting task force that has taken a lot of gunmen off the streets.
But the fact that the shootings persist suggest that maybe the city has gone as far as it can with a police response and might — without lessening the police effort — consider a broader and more holistic approach to quelling violence.
One such project that might offer guidance is the Boston TenPoint Coalition, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The program, along with another program called Operation Ceasefire, had remarkable results in the 1990s at stopping youth violence in Boston.
Some aspects of the these programs that might inform a Hartford program include:
• They focus on the most troubled kids, the ones other programs miss. Criminologist David Kennedy, one of the creators of Operation Ceasefire, observed that much of the trouble was being caused by relatively few troublemakers. Intervene in their lives, one way or another, and much of the gunplay stops. In Hartford, Chief Rovella and others estimate that 75 percent of the violence is caused by 75 to 125 people.
• They pay attention to women — battered women, mothers of drug dealers, women in danger of becoming pregnant. Some mothers don't know what their teenage sons are up to, and are shocked and angered when they learn.
• The coalition is faith-based; the clergy bring a moral element to the table. Ministers are leaders in minority communities; if all they are doing is holding vigils after a killing, they are being underutilized.
• They try to help ex-inmates find a stable life in the community.
There are programs in Hartford that work toward these goals. Bringing them together into a major anti-violence, pro-youth effort might help bring the violence down further. Safety is the sine qua non for a successful city.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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