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Declare A Cease-fire

Hartford Homicides: City should find new ways to stop gunplay

Hartford Courant

July 14, 2009

On the evening of June 29, two young men riding scooters near the South Green in Hartford were shot and killed by an occupant of a passing car. The victims of the drive-by attack were the city's 16th and 17th homicide victims of the year. Another young man was killed two days later.

Hartford had 17 homicides in 2004, but the number has been moving up since, to 33 in 2007 and 32 in 2008. If the trend continues, 2009 will be one of the city's deadliest years since the gang violence of the early 1990s. Ironically, major crime is down in most other categories, but that doesn't make an impression when people continue to blow each other away.

Brazen homicides such as the Wethersfield Avenue shootings invariably bring calls for state troopers on the streets. We support the use of troopers; their presence tends to tamp down the violence that violates the peace residents deserve. But isn't it time to try something else?

Hartford police are taking some promising steps. A successful anti-truancy program has been extended to cover summer school. The department has a home-visit program for younger people at risk of getting into trouble. Why not build on that?

One program being used in several cities across the country is called Ceasefire. Developed by David Kennedy of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, it uses the dynamic of the gang (or, in less formal language, "crew") against itself.

In the Cincinnati program, described in the June 22 New Yorker magazine, Mr. Kennedy and local authorities brought gang members to a meeting and told them to stop the shooting. If not, they promised, there would be swift and severe punishment to the whole group, not just the shooter. For those who agreed to the cease-fire, there would be life coaching, education and job counseling. Local clergy, ex-gang members and victims' families got involved, as did the police.

In addition to trying such a program, Hartford should push for a stronger federal effort to get the arsenal of guns off the streets of Hartford. There are very few drive-by stabbings. Also, the state could get more jobs into the city, to provide an employment option to the illegal narcotics trade.

The killings in Hartford persist despite the best conventional efforts. Let's try something unconventional as well.

Correction (added July 15, 2009): Hartford police have adapted aspects of the "Ceasefire" program into their "Peacebuilder" youth violence prevention program.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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