Murder rates rising, cities respond
(Page 2 of 2)
In Durham, police have ratcheted up efforts to stem waves of gang violence. On Monday, Police Chief Steve Chalmers announced a new antigun effort aimed in part to thwart the increase in gang violence. In Durham County, where 84 percent of the drug-trafficking is run by gangs, finances are troubling. The sheriff loudly complained this summer when a request to build a gang task force failed to make it into the budget.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Cities across the country have tried different methods to bring homicide rates, and gang violence, to a minimum. In Milwaukee, where the murder rate to date is 54, compared to 61 at the same time last year, a community police effort has been put in place, which is intended to bridge the police to local residents, including the faith community.
In Cincinnati, local authorities are experimenting with a show of force in troubled neighborhoods. Since last year, the police department has sent 100 extra cops to violent-prone spots across the city for a couple days each month.
The move is a response to a homicide rate that has increased every year since 2000. To date the city has recorded 46 homicides, up from 40 in the same period the year before. Sgt. Lisa Thomas says most of it is drug rather than gang-related.
Boston has tried its own version of community policing. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when residents faced gun battles on the streets all too often, David Kennedy of Harvard University helped create "Operation Ceasefire." The strategy was simple, he says: Police and street workers focused on, and punished, the whole group, instead of going after certain individuals.
In 1990, the murder rate in Boston had spiked to 152. In 1999, it was down to 31. And the youth homicide rate went down by two-thirds. The strategy was later deemed a national model and as many as a dozen cities, from Rochester, N.Y., to Stockton, Calif., have implemented similar models since then. "Lots of other places have made this work, and where you do stick with it, it pays off," he says.
Boston, like other cities, has backed down from those initiatives, though. In response to recent violence, police announced "Operation Neighborhood Shield" Friday night, in which state police, the FBI, and other federal agencies have increased patrols across the city. Fifty-four people were arrested over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is closing city parks down at 11 p.m., is working with community leaders to expand youth programs across the city, and is planning on using camera surveillance to monitor activity in the city's "hot spots," according to spokesman Seth Gitell.
Many community leaders call this a band-aid that, although welcome, doesn't address deeper issues. Ms. Martin says that more youth programs, especially those that break down "turf" issues for neighborhood children, are needed to build the confidence in adolescents to choose not to join gangs.
The community is also integral to help witnesses step forward, a chronic problem for prosecutors of gang violence. "There is a fear of retaliation, particularly if [residents] end up being called as witnesses in a court trial," says Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
This silence is something the Rev. Ray Hammond, cofounder of the Ten Point Coalition, which began intervening in Boston's gang problem in 1992, knows well. He is working with communities to increase efforts begun in May, such as "cease-fire meetings" with potential gang members and home visits with at-risk teens. On Friday night, he walked around communities talking to residents outside, a weekly event that he hopes more churches will become involved in.
"In the community, people know who is causing on the trouble," he says. "What we learn is to be patient.... We are not going to be run off the playground."
At Ramsay Park, where the basketball coach was gunned down, Sgt. Karen Ahren of the Boston Municipal Police says one of their major concerns is getting the community to come forward.
"People are saying, 'It's hard for us to come forward and talk to you guys, because then we'll get a knock on our door.' " Nearby a memorial of candles, teddy bears, and letters draws passersby. On a tree a sign reads, "Stop the Violence."
Alden Cadwell, a summer camp director at Carter Playground, where the 11-year-old was hit by a stray bullet, says some parents pulled their children out of his camp immediately, but most did not.
On a recent afternoon, a police car patrolled the field where children played kick ball and football. It was a typical summer day.
• Patrik Jonsson contributed to this report from North Carolina.