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The Monitor's View

Fort Hood killings and the red flags for violence

The Pentagon can learn from post-Columbine schools and from gang-ridden cities how to see warning signs for would-be killers.

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Metal detectors entered Chicago's schools; part-time police patrolled streets after school hours. A program called CeaseFire employed street-level workers to defuse gang rivalries.

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CeaseFire, for instance, focuses on individuals who are seen as "transmitters" of violence. They are then approved by trained "violence interrupters," such as reformed gang members who can perceive the warnings for potential violence.

"These kids are generally more concerned about what their friends think than about whether they're going to go to prison or even whether they're going to die," CeaseFire's executive director Gary Slutkin told the Monitor.

Efforts like this were duplicated all over the country, and researchers gathered many "evidence-based" success stories.

But success lulled cities into apathy.

By 2000, the youth homicide rate had fallen by nearly half from its peak in 1993. Budgets for special programs were cut, and police forces reduced. Cities had other priorities. Now, the recession means tighter budgets (state-funded CeaseFire took a hit).

The national youth homicide rate is creeping up, and it has surged among young black people – up by 31 percent since 2002, according to a report last year by Northeastern University in Boston.

And then earlier this fall, a cellphone video caught the fatal beating of a 16-year-old honor student in Chicago, Derrion Albert, on his way home from school. The video was broadcast on YouTube, a brutal reminder that violence of all kinds is the second-leading cause of death among America's young people.

Some cities have realized their mistake.

Boston, for instance, is returning to its 1990s "Boston miracle" model, which was a city-wide effort to reach at-risk youth, led by religious leaders. Lately, the city has hired ex-convicts with street savvy to discourage violence.

Chicago plans to identify 10,000 at-risk high school students who will get lavished with attention from adults – mentors, counselors, employers – in a new program started by federal stimulus money. It relies on many of the same principles, including safe-passage zones to and from school, from the 1990s.

Such efforts – and the lesson of letting programs lapse – would be useful for the military as it tries to help prevent another Fort Hood-style massacre. Shifting behavior in huge institutions such as the Army takes years. And US schools have been there, done that.

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