In Chicago, can community involvement combat gang violence?
An incident-filled spring triggers talk of how community involvement, perhaps in addition to more police on the streets, can combat gang violence.
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The Midwest's police-per-population rate is below average compared with other parts of the country, according to 2008 data from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. While the average rate in US cities was three full-time officers per every 1,000 inhabitants, the Midwest averaged 2.7 while the Northeast averaged 3.4. That same year, Chicago tallied 13,359 police officers, about 37 percent of New York City's officer count, which was 35,761.Skip to next paragraph
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But Mr. Rosenbaum cautions against drawing too many conclusions from New York's totals. "It's hard to make comparisons to New York because it may have its own set of problems, like terrorism," he says.
As for Chicago, if it tries to bolster the force by recruiting many new officers, that task won't be easy: The city council recently passed a contract that includes a 2 percent yearly raise for officers – far below what the union had hoped.
Another option for police is to retool what officers do each day so they spend less time on nonviolent issues like traffic violations.
"You have to ask yourself, why are we paying law enforcement $60,000, $70,000 a year to write a few tickets? It doesn't pan out," says Rande Matteson, a former agent for the US Drug Enforcement Administration who now teaches criminal justice at Saint Leo University in Florida.
Rosenbaum at the University of Illinois is similarly skeptical that more police will suffice as the solution. In his view, energies should be directed toward cracking the "no snitching" culture in certain city neighborhoods.
"If you want to ask the police to do their job, you have to help them," he says.
One way police themselves have dealt with this situation was to launch "Silence Kills" – a campaign that encourages people to send anonymous tips through text messaging.
But Rosenbaum is also thinking more broadly than the "no snitching" problem. Curbing city violence, he says, is a responsibility that must be shared by the public.
"Public safety is a product that has to be jointly produced by the police and all authorities in the community," such as church leaders, community organizers, and schools. "When we don't work together, that's when we're going to have problems."
One example of working together is CeaseFire Chicago, which is part of a wider organization that seeks out conflicts in neighborhoods and provides emergency mediation so they don't lead to violence.
Tio Hardiman, CeaseFire's local director, considers street violence "a public health issue" that involves other issues such as unemployment and domestic violence. He says his organization has prevented 119 homicides since January and 1,400 since 2004.
No matter how many officers a city has, Mr. Hardiman says, "You still can't get there in time to stop the act."
Rather, he says, "You have to change the behavior and mind-set that are involved in the violence."