RACINE — In 1996, a strategy for reducing gun violence was implemented in Boston that centered on collaboration and focused on the specific groups responsible for the rise in homicides.
The results were dramatic. In one five-month period, the number of homicides for youth dropped from 28 in 1995 to 8 in 1996, according to an article in the New York Times.
It would come to be known as “the Boston Miracle” for the dramatic reduction in gun violence.
The National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice took the lessons from Boston and developed a model for reducing gun violence known as Group Violence Intervention (GVI).
The model has been adopted by cities across the country, in Europe, and Mexico.
Racine will now join that list.
The Common Council voted on July 18 to invest $150,000 of grant funding to have National Network for Safe Communities develop an action plan for introducing GVI strategies locally.
A small percentage responsible for majority of gun violence
To address violent crime, the National Network for Safe Communities believes it is important to understand the communities where violent crime occurs and the people who are responsible for it.
On its website, the National Network for Safe Communities outlines this issue:
- Very few people are actually involved in gun violence and very few people who live in areas with high rates of violent crime are dangerous.
- Approximately one-half of one percent of a city’s population is involved in gun violence, but they are responsible for upwards of 70 percent of homicides.
- Those involved in gun violence are connected to one another, either through recognized gangs, or loose neighborhood crews without a formal hierarchy, and they commit crimes together. However, there are very few members – one or two – that drive the violence within the group.
- They must be confronted as a group and held accountable as a group.
- The members of these groups are just as likely to be a victim of a homicide as the perpetrator of a homicide.
Using the GVI method, the group is confronted as a whole in what is known as “call-ins,” a method that proved successful in Boston.
The members of these groups are people who are, for the most part, already involved in the criminal justice system, so they can be called-in by their parole officers.
They are warned if there is gun violence, law enforcement will be coming after the entire group.
Traditional policing has not worked
In the past, according to the National Network for Safe Communities, communities have responded to increased rates of homicides by over-policing, which has caused distrust between the community and the police – in part because the resulting increase in arrests and incarcerations does not reduce rates of gun crime and do not leave communities feeling safer.
Prior to 1996, Boston law enforcement responded to the increase in violent crime with stop-and-frisk methods that included rounding up young, Black men and forcing them to take down their pants in public spaces so law enforcement could check for guns and drugs.
The relationship between the community and law enforcement deteriorated.
David Kennedy, a criminal justice researcher, led the National Network for Safe Communities for many years and developed the GVI model using strategies developed in Boston.
The strategy is sometimes referred to as “the David Kennedy model.”
Kennedy was interviewed for “Operation Ceasefire: Inside a Community’s Radical Approach to Gang Violence.” The documentary by Retro Report highlighted the lessons learned in Boston, and one of the communities that adopted the Kennedy model, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“One of our convictions is communities need policing,” Kennedy said during an interview for the documentary. “They just don’t need the kind of policing they’ve been getting.”
“People deserve not to be afraid of the state,” he added.
He explained the most important thing to remember is “in the most dangerous places, hardly anybody is dangerous.”
For the one-half of one percent who might be dangerous, “there are ways to engage them that can be very effective.”
We must stop doing what does not work
The operative word in the GVI model is coalition. To reduce gun violence, law enforcement, community representatives, and social services must collaborate.
The Kennedy model suggests using community representatives who have moral authority. In Boston, that included members of the clergy. In Kalamazoo, it included a credible messenger, a person who was involved in drugs and violence, but who now works to redirect youth away from that path.
However, participants in the coalition must come to the table with a new mindset about the communities they serve.
For example, the National Network for Safe Communities website argues the approach of traditional social services may not meet the needs of those most at-risk to commit violence or be the victim of violence.
The website notes, “They are at extremely high risk for violent victimization and live with past and ongoing trauma. Because of these factors, many GVI clients are not ready for traditional social services like remedial education and employment training.”
Instead, they are provided with what they actually need: support and outreach tailored to their specific needs.
The website notes, “Many of the people at highest risk for violent victimization or offending do not like how they are living and want a way out. Communities should meet them where they are and do everything possible to support them.”
Law enforcement, too, must come to a new understanding of the communities they serve.
David Boysen, of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, was interviewed for “Operation Ceasefire.”
He said he came to the job with a more traditional view of policing, which included the primary objective of arresting people involved in crime and getting them off the streets.
Boysen said changing the culture of the organization is the hardest part.
He explained law enforcement who work in high violent crime areas become jaded.
“You think everyone in this neighborhood is dangerous because that’s all you’re dealing with,” he said.
He added the important thing was to get to a place where law enforcement is working with people in the neighborhoods.
Be in it for the long-term
In the documentary, Kennedy acknowledges GVI is not perfect.
“It’s relatively easy to put something like this together,” he said. “It’s very difficult to keep it going.”
One of the biggest challenges is maintaining the coalition and collaboration.
In Boston, the coalition eventually collapsed.
The coalition in Kalamazoo also struggled to maintain the collaboration.
One of the participants in Boston noted when the city had 150 homicides a year, they were focused on reducing that number. When the homicide rate dropped to 30 a year, people lost focus, and the money that was funding the programs evaporated.
While the homicide rate did not return to its 1990 levels, a time when cities across the country were experiencing high rates of violent crime, the homicide rate did rise after the collapse of the coalition.
There were 41 homicides in Boston in 2022. Boston is slightly larger than Milwaukee with a population of approximately 654,776.
The Research Foundation of CUNY, National Network for Safe Communities, at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, bid $150,000 to provide the city with a blueprint for implementing GVI strategies to reduce gun violence.
The Common Council voted to accept the $150,000 bid on Tuesday, July 18.
The $150,000 will come out of the $1.5 million grant the city received from the Medical College of Wisconsin for the implementation of crime-reduction initiatives. Ten communities were awarded grants from the medical college to use toward reducing violent crime.
Paul Vornholt, city administrator, said the city specified in the grant application the funds would be used for a gun violence reduction plan.
The National Network for Safe Cities does have a representative in Madison who will be working with the city. The representative is a former officer with the Madison Police Department.
Vornholt explained there is a process for establishing GVI methods, and the process from beginning to end could take two years.
The first step is to discern where the city is in the process. Due to the efforts of the violence reduction committee, which has been meeting for a year, the process may be shorter for Racine.
Alderman Melissa Kaprelian raised concerns about the fact the plan calls for collaboration between law enforcement and other groups, but the city’s police force is currently without a chief.
“I think we almost need to get that in position first before we start approaching this type of initiative,” she said.
Kaprelian added, “We need to get the police department situation in order and then we can have this come into play.”
The program was adopted on a 9-2 vote of the alderman, with Melissa Kaprelian and Renee Kelly voting against it.
Alderman Jeff Coe, Amanda Paffrath, Maurice Horton and Terry McCarthy were absent.
To learn more about GVI
Click or tap to watch “Operation Ceasefire: Inside a Community’s Radical Approach to Gang Violence” through YouTube.
**Be advised the documentary does have images that may be difficult for some people to watch.
Abt, Tomas. “Bleeding Out.” 2019
The article was informed by the following:
Butterfield, Fox. “In Boston, Nothing is Something.” New York Times. Nov. 21, 1996.
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