By Sean Barron
Less than 1 percent of Youngstown’s population commit much of the city’s crime, the prosecutor said.
YOUNGSTOWN — Any efforts to combat violent crime in this city would do well to follow an innovative approach that has more than cut in half the homicide rates in other cities.
That was the core message Dr. David M. Kennedy stressed during Friday’s Operation Cease Fire session at Oakhill Renaissance Place on Oak Hill Avenue.
Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, outlined a program he helped launch about 15 years ago in Boston. Since then, the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence idea has been implemented in Chicago, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and other major cities — all of which have seen their homicide rates fall, he said.
About 70 law enforcement personnel, neighborhood leaders and others attended the two-hour seminar to learn about the CIRV. Its primary thrust is a three-pronged approach toward dealing with a small number of organized youngsters who commit much of the violent crime in many urban neighborhoods.
The three CIRV branches are law enforcement, social-service professionals and community members, all of whom need to deal face to face with offenders partly by letting them know services are available to help them change their behavior, while making them aware that their actions have consequences, he explained.
If a member of a street group or gang shoots someone, law enforcement should pick up every person in the gang who might be wanted on warrants, nonsupport of children and other charges, Kennedy said.
“This is not negotiable. Law enforcement needs to say, ‘You’re going to put your guns down,’” he explained. “When a body goes down, go after the entire group from which the shooter came.”
When consequences are spelled out and offenders know what‘s coming, most don’t want the attention and tend to police themselves, he said. He added that officers and others need to deal directly with offenders, which is difficult for many in law enforcement.
“This gives [offenders] a way out so they don’t have to lose face,” he added.
Social services can be pivotal in providing job training, education treatment and mentoring. Along with such intervention, offenders should know they will be punished for their actions, yet understand that someone still cares about them, Kennedy noted.
The third plank is the “moral voice of the community” taking a clear stand against violence, he explained. Too often in troubled neighborhoods, a distrust of police leads to silence, which often makes it less clear what the community views as acceptable, and can give those who commit violence the message that their actions are OK, Kennedy said.
Instead, a moral blueprint needs to be in place, which sees parents, ex-offenders and other respected figures talking to those who commit violence.
Kennedy cited as an example having a meeting in which the three entities confront the offender. Eventually, the youngster will take the message to those in his group, Kennedy said.
Once cities are able to reduce the most violent crimes, they can better concentrate on targeting lesser crimes such as robberies and drugs, he added.
Kennedy noted that less than 5 percent of at-risk young men commit the bulk of violent crime; of those, a small minority are “really dangerous, but potent.” One year in Cincinnati, for example, about 1,100 young people (less than 0.3 percent of its population) were involved in more than 75 percent of that city’s homicides, he pointed out.
“But they’re the ones who get the props and the ones some younger people want to imitate,” Kennedy added.
Contrary to what some may think, most violent offenders commit crimes because of trying to gain respect and honor, as well as solving disputes, and it has little to do with economics, he noted. Most don’t like their situation, but no one in such a group is likely to stand up and defy an entrenched street code, Kennedy explained.
In Youngstown, there are about 28 street groups with a total of about 500 members — out of the city’s total population of about 80,000 — who commit much of the crime, noted city Prosecutor Jay Macejko.
The CIRV program may get under way in the city by next spring, he said.
Macejko pointed out that solving the city’s crime problem requires more than simply going after and locking up the violent offenders.
“Traditional law enforcement techniques aren’t working,” he said. “We can’t arrest our way out of it; we can’t incarcerate our way out of it.”
Success of the program in Youngstown will come from a variety of partnerships, Mayor Jay Williams noted.