Making Youngstown safe one gun seizure at a time

The heavy toll gun violence extracts on American cities in lives lost, families shattered and communities weakened demands nothing short of a concerted, massive and aggressive campaign by law enforcement and all with a vested interest in keeping the peace.

To its credit, the Youngstown Police Department has taken that charge seriously and has achieved measurable success. As The Vindicator reported in an exclusive front-page story Tuesday, city police officers confiscated 268 illegal firearms in 2016, which represents an impressive 40 percent increase over the 191 guns they seized in 2015.

That upturn in confiscations of murderers’ weapons of choice no doubt figured into the 22 percent decline in homicides that the city logged last year over 2015.

As YPD Chief Robin Lees aptly put it, “With each gun we take off the street, we’re probably avoiding a shooting or a homicide.”

A look behind the jump in gun seizures in the city indicates Youngstown officers are wisely embracing some of the best practices embraced by state and federal law enforcers across the nation. In so doing, they are lessening the supply of the primary tools of death and destruction for those with propensities toward violence at their fingertips.

One of the most successful tactics of the YPD has been much more intensive data analysis and crime mapping that Lees has instituted in the crime statistics department of the force. Reports of gunshot-sensor activations and 911 calls for gunfire reports as well as citizens’ complaints regarding gunfire are now supplied directly to officers.

As a result, officers are then better prepared to target those areas for intensive and aggressive patrols and investigations. This strategy, commonly known in police circles as “hot spots” patrolling, has succeeded in stemming gun violence in many large American cities.

Targeted patrolling

In Kansas City, for example, a campaign of intense targeted patrolling of a 10-block area with a homicide rate 20 times higher than the national average produced a 65 percent increase in firearms seizures by police and a 49 percent decline in reported shootings, according to the organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Some of the credit for last year’s progress in making the streets of Youngstown a little less mean also rests with the first full year of operation of the department’s Community Policing Unit, in which one officer is strategically placed in each ward of the city for intense neighborhood monitoring and direct interaction with residents. Residents, too, share part of the credit for their increased willingness to report incidents of gunfire blasting away the serenity of their neighborhoods.

The results of those collective efforts transcend the painful and senseless deaths and serious injuries to family members and loved ones. The impact is far more wide-reaching.

Gun violence affects all city residents by straining public services such as law enforcement and medical care, and it weakens economic development by lowering property values and driving residents to leave their longstanding homesteads.

One study commissioned by the National Urban League, for example, found that for each homicide in a large city, about 70 residents flee, further hollowing out neighborhoods, expanding blight and lowering tax revenues. Youngstown, which has lost nearly half of its population over the past 30 years, knows all too well the impact of gun violence on residential flight and decay.

That’s another reason why the YPD must stay committed to its campaign to reduce the illegal arsenal of firearms in the city. Reports of an uptick already this month in gun seizures indicate continued gains.

For optimal success, however, the police force cannot rid the streets of illegally carried guns without the assistance of other community stakeholders.

In Youngstown, the productive and cooperative anti-violence drives and community-education campaigns of groups such as the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence and the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods [ACTION] must continue at a brisk and committed pace.

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