In the Boston Globe of Feb. 21, 2012 I read a story about a Russian scientist growing a little arctic flower, the narrow-leafed campion, from a chunk of its fruit that is 32,000 years old.
Sometimes, powerful new ideas seem to take that long to sprout in the policing and criminal justice fields (pun intended). Also this week I saw a story on PBS about the near-eradication of polio in India, against mighty odds.
India used to be the epicenter of polio, reports PBS. In 1985, there were an estimated 150,000 cases in India and as recently as 2009 there were 741, more than any other country in the world.
But its last case was in January 2011 – a remarkable achievement. But world health officials cannot remove India from the list of polio endemic countries until the result of lab tests confirm that it is no longer to be found in sewage.
This marvelous outcome once again had me wondering. Why, when we have proven strategies such as the “Don’t Shoot” model (the second generation of CeaseFire) at our fingertips, can’t we seem to incorporate this new paradigm of police and criminal justice anti-violence practice? Why don’t these ideas flourish? We have the best-trained army of violence prevention outreach workers in the world: our patrol and investigative personnel. But the old models still restrain and constrain them in their ability to deter and prevent the spread of the epidemic. The only thing conventional strategies and organizational paradigms prevent is effectiveness.
To reduce polio cases to just about zero, the Indian campaigners oriented their deployment of prevention resources to the contours and dynamics of the problem. Indian families are highly mobile, with millions riding mass transportation every day. So the pubic health people created a system that puts immunization techs who administer the two-drop vaccine where the target pre-school children are: with their families at bus stations, at train stations and on the buses and trans themselves.
Also, they adopted an operating principle that, “every polio case is an emergency.” Not just “emergency” in the sense of something to be responded to quickly. But a community disaster to be met and contained with all stakeholders on deck. Despite a caste system, desperate poverty and other challenges that could make the faint of heart give up, they just went ahead and achieved the improbable.
Would that, for all our genuine seriousness about firearm violence and death, we treated each violent death as a citywide tragedy deserving a full-hearted citywide mobilization.