“We know how to do this”

The quote in the title is from David Kennedy, from his book, Don’t Shoot.

“This” is deterrence of firearm violence and other crimes that shatter lives and neighborhoods.

“We” includes police, other government players and community residents.

You can find the “how” in Don’t Shoot and at the National Network for Safe Communities at  http://www.nnscommunities.org

A theme of David’s book is that communities and their governments can achieve dramatic progress when they change the question they ask themselves about harm and violence.   The old questions were “How do we do a better job of enforcing the law?”  “How do we get other agencies and community folks to help us enforce the law?”  The answers to these questions tend to lead us to the narrow, every-tub-on-its-own bottom practices that have not worked very well.

When they ask, “How do we prevent the next shooting in this community?” new worlds of possibilities open up.

When prevention of harm becomes the goal we liberate people on the ground — cops, gang kids, their families, other community folks, probation personnel, etc.  We give them the license to think and act strategically.  From the answers to the new question comes the learning that enables Kennedy to conclude and us to say, “We know how to do this.”

Support for the strategic power of deterrence is supported by a growing number of thinkers and practitioners.  The May 1-8, 2012 edition of “The Crime Report,” the newsletter of the Center for Media Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, reports on deterrence as part of its look at a new and ambitious review of what we know about crime and justice in the US.  They report,

“The new Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Law School has embarked on a daunting task: assessing the state of knowledge on crime and justice in the U.S. from 1975, projecting to 2025.

“Last week, the institute, with support from the Robina Foundation and National Institute of Justice, assembled eight leading scholars to discuss key issues in the field: guns, policing, rehabilitation, sentencing, race and crime, deterrence, drug policy, and youth violence.

Daniel Nagin, Teresa and H. John Heinz III University Professor of Public Policy and Statistics at Carnegie-Mellon University, is quoted on his views on deterrence.

“Nagin said there is substantial evidence that the certainty of punishment substantially deters criminal behavior.

“Measures with this effect include increasing the visibility of the police by hiring more officers and/or allocating existing officers in ways that raise the risk of apprehension, such as “hot spots” policing.

“They also include the use of certain, moderate punishments in the form of short periods of incarceration to enforce court-ordered fine payments or conformance with court-ordered conditions of probation or parole.”

As Mark Kleiman and company point out in an op-ed piece cited in an earlier post (April 24, 2012), the “Don’t Shoot” work and Hawaii’s HOPE (Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement) Project in particular are very promising illustrations of this idea.   Copy this into your browser or just Google ‘Hawaii HOPE.’ http://www.courts.state.hi.us/special_projects/hope/about_hope_probation.html

The Report goes on to say,

“Nagin also believes there is little evidence that increasing the length of already long prison sentences leads to deterrent effects that are large enough to justify their social and economic costs.

“This includes “Three Strikes and You’re Out” and other forms of mandatory minimum sentencing such as life without the possibility of parole. There is little evidence of a specific deterrent effect arising from the experience of imprisonment compared with noncustodial sanctions like probation.

“Instead, the evidence suggests that re-offending is either unaffected or increased. Since policing is relatively more effective as a deterrent than are other parts of the criminal-justice process, police should retain a larger share of declining government budgets, Nagin believes.”

We really can do this.


About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at www.sergeantsleadership.org. I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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