An effective approach to curb violence. Stop treating police like social workers

Cure Violence HP

President Trump ‘threatened’ to send in the feds to Chicago this week with no detail on what that really meant. But that did not stop people from speculating.

In light of the continued gun violence in Chicago, Trump’s message to the city was to solve it or he would order the feds to come in and fix it. He, like so many seems to think that gun violence has a simple fix… he has said as much.

But it doesn’t.

We can add all the police we want. They are not the answer. The police are not social workers, they are not daycare workers. We need to stop asking them to be.

Yes police need to use empathy and compassion to carry out their job. They need to develop close ties to the communities they patrol. But they are not there to be a counselor to the kids in broken homes or a mediator to spouses who don’t get along. There are professionals who are trained specifically for these jobs.

Unfortunately, with a “get tough” perspective, we have precluded the more viable yet “softer” solutions of intervention and social work to address situations before they become violent.

It’s not only about the guns
For others, the issue is positioned as “gun violence” and while there are issues around access to guns, this focus is also overly simplistic and misplaced.

It is not normal that so many kids and young adults are “okay” killing people. The indiscriminate use of lethal violence, equal willingness to kill bystanders and targets, is not normal. This is not a “police issue” and it is not a “gun issue.” This is a social issue. We are so focused on the mode of violence that we are not working on the situations that allow the root cause of the violence to develop in the first place.

Violence Spreads… like diseases
Ted Talk on curbing violence
Dr Gary Slutkin is an infectious disease specialist, he went around the world stopping or curbing disease outbreaks. He and the team learned that disease spread in predictable patterns. If they can identify the source victims and react quickly, they could stop the progression.

Dr. Slutkin turned his attention to violence in the Cities, in particular Chicago. The research showed violence spread in the same way as diseases. There was a source event that lead to violence. Move at the source event and you have a chance to stop the outbreak.

“The greatest predictor of a case of violence is a preceding case of violence.”

As part of the work, they set up a test program in Chicago’s West Garfield neighborhood in 2000. They kept their ears open and acted quickly at the first signs of violence or precursor events. They would converge on the area of the violence precursors and work with the peripheral actors as well as the primary. By intervening almost immediately they help to reduce overall violence significantly. The initial role was the “violence interrupters”. They were then followed by social workers who stayed on the case for several months at least. In addition, they worked with the communities to develop activities for the residence.

It was successful. This has been done over 20 times in Chicago, and the murder rates dropped.

A new organization sprang from this initiative and has since grown to cities across the country.


What happened in 2016?

It wasn’t tough enough. It didn’t have the appeal of adding more cops to the streets, or “throwing them in jail”. When budget cuts were announced in 2015 for the state of Illinois and the Cure Violence program, Dr. Slutkin was vocal about the likely outcome – a spike in violence.

The $4.5M funding to the program was cut anyway and he was right.

“Now the only one of Chicago’s 22 police districts to experience a reduction in shootings over the past year also happened to be the only district in which CeaseFire has been able to consistently maintain its full program of operations.”

The reinstatement of funding for these programs will be the best way to reverse the violence. It’s programs are proven – statistically and experientially.

If the federal government does come in, the first step should be to fund the programs that have demonstrated their ability to actually work. They may not be “tough”, but they work.

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