Earlier this month, a 14-year-old Venzel Richardson was shot to death on the South Side of Chicago. After the shooting one of the commanding officers in the district asked for a list of all gang leaders in the surrounding area. After receiving that list, he visited their homes requesting they stop the shootings.
While other news outlets have referred to this strategy as “Hug a Thug”, officers are stating that this strategy is an intervention which consists of officers who visit gang members, referred to as custom notifications, to persuade them to stop the violence while providing positive resources.
They give contacts for jobs, social services referrals, and they also try to speak to family members too as well as encouraging the gang members to stay out of trouble.
According to the National Gang Center,
- From 2007 through 2011, a sizeable majority (more than 80 percent) of respondents provided data on gang-related homicides in their jurisdictions.
- Highly populated areas accounted for the vast majority of gang homicides: nearly 70 percent occurred in cities with populations over 100,000, and 19 percent occurred in suburban counties in 2011.
- The number of gang-related homicides increased approximately 10 percent from 2009 to 2010 and then declined slightly (2 percent) from 2010 to 2011 in cities with populations over 100,000.
- In a typical year in the so-called “gang capitals” of Chicago and Los Angeles, around half of all homicides are gang-related; these two cities alone accounted for approximately one in five gang homicides recorded in the NYGS from 2010 to 2011.
I believe that this intervention could work because community policing is a widely held best practice model. However, since 9/11, police departments have moved away from the community policing model which allocates funding to preventive programs in favor of militarization. As a result of increased funding from Homeland Security, police departments started purchasing tanks, armored cars, and more firepower while decreasing funding to community policing prevention programs. According to the Community Policing Dispatch website by the US Department of Justice, community policing should be one prong of a two-prong approach acting as counter balance to enforcement.
Rather than responding to crime only after it occurs, community policing encourages agencies to work proactively in developing solutions to the immediate underlying conditions contributing to public safety problems. Rather than addressing root causes, police and their partners should focus on factors that are within their reach, such as limiting criminal opportunities and access to victims, increasing guardianship, and associating risk with unwanted behavior. Read More
As a result of the increase militarization of police departments, police officers have a great deal of trust to gain within these communities, but community policing and events such as National Night Out can help to begin the process. The reputation of law enforcement officers have left many communities in fear of the public servants who are tasked with protecting them for various reasons such as racial profiling, police corruption, and unlawful shootings.
I believe police departments should be expanding their community policing models and hiring social workers to work in those Agencies to help design prevention programs based on their community practice expertise. After officers are able to regain the trust of not just gang members, but the community at large, I am convinced this model can make a different in all our lives. They may also be able to help facilitate the formation of support groups that could bring in other former gang members as mentors within the communities.
Whatever critics may think, it appears to be working: