Hug-A-Thug – Eradicating Violent Crime from Inner Cities

I love this term for a radical new law enforcement program, which has proven to dramatically reduce murder in the harshest communities, OVER NIGHT.

David M. Kennedy tells the history behind the program in his book Don’t Shoot, One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America; starting off as Operation Ceasefire in Boston in 1996, later called the “Boston Miracle”, and morphing into CIRV in Cincinnati in 2007.

It all stems from one premise.  “The problem is that our response to the crime has become part of what is sustaining it.”  Our method for treating crime is actually fueling it.  (For shocking insight watch this movie called Quiet Rage which is based on a Stanford prison experiement in the 1970’s.  Particularly towards the end when the former guard and prisoner discuss their behaviors during the experiment.)  And the unfortunate part, is that these negative practices are targeted to the black and minority neighborhoods.  A recent On Point discussion on this very idea is recorded in the episode called “A New Era of Jim Crow?

David writes: “Our official law enforcement response to both the individuals and the collectivities is inconsistent, incoherent, and, on the receiving end, often opaque.  A lot of what we take as irrationality, bad character,even self-destructiveness, are in fact reasonable responses to that inconsistency and opacity.”  Basically, the  tactic of looking for problem people in problem communities, stopping and frisking or questioning anyone suspected of wrongdoing, so called zero-tolerance approach, creates the problem.  “Living in a dangerous place is no reason to be treated like a felon”. Especially because it’s applied on a racial bias.  “We don’t occupy the white neighborhoods, we don’t lead with law enforcement there.  The cops play cleanup and step in when the community can’t handle it.”

Violent crime rates 1973-2005

Violent crime rates 1973-2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So if our law enforcement tactic was wrong, how did they fix it?  The simple answer is read the book.  The short answer is: Identify the most dangerous criminals, bring them in for a meeting with their family members, show them proof of their wrong doing, tell them they have a choice to stop the violence or be sent to prison, tell them we want to help and provide job opportunities, give them a social service group to help them find jobs, tell them to spread the word.  When they get the message that the community doesn’t want the violence, that the old ways of policing are not working and wrong, that the police will NOT TOLERATE the violence, that we care about their well being and their ability to make the right choice, the violence stops virtually overnight.  The threat has to be enforced for the crime reduction to stick, law enforcement has to follow through and come down hard on anyone who breaks the deal offered.  Just look at this chart, the idea works.

The story is a miracle in once sense, that it’s so easy and effective.  But when we understand human nature it only makes sense.  Tell people they will be held accountable for their actions, hold them accountable, and give them the respect as people to make the right choice.  This process starts to undo the fundamental misconceptions of the gangs and the police that fuel the crime:

  • The police don’t care about our well being and the life’s challenges we face in this impoverished community.
  • The gang members don’t care about their community and the harm they are contributing and will never choose to do the right thing, they can’t be helped.

Once the law enforcement starts taking this kind of action, the community people start to chip in also calling in tips about gang members and cheering the officers who come in to make an arrest.  No one wants the violent crime, much of it stems from the gang members fears and vulnerabilities.  There are a many key elements described in the book, many agencies and community programs working together.  You have to know the community and the gangs, each member, who’s fighting with whom, etc.  It takes a community saying this will not be tolerated and we will hold you accountable, it takes law enforcement saying this will not be tolerated and we will hold you accountable, and it takes the gang members saying this is wrong and we will not tolerate it.


NOLA March Presence Protection Accountability (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been enacted in over 70 communities around the country, and worked.  In order for this policy to take effect, we have to act as a community.  We must know our neighbors and what they are doing.

We have been misled to believe that drugs and gangs are the cause of social problems in inner-cities, expanding prison sentences for such crimes and expanding prison populations which requires significant tax dollars to house and process.  We now have a proven theory to replace that logic.  A lot of  people won’t believe in the program, or can’t believe in the effect.  But those in the communities, and those who evaluate facts on a scientific basis believe.

The next step is to develop similar programs to address drug use, domestic violence, and hopefully child abuse.

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