Imagine you are a gang member and you receive the following letter from your police chief.
“This is a very important letter that I want you to read carefully and completely. I am sure you are aware of intensified law enforcement activity focused on you, your friends, or others close to you. I would like to explain why this has happened, what must take place to make it stop, and what you can do to help.
First understand we know who you are and who your friends are.
Second, this city has been plagued for too many years by firearms violence, and we know that it's all about the groups.
Third, we have organized a substantial group of our own, consisting of Federal, state and local law enforcement partners to specifically target groups involved in firearms violence. Too many people have died or continue to be shot unnecessarily in our city. No doubt you know someone who has met this fate over the years.
Fourth, it is the shootings that will drive our work. We will focus our policing efforts on the groups that are involved in shooting incidents, especially when bodies are being put on the street. This is a very important point to understand. We will not only aggressively pursue the actual shooter involved, but we will focus intense law enforcement attention on the entire group as well. This is our new way of doing business. If a group is not involved in shooting people, this level of attention will not be necessary.
How can you help? Be a messenger, go tell your friends. Encourage them to think before they act in a manner that will bring heavy police attention to your group. It's a cause and effect relationship. You don't want or need this kind of law enforcement attention because one of your friends shot somebody out of anger.
I want you to remember one more thing. We care about you as individuals, as well as all citizens in the City of Rochester, who deserve to live freely without the threat of gun violence. Your families and loved ones care deeply about you as well. Too many people have died on our streets, or been seriously injured as a result of unnecessary gun violence. As Chief of Police in the City of Rochester, it is my responsibility to do everything in my power to make this city as safe as possible for everyone.
This is our new way of doing business and I thought it was important to let you know. Please go tell your friends.
James M. Sheppard
Chief of Police”
Would you crumple it and throw it away? Would you take heed of its message? The success or failure, of the Rochester initiative remains to be seen. What is known, however, is that the strategy created by the National Network for Safe Communities is getting positive feedback from communities in other areas of the country, including the major cities of Connecticut (see Reentry Central November 27, 2012, Attorney General Holder and Connecticut Governor Announce Anti-Gun Violence Initiative).
As Reentry Central first reported on December 3, 2012, The Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice offered a two- part practice brief for “professionals already involved in a creating a Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS) but who have not yet “called in” gang members to outline their violence reduction project.” This model was used by the city of Rochester to help reduce gun-violence and drug dealing. Click here to go to website
The same model was featured in an NBC Dateline segment on March 25 that followed North Charleston, South Carolina police officers as they reached out to eight low-level drug dealers, giving them an option of enrolling in the Stop and Take A New Direction (STAND) program or going to jail like others who were swept up in a city-wide drug bust. STAND was initially treated with derision and skepticism from key players on both side of the law. The officers involved referred to the program as “Hug a Thug.” The drug dealers who were chosen to become involved with STAND distrusted the police officers and worried that if they participated in the STAND program they would be seen as “snitches’ by their peers. But all eight drug dealers opted for enrolling in STAND rather than getting locked up. Requirements included tutoring to receive a G.E.D or high school diploma, participating in job-preparation classes, participating in community service activities, random drug testing, and finding employment.
The gripping Dateline feature reveals a relationship between police and criminals that is rarely glimpsed by the public, and in reality, rarely exists. Bonds are formed, and broken. Attitudes and perceptions change dramatically. The end result is mixed, but encouraging.
The full Dateline feature, complete with commercials, can be viewed by clicking on the link below.