Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Gang Violence Increases on National Scale

Rochester isn't alone: Violent crime sweeps nation

From Memphis to Hartford, the search is on for affordable, effective ways to stop the bloodshed
Patrick Flanigan Staff writer

(July 16, 2006) — In Memphis, Tenn., a 13-year-old girl was shot to death after an adult got involved in a dispute between two groups of youths.
A surge in July homicides in Washington, D.C., triggered a redirection of police resources.And in Hartford, Conn., a wave of shootings and the slaying of a young teenager has city leaders struggling to understand a population of young people who display no regard for human life.
Change the name of any one of those cities to Rochester, and the sentence would still be true. Clearly, the Flower City is not alone in its struggle to bring rampant, senseless violence under control.

"We're all seeing the same thing," Rochester Police Chief David Moore said, referring to conversations he's had with his counterparts in other cities. "Communities across the country are challenged by young people who are carrying guns and creating havoc on their streets."
A recent federal report confirms what anecdotal evidence from across America suggests: Bloodshed in U.S. cities, both large and small, is on the rise.

According to preliminary FBI statistics released in June, violent crime in the United States rose 3 percent in 2005, the largest one-year increase since 1991.

The current spike is most pronounced in communities beneath the top tier of America's largest cities.Cities about the same size as Rochester — from 100,000 to 249,999 people — had the highest percentage increase in murders at 13 percent. Those with populations between 250,000 and 499,999 had the largest average increase in overall violent crime at 9 percent.

Theories explaining the increasing violence vary, including the growth of gangs in smaller cities and the release of convicted felons from prison after the tough-on-crime '90s. Cities like Rochester are searching for solutions, from calls for community involvement to putting more police on the street.

"Obviously, this is not about Rochester," said Mayor Robert Duffy. "We certainly have our own economic challenges here, but that's no excuse for the type of violence we've seen. We will reverse these trends."

Last month in Memphis, Tenn., police charged a 19-year-old woman with murder after a 13-year-old girl was shot in the head. Police said the 19-year-old started firing into a crowd after she was driven by her mother to the scene of a dispute between two groups of youths. "The parents have no self-discipline and they're imprinting that on their kids," said Memphis police Sgt. Vince Higgins.

In Hartford, Conn., more than a dozen people were shot over Memorial Day weekend, including a 15-year-old boy who was believed to have been a bystander.

The Washington, D.C., police chief last week declared a "crime emergency" that gave him more flexibility to deploy police officers after 13 people were killed since July 1.

Rochester, too, is in the midst of the most violent summer in recent history, and the last two weeks have been particularly confounding, with eight homicides in eight days.

Mary Lewis, who lives off North Clinton Avenue, is careful to avoid certain streets where drug dealers congregate along the sidewalks. And once she's in for the night, Lewis stays inside.
"If I wanted ice cream, I'd just go to the corner store and get some," Lewis said. "Now if I don't have it, I stay in the house until the next day."

Edmund McGarrell, a criminologist at Michigan State University and research director for the U.S. Justice Department's Project Safe Neighborhoods, has developed a working hypothesis that multiple factors put added strain on police, including:

· Tighter municipal budgets have led to a reduction in the number of police in many cities.
· Homeland security concerns raised by the 9/11 attacks are further stretching law enforcement resources.
· Criminals are forming gangs in more small and mid-sized cities that did not have gang problems in the past.
· Increased incarceration rates during the 1990s are now resulting in an increase in the number of convicted felons released from prisons.
· A culture of violence in prisons has extended to urban streets.John Klofas, a criminologist at Rochester Institute of Technology, said all these factors play a role. Police have been targeting the rise of youth gangs in various city neighborhoods for the past year. Klofas said about 750 former inmates from the Rochester area are being released annually from state prisons, and most are gravitating to crime-plagued neighborhoods.

George Kelling, a criminologist at Rutgers University and co-author of the book, Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities, attributes the increase in murders to more youths carrying guns.

"What used to be a dispute that led to a simple assault is now grounds for a capital offense. You look at someone's girlfriend or you don't avert your eyes when you walk by someone," he said. "The efficiency of killing has improved enormously with more people carrying guns. That's what makes it so difficult for police to get their arms around, because these acts are so spontaneous."
Kelling said police in Newark, N.J., are experimenting with a program to increase community involvement, and early indications suggest violence could drop as much as 30 percent.

Rochester police are likewise working to attract more community involvement. The Clergy Response Team, a team of church leaders who assist police, is taking the lead on a gun turn-in program.

Police in Cleveland are launching their version of a program that Rochester has used for several years that uses crime statistics to direct police resources. Aurora, Colo., police are focusing their efforts on capturing known offenders with outstanding warrants, similar to warrant sweeps in Rochester.

Other measures include increasing the street-crime task force, reassigning officers from desk jobs to the streets and using police academy cadets to help shut down open-air drug markets.
"This community is full of visionaries, who think outside the box and aren't afraid to take risks," Moore said. "I'm absolutely confident Rochester will become a model city for others to follow."