June 18th, 2009 By | News | Posted In: Public Policy, Social Justice, Government

'New Yorker' Highlights Cincinnati's Anti-Gang Efforts


The lead feature article in the new issue of The New Yorker focuses on the anti-gang program Cincinnati implemented two years ago. John Seabrook's "Don't Shoot" is a long, well-researched and well-written story about David Kennedy, who devised the "Ceasefire" crime-fighting model in Boston, and his experiences here implementing C.I.R.V. (Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Crime).

If you're a New Yorker web site subscriber, you can see the full story here. Otherwise, the best I can do online right now is link to the article's "abstract."

Kennedy first came to Cincinnati in fall 2006 to discuss his "Ceasefire" program, which had been successful in Boston in helping reduce drug- and gang-related murders. Kennedy is director of the Center on Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and developed the concept while at Harvard University. (For background, see Kevin Osborne's February 2007 story "Finally Ready for a Ceasefire" and my October 2006 editorial "It's a Crime.")

Among the article's interesting tidbits:

• In general Cincinnati Police leaders don't think much of crime-fighting ideas suggested by academia ("They like theories, we like results," Capt. Daniel Gerard says) or social service folks ("Social people hug thugs. We kick their butts," Lt. Col. James Whalen says).

• The C.I.R.V. team hosted five "call-ins" between July 2007 and December 2008 — known gang leaders were brought together in a sort of intervention when cops, attorneys, social workers and ex-cons tried to change their criminal behavior through a combination of threats, fear, appeal to conscience and tough love. Seabrook was allowed to attend the most recent one.

• C.I.R.V. almost imploded last summer after a poorly planned and executed "call-in." Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. wanted to pull police leaders off the team, but Mayor Mark Mallory talked him into staying.

• Dr. Victor Garcia, director of trauma services at Children's Hospital Medical Center who was instrumental in bringing Kennedy to town and in forming C.I.R.V., was dismissed from the C.I.R.V. team last month, apparently over philosophical differences with Kennedy.

• Streicher found a job for one gang leader with a roofing company owned by a friend.

06.28.2009 at 10:33 Reply
I am compelled to clarify several points that were cited in the New Yorker Magazine article and referenced in the recent City Beat article. As a pediatric surgeon, (and on this point I think I reflect the thinking of all the trauma surgeons in this city) there can be no more compelling and unambiguous goal but to stem the tide of children and young adults with gunshot wounds in this city. Appreciating the increasingly younger ages suffering gunshot wounds, this goal has become an obsession. Gunshot wounds is the leading cause of death for black males 15-20 years of age. Inner city violence is a public health crisis on par or worse than any SARS, AIDS, or TB epidemic. It is correct that what led me to ask David Kennedy to come Cincinnati is the prospect of a quick and dramatic reduction in gun-violence and related killings with the implementation of his ‘pulling levers’ strategy to reduce gang-violence. It is not correct that my philosophy fundamentally differs from Kennedy’s. Where we do differ is where the exclamation point should be placed. After reviewing other cities’ experience with Kennedy’s model, I appreciate that with one exception the reductions in homicides were not sustained over the long term, leading me to conclude that focused deterrence is necessary but it alone is not sufficient. I and other ‘civilian members of the CIRV team posited that a proportionate if not even more robust services and community mobilization strategy must be developed and in place to sustain the reductions in homicides. In most cities, where Kennedy’s model was implemented, the reduction in homicides achieved over 2-4 years were NOT sustained over the long-term. What was most easily developed and most heavily employed as the primary lever in those cities was the ‘focused deterrence’ – the credible threat of severe sanctions, of being put in prison for a long time. Though Kennedy says that social services and employment opportunities are part of his model he admitted to us that in his experience no city has done a good job of putting services strategy together. Furthermore, anticipated that we would not get much of a response to our offer of services. What the ‘civilian members of the CIRV team put together was a ‘paradigm shift’ as it relates to the Services and Community components of CIRV. We believe that this was the ‘missing link’, not found in Kennedy’s other cities, and necessary element to insure that the initial reductions in homicides are sustained. Equally important, we believed that unless we are able to deliver on the promise of hope and help, CIRV will not and cannot keep the black community engaged as willing partners in what must be a generation long initiative to effectively address the structural and cultural forces the drive and enable inner city violence. These are forces that are not going to give way to solely the threat of sanctions. The early results in the realms of connecting with gang members and getting them to seek help exceeded everyone’s expectations. And in my view it is continued results like those we achieved in the early goings of CIRV that will necessary for sustained reductions in shootings and homicides. Law enforcement alone cannot bring this about. My vision, one shared with many other members of the CIRV team, was ultimately of using CIRV to transform the impoverished areas of the black community and in so doing bring about the fundamental changes that are needed to sustained the reductions in violence over the LONG TERM. My dream was that CIRV did such a great job in offering employment options and transitioning former gang-members into meaningful employment that offered opportunities for advancement and health benefits that carrying out the threats would rarely be necessary. My dream was that, unlike Boston, Stockton, Indianapolis, Oakland, Minneapolis, Cincinnati would not look back 5 years from now and see homicides back up to or beyond the 2006 record high. I don’t disagree on the need to focus on the most violent groups and mete out justice where it is warranted. Where there is disagreement is that the exclamation point should be on services- on an equally credible and meaningful opportunity to make a legitimate, legal living wage. That is not being an evangelist. It is being a realist. As Dante Ingram, the former gang leader now CIRV street advocate and featured in the New Yorker Magazine article noted, it was not the threats from the police that swayed him. He was more influenced by the community-services, potential for employment aspect of CIRV than by the threat of swift and certain punishment. “Threats don’t mean nothing to these guys”, Dante said. I know why the caged bird sings and it makes me want to holler. Victor F. Garcia M.D.


07.10.2009 at 10:52 Reply
I thought the article was very interesting and as a lifelong resident of Cincinnati I am flattered that a magazine such as the New Yorker would take interest in our city. I am ashamed however that our violent streets are what sparked the editors' insterest in our fair city. The time spanning 2001 and 2007 saw the worst violence that city has seen since its turn of the century reputation as a cuthroat rivertown. During these years I lost several friends and acquaintances to gun violence, and several others survived gunshot wounds. I agree with the Doctor's comments below in that Mr. Kennedy's approach is not sustainable. The city still experiences at least one shooting everyday, and if no one is shot on a Wednesday two people are shot on a Thursday to make up for it. This is completely unacceptable for a city that boasts having the headquarters for several multinational corporations. I believe that the 'Don't Shoot' approach falls short in one major aspect which is this; The premise of this approach is that a small group of hardened criminals commit an extremely disproportianate amount of violent crimes. This is certainly true, but this approach is not alone in failing to address the fact that while these current bands of hardcore shooters may be pressured into ceasing fire, young adolescents are in training to take their spot as we speak. If the deeply entrenched poverty and systemic breakdown of familial relationships is not repaired, younger children and teens will continue to grow into the 17-23 year old gunmen that Kennedy has appeared to target in this project. Regardless, I applaud Mr. Kennedy's creativity and any success he has achieved with this project here and in other U.S. cities, and I am certainly impressed with the willingness of local government entities and law enforcement to accept outside help and try a new approach to combat crime. It is ignorant and irresponsible to think that America will one day be free of gun violence. Yet it is completely unacceptable to have daily gun battles occuring in our neighborhoods. It seems that David Kennedy has at the very least created a 'school of though' on this issue that he and others may improve upon to sustainably reduce gun violence in our cities. A pediatric surgeon should certainly not have to worry about bullet wounds.