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How community initiatives disrupt gang violence

Research shows that to reduce gang-related homicides, law enforcement, social services and the community must work together


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How community initiatives disrupt gang violence

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By Patrick Welsh, contributor to In Public Safety

Over the last 25 years, research shows that the best – and most sustainable – approach to reducing gang homicides is a three-pronged initiative involving law enforcement, social services and the community.

Such an initiative is commonly referred to as a Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, or CIRV. CIRV started in Boston in 1996 and has been replicated throughout the country in agencies of all sizes and cities of various demographics.

In Dayton, Trotwood and Montgomery County, CIRV has been used to reduce gang-related gun violence and homicides. The local initiative was dubbed Community Initiative to Reduce Gun Violence (CIRGV). It provides life-changing support to individuals who desire positive transformation in their lives, and engages the moral voice of the community to promote a neighborhood standard that openly values life and safety while denouncing gun violence. Law enforcement supports the initiative through enhanced multi-jurisdictional policing efforts.

Through coordination between law enforcement, the community and social services teams, CIRGV disrupts the cycle of violence by:

Research shows that the best – and most sustainable – approach to reducing gang homicides is a three-pronged initiative involving law enforcement, social services and the community. (Photo/P1)
Research shows that the best – and most sustainable – approach to reducing gang homicides is a three-pronged initiative involving law enforcement, social services and the community. (Photo/P1)
  • Clearly informing the public and those involved in high-risk lifestyles of the consequences of gun violence and its impact on the community.
  • Empowering the community to be a moral voice that speaks out against gun violence.
  • Engaging gun violence survivors and their families in educating the public on the impact of gun violence.
  • Providing life-changing supportive services to those who want to get out of the cycle of violence.
  • Improving communication and coordination among multi-jurisdictional law enforcement agencies.

Initially, the response of many cops to a CIRV initiative is: “That’s a bunch of liberal, ivory-tower crap. I’m not going to hug a thug. I’m going to do real police work and lock them up.” I had that same initial reaction in 2008 when I was placed in charge of setting up the CIRV initiative to reduce the number of homicides attributed to gangs in Dayton, Ohio. I’ll admit that my doubt was misguided. Looking back, the program worked extremely well for our department and I’m proud to say the initiative is still going strong today.

COLLECTING DATA ON GANG HOMICIDES

The CIRGV initiative focused specifically on group member involved (GMI) – or gang – homicides. Representatives of Dayton PD, Trotwood PD and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) began by utilizing the Problem Analysis Triangle model of POP (Offender/Place/Target or Victim) to conduct an in-depth problem analysis.

All firearm-related violent crime data in the city of Dayton was compiled for the complete years of 2000 through May 31, 2008. This included crimes, victims and incidents. This data was broken down and tracked by month and year, and a comparison graph was generated to reflect trends for firearm-related violent crimes. The results were as follows: 

  • 161 homicides
  • 759 non-fatal firearm injuries
  • 59 forcible rapes
  • 2,487 armed robberies 
  • 1,386 aggravated assaults

Looking at January 1, 2005, through January 1, 2008, we reviewed every homicide from Dayton, Trotwood and Montgomery counties with the purpose of identifying some of the following key characteristics:

  • Victim name
  • Incident synopsis
  • Offender/suspect name
  • Victim known to review team
  • Offender known to review team
  • Incident known to review team
  • Weapon used
  • Victim involved with street group
  • Offender involved with street group
  • Incident connected with previous homicide/violence
  • Incident connected with subsequent homicide/violence
  • Running dispute between groups/individual(s)
  • Sudden dispute
  • Respect issue
  • Drug business
  • Drug robbery
  • Other robbery
  • Domestic
  • Other

From this review the following data was revealed:

  • Total homicides – 91
  • 35 were GMI homicides (38.5 percent) 

Causes of these homicides were: 

  • Drug related – 14
  • Respect issue – 11
  • Running dispute – 5
  • Robbery – 5
  • Sudden dispute – 4

(Note: Total exceeds 35 because some homicides had multiple underlying reasons.)

GATHERING INTELLIGENCE ON GANG MEMBERS

Once we had collected the above data, an eight-hour intelligence gathering session was held. The following agencies were represented: Dayton PD (all five districts and Special Investigations Division); Trotwood (Patrol and Detectives); MCSO (Patrol and Detectives); FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); DEA; Metro Parks; Adult Probation; and Adult Parole.

The purpose of this session was to identify:

  • Known groups and their members
  • Type of group (adult, juveniles, both)
  • Level of violence (low, medium, high)
  • Territorial boundaries of group
  • Illegal activities of group
  • Alliances between groups
  • Feuds between groups
  • Any additional info

This session resulted in the following:

  • 39 identified groups
  • 541 identified members by name
  • 57 members on probation or parole

Follow-up intel sessions were held annually and the identified group members/affiliates grew to over 900 individuals in 50+ identified groups, with several hundreds of those individuals being on probation or parole. The identified groups and members were geographically located in 2nd, 3rd and 5th Districts in the City of Dayton, Crown Point and various neighborhoods within Trotwood and Harrison Township.

We found that 38 percent of the total number of homicides in the three-agency region were committed by 0.03 percent of the population in the same region. The offenders were identified as members of various gangs who had a measurable amount of documented violent behavior in specific areas of the region. Furthermore, 79 percent of all homicides were committed by firearm. 

To reduce the number of GMI homicides and residually reduce the overall number of homicides, CIRGV was initiated between Dayton, Trotwood and MCSO using the data recorded/collated. The local initiative was based on CIGV best practices involving law enforcement, the community, and social services strategies.

LAUNCHING THE CIRGV STRATEGY

Initially, the judges of the Montgomery County Courts were briefed on the CIRGV initiative, including our methodology of identifying gang members and related homicides over the previous three years. We needed their buy-in in order to conduct call-in sessions with known gang members who were on probation or parole. 

“Call-in sessions” was the term we utilized to order gang members into a courtroom and be addressed by the court, law enforcement and social services.

With the judges’ approval, group members identified as being on probation or parole were ordered into the first call-in session, in a Common Pleas courtroom, as a condition of their supervised parole or probation. Each member was personally served with an order by their probation officer (PO) and failure to appear as ordered would result in an arrest warrant being issued. Additionally, the PO would initiate the proper paperwork to revocate the member’s probation/parole. 

DURING THE CALL-IN SESSION

Members of law enforcement, including representatives of Dayton PD, Trotwood PD, MCSO, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office, delivered a message to the group members gathered at the call-in session. In the three-hour session, it was explained that the groups and their members must put down their guns and stop the killing or face intense law enforcement response from the combined agencies. 

We made it clear that anytime there was a GMI homicide, the group responsible for pulling the trigger would be targeted for any and all legal enforcement action; all members of the group would be targeted regardless of their involvement in the underlying homicide. We also emphasized to the group members that any violence linked to their group would result in law enforcement requesting revocation of their parole/probation status. 

The gang members were told that law enforcement’s first course of action when a gang-related homicide occurred would be to place all new cases into the federal system, not state court. Next, members of social services agencies offered assistance to the group members to help them exit the violent group environment by navigating them through social services programs (commonly referred to as an “honorable exit”). These social services agencies also reinforced the message that failure to get out of the group may result in being targeted by law enforcement.

Finally, a member of the community whose family member was the victim of a GMI homicide delivered a message as the “moral voice” of the community. The speaker shared the pain of losing a loved one, the impact on family members, the community’s condemnation of the violence, and their support of law enforcement in stopping the killing through group targeted enforcement strategies.

NEXT STEPS IN THE CIRGV STRATEGY

The combined law enforcement agencies met to develop and execute enforcement strategies targeting groups responsible for future homicides. This did not involve any new enforcement units being created, manpower reallocation, or funding. Instead, within existing patrol and narcotics enforcement units, we developed strategies to go after gang members whose group was responsible for a homicide. 

From quality of life violations (e.g., loud music, disorderly conduct and other misdemeanor offenses), to felony drug investigations, to POs increasing random urine analysis testing, every identified gang member on probation and parole was fair game for any and all legal means of getting them off the street and locked up in order to interrupt the cycle of gang violence.

Responsibility after a GMI homicide was determined through intelligence gathering, informants, evidence gained through investigations, and Crime Stoppers tips. Regardless of whether there was probable cause to make an arrest for the underlying homicide, the decision to launch enforcement efforts lay with the commander of the Special Investigations Division of the Dayton Police Department. If such a determination was made, the CIRGV enforcement efforts were launched against the entire group.

This same message was made abundantly clear to the gang members who attended the call-in session.
Additionally, the CIRGV law enforcement team kept track of GMI homicide rates and of group members opting for “honorable exit” opportunities. Within months of the next GMI homicide after the first call-in session, we had gang members who had attended the session reporting to us who was responsible – they did not want the police to think it was their group and suffer the enforcement actions they knew would be coming.

Finally, groundwork was laid to institutionalize the initiative’s practices as the way of doing business in response to all future GMI homicides in Dayton and the surrounding communities. A formal Community Police Relations Council was formed and a full-time coordinator hired to administer the various services of CIRGV.

OUTCOMES OF THE CIRGV INITIATIVE

From the launch of the first call-in in March 2008 through to the end of 2010, CIRGV recognized a 64 percent reduction in GMI homicides.

Not only has CIRGV significantly reduced gang-related homicides; in addition, the 2017 Community Survey by the City of Dayton indicated that community police relations improved to a 57 percent citizen satisfaction rating. Also, the survey revealed a significant increase in the perceived safety of neighborhood residents who were once plagued by gang-related homicides. While there is still more to be done, the reduction in gun violence and gang homicides over the 10-year period speaks for itself.

The honorable exit strategies also proved successful. Social services agencies reported a marked increase in gang members voluntarily coming forward to seek help to get out of the gang life. Support services included anger management counseling, drug rehabilitation, getting a GED, or simply getting a driver’s license and employment counseling. By offering quality services, the community was able to overcome all the excuses as to why someone would stay in a gang or join in the first place.

The bottom line is that the police and community came together with a unified message and supported one another. Building relationships between the police, social services, faith-based organizations and community members, without sacrificing the law enforcement mission of the police, proved to be the right thing at the right time. The initiative was implemented in the right way for the right reasons – with the right results.

And the “hug a thug” mentality? The only hug I ever got was from a gang member who hugged and thanked me for saving his life by providing the help he needed to get out, and stay out, of the gang life.
 


About the Author: Patrick J. Welsh is founder and president of PJ Welsh and Associates, LLC, a leadership consulting firm specializing in developing and maintaining a “Warrior, Servant, Leader” mindset and behavior in the workplace, home and community. He is the author of the Best New Release, Warrior-Servant-Leader: Life Behind the Badge. As a consultant, trainer and keynote speaker, he has worked with thousands of law enforcement professionals across the United States, including civilian and USAF Security Forces personnel. Patrick is an adjunct instructor with the University of Louisville, Southern Police Institute. He is also a graduate of the FBINA and Police Executive Leadership College. In addition to his 26-year career in law enforcement, Patrick was a practicing attorney for 30 years and a former prosecutor. To contact him email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.

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