To reduce criminal violence requires a drastic reconfiguration of policies that involve underlying environments in which criminal activity takes place. This blog post focuses on 10 strategies which seek to reimagine the system. These would be complementary to efforts at reducing incarcerated populations on the basis of decreasing racial bias, improving mental health, social justice, and reducing risk to Covid-19.
1. Decriminalise all street drugs
Police could then be redeployed towards community policing and focus on prevention of serious non-consensual crime. Street drug use would still be against the law to sell or use, but would be funnelled through the social service and health care systems, much like in Portugal. Strength of enforcement on the supply side could be made contingent on the rate of shootings in neighbourhoods, using this as leverage to encourage de-escalating street violence.
A demand reduction strategy should also be implemented by improving the lives of the drug users. Strategies to do this should include public reporting on the integrity of ingredients of current street drugs; readily accessible effective drug treatment programs, including drug maintenance and substitution; medically supervised safe injection centres such as Vancouver’s InSite program; and affordable supportive housing for drug addicts.
2. Police Social Work Training
Social work training should be a part of police education. Policing skills ought to be a hybrid mix of casework problem solving in the moment, knowledge of the law, using discretion to promote peace, and learning to apply the least force possible when force must be used. Police need to be able to view their world through the eyes of social workers, learning resource referral and interpersonal skills, and be able to collaborate with full time social workers, drug counsellors, mental health workers, and educators as part of an overall community mobilisation safety strategy. Requiring a one-year social work certificate or a two-year social work associate degree would seem a good place to start.
3. Resident neighbourhood patrols that could observe crime and the police
Trust and cooperation between police and communities will occur more readily when community members are active in peace-keeping functions and making sure there are observational checks on all who perform a police function such as municipal police, private guards, and citizen watch programs. Each effort at citizen patrol needs to be customised to the context of each neighbourhood. Good case studies and evaluation research would help inform which efforts are likely to be the most effective at reducing person-to-person violence, police-to-person violence, and person-to-police violence.
4. Firearms awareness in middle school and high school
This training would include realistically showing what medically happens when someone is shot and teaching the laws regarding firearms. In these courses, students should be made aware of the “cradle to prison“ trajectory, how to avoid it, the consequences of having a criminal record, and learning about due process rights. Similar to automobile driving, licenses with background checks and a written test should be required for all who seek firearms ownership, including passing a firearms use test and demonstrating knowledge and resources for storing guns.
5. Peaceful, non-violent, conflict resolution training
There should be instruction on the importance of peaceful, non-violent, dispute resolution. This can be accomplished with a mandatory curriculum starting in elementary school and include ideas of the great thinkers of peace and protest, along with readings, exercises, and experiences on emotional awareness, managing anger, communication styles, how to organise volunteer marshals at protests, examining assumptions in critical thinking, mediation, arbitration, negotiation, conflict management, restorative justice practices, and community organising.
6. No person under 24 does nothing
For youth who do not go immediately on to post-secondary education or training, nor have a full time job, programs are needed that provide meaningful and useful activities until age 24, the most criminogenic age range. This compensatory boost should include: tuition-free undergraduate college, allowing people with criminal records to enter the military; paid apprenticeship programs; entrepreneurship training programs; paid community service; junior peace corps programs, and getting youth jobs in places outside of one’s neighbourhood where the environment may be more education and career oriented.
7. Gang transformation
Encourage gangs to transform from criminal organisations to social clubs such as fraternities, motorcycle clubs, sport clubs, and political associations. We have historical examples of this in Chicago such as the Hamburg Athletic Club, the Young Lords, and the Conservative Vice Lords. There needs to be an agency for Gang Management and Negotiation which is part think tank and part diplomatic center. Police gang enforcement units have not been too successful. The new mission would be to directly work with gangs or people likely to join gangs, facilitate gang summits, organise a system of inter-gang jurisprudence to reduce acts of revenge, retribution, and retaliation, create economic alternatives, and consider the best structure and optimal degree of organisation of gangs. The goal would be to create win-win situations for gangs and neighbourhoods, and to internalise the cost of violence to gangs, thereby creating incentives to deescalate the violence.
8. Encourage those who work outside to observe and dampen crime
Increase the number of businesses that operate outside on the street, such as newsstands, convenience kiosks, produce peddlers, and street vendors, to generate crime-reducing and fear-reducing pedestrian activity. This could also be a source of job creation for at-risk youth and ex-prisoners. Many public street markets function as a business incubator, source of jobs, economic safety net, social capital creator, and safe meeting place for people across different ethnicity, class, and gang affiliations. Markets that do this should be created in all neighbourhoods but first priority should be to generate them in lower income urban neighbourhoods.
9. Supportive urban development and real estate development
These are policies that reduce (not increase) class and race segregation and that maintain (not destroy) longstanding neighbourhoods and their mutual aid and social surveillance connections. Communities where residents feel a sense of connection to and responsibility for one another (sometimes called collective efficacy and social cohesion) are safer communities. Low income communities with old housing stock may need improvements but not population replacement nor destruction, which has a secondary effect of pushing outsider-gangs into existing other-gang territory that results in violence escalation.
10. Supportive economic policy to create high employment, high wage rates, and reduce inequality
Reducing violence will likely involve more than just macroeconomic stimulation because a large part of the economic stress in low income neighbourhoods is in the realm of structural unemployment, a mismatch between the people who live in these neighbourhoods and skill requirements of available good jobs in that location. Providing training for jobs that exist or will exist is important to do. A federal basic minimum income or a public employer of last resort may be needed at least until the job destroying local violence is overcome.
Making neighbourhoods safer will require widespread contributions of effort and creative policy thinking.
Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Social Policy Blog, nor of the London School of Economics.