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Reducing Chicago's Violence: A 10-Point Plan

Criminal violence seems to be falling in America long term, even in Chicago. But it is recently on the increase in Chicago and other places. Five strands of thought seem to permeate thinking about reducing this spike in criminal violence: (1) increase get-tough criminal justice system intervention, such as more police and longer prison sentences; (2) interrupt the "cradle to prison" pipeline by improving schools and implementing restorative justice programs; (3) gun restriction and control; (4) eliminate the racial bias of police, and; (5) bring more good jobs to lower income areas.

Often, policy-makers and activists focus on just one of the above as the solution towards reducing crime in general and for solving the problem of violent crime in particular.

There is a sixth way which I consider more broad-based and integrative, which is to drastically reconfigure the policy handles in the underlying frameworks in which criminal activity takes place: the legal basis for what activities are criminal and what are not; how police are trained; changing the mix of the law enforcement activity between civilians and police; how our education system works, and; a basic minimum income policy.

This reconfiguration deals with aspects of our crime control environment that need more emphasis. Most of these strategies are not expensive and the costs can be offset by increases in human capital or reduced costs in some other parts of the fiscal system (e.g., reduced prison and health care costs.) Many can be implemented at the municipal level. Some, like Nos. 1, 6 and 10 below, require help from the federal government.

I do not claim these are the answers to reducing violent crime. As an academic with a lifelong interest in urban policy, this is just my contribution to the conversation on how to think about making places in the USA safer and more humane to live in. I am thankful to the scholars and writers upon whose shoulders I stand.

1. Decriminalize all street drugs.

Police could then be redeployed towards community policing and focus on prevention of serious non-consensual crime such as burglary, robbery, aggravated assault, rape, DUI, and murder. Street drug use would still be against the law to sell or use, but would be mostly funneled through the social service and health care systems, much like in Portugal. Strength of enforcement on the supply side in particular neighborhoods could be made contingent on the rate of shootings in those neighborhoods, using this as leverage to encourage de-escalating the violence.

To help make this work, a demand reduction strategy is called for, not by incarcerating drug users but by improving the lives of the drug users. Here are some ways to do that:

A) Periodic internet reports on the quality of current street drugs, including the integrity of ingredients and the strength of dose;

B) Readily accessible effective drug treatment programs, including drug maintenance and substitution;

C) Medically supervised safe injection centers such as Vancouver's InSite program and one proposed for Ithaca, New York, and;

D) Affordable supportive housing for drug addicts.

2. Social work training as part of the requirements for police academy training.

Police need to be multifaceted and able to view their world through the eyes of social workers, learning some of their resource referral and interpersonal skills, and be able to collaborate with social workers, drug counselors, mental health workers and educators as part of an overall community mobilization safety strategy. Requiring a one-year social work certificate or a two-year social work associate degree would seem a good place to start. While such educational programs do not presently exist in Chicago, surplus capacity in higher education here could easily allow the creation of this or its equivalent.

3. Resident neighborhood 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 duty. An example of this are: Mothers (and Men) Against Senseless Killings, a group of parents in Englewood who gather at 75th and Stewart (and other intersections) each day from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. to patrol the neighborhood and encourage community support to make Englewood safer.

It is my view that each effort at citizen patrol needs to be customized to each neighborhood. Good case studies and evaluation research would help inform which efforts are likely to be the most effective at reducing person-to-person violence, cop-to-person violence, and person-to cop-violence.

4. Firearms training in middle school and high school.

This training would include graphically showing what medically happens when someone is shot, and teaching knowledge of the laws regarding firearms. Integrate this with explaining the "cradle to prison" trajectory, how to avoid it, the consequences of having a criminal record, and learning about due process rights as in the 4th, 5th, 6th and 14th Amendments, as well as various interpretations of the 2nd Amendment. Children are surrounded by guns and gun culture, on the streets and on TV, and are often taught how to use guns on the streets. Reality education on the use and harms of guns need to be provided.

While I support a ban on sales of assault weapons - semi-automatic firearms with a detachable magazine and a pistol grip - many in the general population will still own hand guns and long guns as weapons for personal protection and tools of sport (about 40% of households). If people are to possess deadly weapons they need to know how to use them and their consequences. Licenses with background checks should be required for all firearms ownership including passing a firearms test.

5. Peaceful, non-violent, conflict resolution training.

While proposal No. 4 just acknowledged that the U.S. is a gun culture country and tries to reduce the harm from that, countervailing efforts need to be placed on the importance of peaceful, non-violent, dispute resolution. The underpinnings of this should be in mandatory curriculum starting in elementary school and include ideas of the great thinkers of peace and protest, including Martin Luther King Jr. , Cesar Chavez, Saul Alinsky, M. K. Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and the Dalai Lama. Along with this, there is need for hands-on course work on emotional awareness, managing anger, communication styles, examining assumptions, mediation, arbitration, negotiation, bargaining, restorative justice practices, and community organizing.

6. No person under 21 does nothing after dropping out or graduating high school.

There should be a creation or expansion of programs that have this as their objective. This would include:

A) Tuition-free undergraduate college with strong tutoring relationships;

B) Not necessarily excluding people with criminal records from entering the military;

C) Private sector paid apprenticeship programs;

D) Entrepreneurship training programs, including having a relevant mentor;

E) Community service within the U.S.;

F) A Junior Peace Corps program targeted to Africa and Latin America;

G) Help in getting people get jobs outside of Chicago in places where the environment may be more education- and legal work-oriented. As a first approximation, I choose Iowa, Nebraska, New Jersey and Wisconsin, the states with the highest high school graduation rates.

An important aspect of programs is that they should not have severe restrictions against youth with criminal records.

7. Encourage gangs to transform from criminal organizations to social clubs (e.g., fraternities, motorcycle clubs, sport clubs, and political associations).

We have historical examples of this, and these should be examined for replication. Examples in Chicago include: the Hamburg Athletic Club, the Young Lords, and the Conservative Vice Lords.

As a contract to a community based non-profit organization, there needs to be an Office of Gang Management and Negotiation which is part think tank and part diplomatic center. The mission would be to directly work with gangs, facilitate gang summits, create economic alternatives, and consider the best structure and optimal degree of organization of gangs.

The goal would be to create win-win situations for gangs-neighborhoods, and to internalize the cost of violence to gangs and thereby create incentives to deescalate the violence.

For example, consider two separate micro-gangs, each claiming a one-block sized territory on different sides of a major thoroughfare. If they could be encouraged to merge, shootings based on gang rivalry would decrease in this neighborhood.

If, in addition, a distinct hierarchy emerges, there is now someone to negotiate with for a safer neighborhood. Organized crime is bad, but sometimes disorganized crime is worse.

Over time, negotiations could result in gang exits from criminal activity.

Of course, not all shootings are gang-related, but this would be step towards street peace.

8. Encourage those who work outside to observe and dampen crime.

Increase the number of businesses that operate outside on the street (e.g., newsstands, convenience kiosks, 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.

I studied the old Maxwell Street Market for many years. I was alway impressed by its function as a business incubator, source of jobs, safety net, social capital creator, and safe meeting place for people across different ethnicities, classes, and gang affiliations. The City should expand its current New Maxwell Street Market and set up similar street markets on the West and South Sides.

9. Supportive urban development and real estate development policies that reduce (not increase) class and race segregation and that maintain (not destroy) longstanding neighborhoods and their mutual aid and social surveillance connections.

There is little understanding in most city halls of the increase in crime caused by real estate development and neighborhood turnover. Mayors seem to salivate at every opportunity for pushing low income people out of neighborhoods where the real estate tax base can be increased by gentrification of higher income people, who demand fewer social services.

Longstanding neighborhoods with longstanding residents are, in general, safer because of the greater concern about safety and knowledge of how to maintain that safety. Longtime residents know better who belongs and who doesn't and have an incentive to protect each other. Communities where residents feel a sense of connection to and responsibility for one another are safer communities. Low income communities with old housing stock may need improvements but not population replacement or destruction.

10. Supportive economic policy to create high employment, high wage rates, and to reduce inequality, including a basic minimum income and consideration of industrial policy.

Increases in government spending are not only stimulative but provide the resources to carry out many of the new policies suggested above. However, reducing criminal violence will likely involve more than just macroeconomic stimulation because a large part of the economic stress in low income neighborhoods is in the realm of structural unemployment, a mismatch between the people who live in these neighborhood and skill requirements of available good jobs and their location.

Training for jobs that exist or will exist is important to do but I am not sure we know how to do that. Even with tax breaks and subsidies, businesses will be very reluctant to move into or even remain in neighborhoods with widespread violent crime, or even the image of being a place of widespread violent crime.

Perhaps neighborhood residents' patrols, can also take on the added function, with assistance from government and foundations, of neighborhood chambers of commerce. These chambers can act not only to try to lure new businesses to the community but also to help protect the businesses and their employees from harm - through patrol, but also as a liaison having lines of communications to all elements of the community, above-ground and underground.

Steve Balkin is a professor emeritus at Roosevelt University.

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Previously by (or including) Steve Balkin:
* The Maxwell Street Muddle.

* Maxwell Street Malfeasance.

* City Needs New Policy For The Maxwell Street Market: An Open Letter To Mayor-Elect Emanuel.

* The Maxwell Street Market Vendors Association Wants You To Like Them.

* The Olympic Bid That Could Have Been.

* Lil Scotty: 'Give Him His Flowers While He Lives.'

* Remembering Lil Scotty: Bluesman, Buttonman.

* Remembering Lacy Gibson, Master Bluesman.

* Here's To Bobby Too Tuff.

* Continuing The Political Revolution.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on September 7, 2016


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