Friday, January 27, 2012

Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn't and What's Promising

Here's a link to a report organized and funded by the Department of Justice in which a number of criminologists discuss the latest research on crime prevention.  There might be some useful information in here for how New Orleans might deal with the problem of violent crime.  Keeping in mind the root causes of violent crime which are located in entrenched, sustained poverty and racism and social isolation (and the long term, fundamental solutions that this requires--i.e., jobs, schools, mental health), this report might offer some ideas on more immediate solutions.

Chapter 8 of the report focuses on police.  Changes in policing is often one of the more immediate moves that municipalities can make.  While it doesn't address the root causes of violent behavior, the report suggests that measured, strategically located community policing can have some effect on violent behavior. I offer an excerpt below:

Community policing programs offer one opportunity to increase police presence in the highest crime communities. Like police resources generally, the 1994 Crime Act puts a large portion of its 100,000 police where the people are, but not where the crime is. The scientific evidence increasingly suggests the effectiveness of much greater concentration of federal funding in the neighborhoods which need police the most. While such policies would fly in the face of distributional politics (Biden, 1994), they are strongly implied (although not proven) by studies of police effects on crime in low and high crime areas. The Federal funding of police overtime could also be more effective if available funds were channeled to the small number of neighborhoods generating most of the handgun homicide in the nation.
Yet research also shows that police presence can backfire if it is provided in a disrespectful manner. Rude or hostile treatment of citizens, especially juveniles, can provoke angry reactions that increase the risk of future offending (Tyler, 1991). Flooding high crime communities with aggressive police could backfire terribly, causing more crime than it prevents, as it has in repeated race riots over the past quarter century. The challenge is to develop programs that make policing simultaneously more focused in what they do to prevent crime and more polite in how they do it.

It's important to keep in mind, however, and as the report suggests, crime fighting requires work and effort in a number of realms, from family to school, to labor markets, to places.  Effective violence prevention strategies need to take this holistic approach into account.  City governments should work with members of high crime communities, schools, and families to strategize on how to work collaboratively.

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