Saturday, October 27, 2012

My Short Take on the Reducing Lethal Violence symposium at Loyal University

I attended the symposium on preventing violent crime at Loyal University on Friday.  I planned on attending the whole day, but got caught up having to take care of other responsibilities during the lunch break that took a while.  I listened to the some of the second half of David Kennedy's talk, but unfortunately missed Nikki Jones' talk.  Female crime and violence is an under-studied area of criminology and she's making some good contributions.  I saw Ronal Serpas, Robert Sampson and Karen DeSalvo speak.

I haven't heard many police chiefs speak or address the public, but I get a sense that Serpas does more than most, and he's willing to accept the limitations of policing for solving violent crime way better than most.  There's no doubt room for improvement, but he's pretty good for what's usually the case.  At the beginning of his talk an audience member called out a question on police brutality.  It's a necessary question, and while it was the wrong time to ask such a question it brought up an important issue.  While Serpas didn't answer his question then, during the Q&A period he discussed recent work to create a new form of assessment within the police department that is more closely aligned with the department's goals of better "customer service." This might help address what that questioner yelled out.  Regardless, the question brought up the need of constant oversight of the police department.  Institutions that formally give people power over others, such as the police, are inherently susceptible to abuse and need to be independently monitored.  The city has an independent police monitor, but from what I've heard, she doesn't have much power to do anything.

Robert Sampson's talk was good.  You could tell he wanted to walk around a bit and talk kind of casually (I'd probably want to do the same), but he didn't have a mic to take with him.  His slides and presentation were interesting.  He's big on collective efficacy (the extent to which groups of people can recognize and work together to address shared concerns) but also discussed how local non-profits are important elements in creating and maintaining neighborhood level noms and informal controls.  I think one thing the city should take away from his talk is the focus on eco-metrics of neighborhoods.  These should be largely open ended assessments of basic needs and services.  John Powell-of the Kirwan Institute at OSU-did some work on this after Katrina.  He called it "opportunity mapping."  This could help the city better serve its residents.

I was most impressed with Karen DeSalvo and her work with NolaforLife.  As a social scientist, I've been advocating a public health perspective as necessary for understanding the emergence and continuation of crime.  It's way more holistic and dynamic that what's found in most criminological research on the causes of crime and violence.  Dr. DeSalvo's understanding of the complex issues of public health and violence are very reassuring and show that Landrieu is serious about trying to prevent violent crime in the city.  She was asked good, and sometimes challenging questions, and she answered them with real compassionate thought and thoroughness.

From what I saw-only catching a little of Kennedy's talk-I think the city can really benefit from taking serious what two audience members discussed.  To what extent do the local churches' interests conflict with the families and residents of the neighborhoods?  Criminology is constantly criticized for ignoring the unique needs and perspectives of the residents they're trying to help.  I think the city's already strong approach could really benefit, both in the immediate and the long-run, from taking serious what families  and neighborhood residents want.  Two audience members brought it up.  One from central-city was butting up against the local churches in trying to implement some different programs in his neighborhood (I don't recall if he said what exactly). Listening to families is one of the secrets behind the social work and Canadian-influenced psychological research on crime prevention. It doesn't mean that you just do whatever they say, but you listen to the things that are making life more challenging for them (the sources of stress and anxiety that DeSalvo noted) and you find empirically supportive and verifiable ways of alleviating those problems.  This inductive and grounded lens seems to fit nicely into a public health perspective.  Nothing can hurt by listening.

I did want to ask a question about mental and physical health care, however.  There's lots of work to "educate" people about healthy behaviors.  This is useful, but not very effective absent real access.  I've read some ethnographic work on servicing populations of homeless, long-term injection drug users and the main suggestion is to deliver services to them (e.g., needle exchange).  They're aware of risky health behaviors and don't really need more education, but access.  The other key point is that they often are dealing with other immediate needs that make it difficult to make time for taking care of their health needs.  I bet that home delivery (and assessment) of health care would be hugely beneficial for the communities highlighted in the Dr. DeSalvo's talk.  Door-to-door visits, assessing physical and mental health needs, setting up appointments to deliver services or to get people networked would be a great service.  Plus, it could be done in conjunction with Sampson's eco-metrics.

David Kennedy concluded his talk by noting the National Network for Safe Communities Kennedy co-chairs. From its Mission Statement:

For nearly fifteen years, scores of jurisdictions across the country have been implementing two effective strategies to reduce violence and eliminate drug markets. The strategy for preventing gang violence, first developed in Boston, MA, has been successfully applied in cities as diverse as Chicago, IL, Cincinnati, OH, and Stockton, CA. The strategy for eliminating overt community drug markets, first developed in High Point, NC, has been successfully applied in cities as diverse as Providence, RI, Hempstead, NY, and Nashville, TN.

There is now a substantial body of research and field experience documenting that these strategies are associated with large reductions in violent and drug crime.

The National Network for Safe Communities believes that these successful innovations mean that America can deal with its crime problems in a fundamentally different way. The National Network brings together the jurisdictions around the country that are currently implementing either the group violence reduction strategy (GVRS) or the drug market intervention  (DMI) strategy or both; help them learn from one another; help them address common issues; provide a supportive community of practice for new jurisdictions; and work to make these strategies standard practice across the United States.

All in all, I thought the conference provided some insightful and useful information for the city.  I wish it was better advertised though and I wish there were more opportunities for community involvement and attendance.  Regardless, I think if the city can implement some of the suggestions (which it looks like it is) then overtime violent crime should dwindle.  The city should be openly discuss it's efforts however, just to make sure residents understand the problems and solutions that its taking.

No comments:

Post a Comment