For years, gangs have been a deep-seated problem in Rochester, fueling much of the drug trade and violence and accounting for many murders, says the New York Times. In 7 of the last 10 years, Rochester has had the highest homicide rate per capita of any community in the state. After trying other strategies, officials are making a dent in the homicide rate with the help of a criminologist who has developed a plan focused on gang-related violence that has succeeded elsewhere in the country. “Gangs to almost anybody means L.A. and Chicago, colors, turfs,” said criminologist David Kennedy of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, who has helped cities like Boston, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis combat gangs. “Rochester doesn’t have those types of gangs. They have small, leaderless, shifting groups.” Together, the groups account for 60 to 80 percent of the city’s homicides.
Kennedy began working in Rochester in 2003, and he enlisted John Klofas, a criminologist at the Rochester Institute of Technology, who has studied the local homicide problem for years. They helped law enforcement organize a gang meeting, of sorts. At the meeting, law enforcement officials delivered a clear warning. “We told them, ‘If anybody in your group kills somebody, we’re going to go after everybody,’ ” said Kennedy. Prosecutors promised to do away with offers of plea bargains. “We took a look at the cold, hard statistics,” said Mike Green, the district attorney for Monroe County. “This is a strain on resources, but we need to do the extra work.” Criminal court judges were asked not to grant leniency in cases involving gang members. The number of homicides in the city last year was 38, compared with 57 the previous year. So far in 2005, there have been six homicides.