In the late 1990s, David Kennedy came to Baltimore riding high in criminology circles, eager to prove his unorthodox approach — which had reduced gun violence in Boston and Minneapolis — could work in one of the most dangerous cities. The Baltimore Sun says, “It was, by most measurements, a disaster and an experience that pushed him to the brink.” Fifteen years later, Kennedy is ready to try again, buoyed by successes in more than 60 other cities and widespread embrace of a philosophy once questioned as a gimmick. Those who worked with him are not surprised that Baltimore wants to give it another shot, but that he is willing to return. “I’m shocked that he’s coming back,” said Jill Myers, a former prosecutor who worked closely with Kennedy during his first visit. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recruited Kennedy last fall during a visit to John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where he is a professor. She became hooked after reading “Don’t Shoot,” his 2011 memoir, and called on him as homicides were rising in Baltimore.
Referred to as “Ceasefire,” the idea centers on shutting down drug markets and reducing shootings through face-to-face sessions, or “call-ins,” where police, prosecutors, clergy and community members confront those believed responsible for violence. Suspects are told the authorities will come at them hard if shootings continue — but are offered an alternative path through mentoring opportunities and other programs. Ceasefire is praised by officials in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Oakland, which saw steep declines in murders last year. “I think it’s pretty revolutionary,” said Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, who has integrated the ideas into daily policing there. “It’s becoming a part of our DNA. It’s really limitless.”