In order to make a substantial impact on the safety of struggling neighborhoods, advocates and law enforcement must focus on identifying and healing those who are most vulnerable to violence, a conference at John Jay College was told Tuesday.
That includes survivors of domestic abuse, said Rachel Teicher, director of the Intimate Partner Violence Intervention Program at the National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC).
“Hurt people hurt people,” she said.
While it may seem like an overused cliché in the criminal justice and mental health field, Teicher said its lesson still rings true, especially in cases of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).
Individual who are victims of violence, whether at home or in the community, can often evolve into abusers, and what are called “high risk individuals.”
Teicher was speaking at a panel on the first day of the NNSC’s fifth biennial conference, which marked 10 years of the NNSC’s work in violence prevention and intervention around the country.
The challenge of identifying those at “high risk” to commit violence is often addressed by police strategies involving crime mapping and so-called “hot spot” detection. But several panelists questioned the strategies as not probing deeply enough to locate the most vulnerable people.
“We need to start identifying [hot spots] as ‘areas that need healing,’” said Eric L. Cumberbatch, executive director of the New York City Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence, which received applause from the audience of just over 100 people.
Cumberbatch, who wore a graphic t-shirt with the slogan “Guns Down, Life Up,” said changing the terminology used to describe high-risk areas will “empower” more community members to step forward when they need help.
Sandi Tibbetts Murphy, Legal and Policy Adviser for the Battered Women’s Justice Project, cautioned that wouldn’t happen without sufficient resources.
“Not a lot of us have tons of resources…we need to be able to provide more diverse resources,” and that goes for both victims of gun violence and IPV, she said.
Asked by moderator Louisa Aviles, director of the NNSC’s Group Violence Intervention project, about the changes required to develop violence prevention tactics that can help victims, Cumberbatch responded, “It needs to start with the communities.”
He continued by painting a narrative for the audience, saying if a violent crime happens in someone’s home, that traumatic experience is felt through the whole neighborhood.
That impacts adults, and children alike, said Cumberbatch, explaining that if an individual grows up in an “area that needs healing,” he or she is going to normalize and internalize that violence, which can lead to future offenses.
The fourth panelist, Timothy Ellenberger, Commander of the Major Crimes Section of the High Point (NC) police department, agreed that by instituting more peer support programs, communities will build themselves up and not tolerate crime.
“When there’s an act of violence, typically within 48 hours, we try to go back to that neighborhood with a flyer full of information about what we know, and what we don’t know,” he said.
High Point police are motivated by the understanding that community cooperation is the key to solving some of their cases, Ellenberger said, noting that transparency between community members and law enforcement helps build the trust that can lead to the arrests of violent offenders.
“If a neighborhood doesn’t have strong values or a sense of connection, they will fall into a pattern of crime,” he said.
But while better community-police relations aids in solving homicides, that doesn’t necessarily translate in IPV cases, said Teicher.
“Despite the great work to see if she is safe, we’re not paying enough attention to him, or his potential rehabilitation,” she said, noting that more resources need to be available for abusers as well as survivors.
“It shouldn’t take a strangulation, which is essentially a failed murder attempt, or a ‘shots fired’ incident to escalate into a murder for action to happen,” added Murphy of the Battered Women’s Justice Project.
As another violence prevention tactic, the simple question in hospital discharge paperwork that asks, “Are you safe at home?” was cited by the panelists as being a step in the right direction.
Overall, it’s not to say that every panelist believes that rehabilitation, therapy, or peer support is the right response against offenders all the time.
“There are definitely situations where the handcuffs have to come out,” Murphy said. “But those are the situations where we have to work with survivors’ and victims’ families alike.”
Andrea Cipriano is a TCR News Intern.