Cities Can’t ‘Arrest’ Their Way Out of Violence: Panel

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Photo by Bart Ever via Flickr

Community-police collaborations are critical to addressing the rise in violence, an expert panel said  Tuesday.

Three members of the Council on Criminal Justice Violent Crime Working Group Daniel Isom representing law enforcement, Alex Piquero representing academia, and Ciera Bates-Chamberlain representing community-based activism – discussed how cops and communities can work together to stop the rise in violence and rebuild community trust. 

Each speaker discussed the harms of “either/or” narratives that put community and police efforts in competition with one another — rather than collaboration, which is what they say is “key to keeping the peace.”

The experts met in the wake of a study commissioned by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) showing that the surge in homicides last year has begun to level off.

In the first three quarters of 2021, murders increased by four percent over the same period last year―in contrast to historic double-digit increases recorded last year. Other categories of crime continued to decline.

But the CCJ study added there was “legitimate” reason to worry about rising levels of violence.

“Even at a slower rate of increase, the elevated rates of homicide and serious assaults require an urgent response from government and community leaders,” the study said.

Thomas Abt

Thomas Abt, the moderator for the webinar, who is also a Senior Fellow of the CCJ and the chair of the Violent Crime Working Group, said no city has “arrested” their way into safe communities, or “programmed” their way out of violence.

The Council on Criminal Justice researchers noted there was  strong evidence to  support both community and police-led strategies working together to reduce community violence, but none of the strategies are effective enough to work alone. 

Ciera Bates-Chamberlain

Bates-Chamberlain, the Executive Director of Live Free Illinois, shared that as someone who grew up in the south side of Chicago, she connects to the concept of bringing the “aunties and the activists together.”

In other words, communities will fare better when the respected individuals in a neighborhood work together with advocates to spark change, compared to working with only the police. 

Isom, the Director of Public Safety for St. Louis, Mo., with 24 years of law enforcement experience, agreed, saying “these collaborations don’t need to be police-led — in fact, I think they should be community-led.”

He argued that collaboration for community safety could be furthered if police branch out and educate others rather than typically trying to exert control over anti-violence strategies. 

“We have to educate officers about strategies that work and have the least amount of impact on the community,” Isom said. 

Specifically, Isom spoke about coordinating services at the local level where everyone shares and relies on accessible data to make sure that community members can educate themselves and stay informed. 

Alex Piquero

Piquero, the chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Miami, agreed, saying “researchers can also play an active role bridging the researcher gap with community leaders.”

By doing this, it’s broadening the branches of collaboration, Piquero said, adding that these new perspectives can heighten the chances of community peace.

“It’s on all of us to each come to the table,” Piquero said.   

Don’t Put all Eggs in One ‘Reform’ Basket

The experts discussed why so many attempts at collaboration over competition for reform simply don’t work. Isom observed that positions turn over so frequently that there isn’t a sustained collaborative leadership at the top of any organization to continue existing momentum. 

“When one of those legs falls, the strategy and the focus is deferred,” Isom said. 

Piquero agreed, adding that elected officials with a turnover like chiefs, mayors, and local leaders juggle responsibilities every day, and oftentimes priorities of one administration won’t carry over to the next.

“Sustaining these programs is like a championship sports team sustaining their title year after year — it’s difficult,” 

Bates-Chamberlain added that she’s seen countless programs fail simply because all of the egg are placed  in one basket: funding is often  put into one program, while others are left to languish. 

“There has to be a comprehensive strategy — no investment in one particular solution,” Bates-Chamberlain detailed. “We have to make sure we’re looking at this in a comprehensive approach.”

Conversely, the opposite problem happens, Bates-Chamberlain notes, when so many programs don’t receive the full investment. Then programs fail because as people leave, the mission loses traction. 

Recommendations

The experts shared recommendations for fostering reform.

Piquero suggested that lawmakers prepare a plan with short-term goals, medium-term goals, long-term goals — and aspirational goals. This way, there is a stable framework that exists in communities and at the local level despite changing elected officials.

Daniel Isom

Isom recommended that one of the only ways communities can work together with law enforcement is if there’s a constant line of communication.   

“I firmly believe that a big part of that strategy is constant feedback from the community of how they perceive public safety working for them,” Isom noted, adding that community town halls, surveys and community opinion cold-calls are great places to start.

Bates-Chamberlain spoke to journalists in the crowd, noting that it’s important for those influencing the media to help bring light to reform and programs rather than fear-mongering. She also noted how characterization matters, and that using terms like “thugs” versus “individuals that the system has failed” can go a long way in changing public perception. 

Piquero compared the  collaboration versus competition issue to sports.

“If it’s all offense or all defense, you’ve already lost the game,” he said.

Thomas Abt, the moderator for the webinar, is a Senior Fellow of the Council on Criminal Justice and the Chair for the Violent Crime Working Group.

Ciera Bates-Chamberlain is the Executive Director of Live Free Illinois. She’s an adjunct professor of Northeastern University and an ordained minister.

Daniel Isom is the Director of Public Safety for St. Louis. He retired from the St. Louis Police Department after 24 years of service, after being appointed Chief of Police in 2008.

Alex Piquero is the Chair for the Department of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Miami. Piquero is a former co-editor of the Journal of Quantitative Criminology and currently serves as editor of the Justice Evaluation Journal. 

Additional Reading: Are Violence Interrupters the Solution to Chicago Shootings?

A video recording of Tuesday’s panel can be viewed here. 

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.

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