Toledo's new offensive against gun violence is built on twin pillars. One is tougher law enforcement to stop gun criminals and their associates. The second is an expanded array of employment, education, and job-training options, as well as drug and alcohol treatment and social services, for gang members and other young adults who have turned to crime or are poised to do so.
Critics deride the latter element as "hug a thug." But successful anti-violence programs in other cities affirm the wisdom of the carrot-and-stick approach.
A special report this week in The Blade examined a program in Cincinnati that provided a model for the Toledo Community Initiative to Reduce Violence. Advocates say the five-year-old plan has helped to drive down homicides in Cincinnati from record levels, and to reduce shootings and gang violence as well. It also has contributed to stimulating economic growth in previously isolated neighborhoods, Cincinnati officials claim.
The need for a similar effort in Toledo is evident. Last year, there were 73 percent more shootings in the city - and 44 percent more homicides -- than in 2010. Toledo has more gang members than Cincinnati, officials in both cities say.
The Cincinnati program, like Toledo's, is based on the premise that a small number of chronic offenders commit the vast majority of the city's violent crimes. Targeting this population with subsidized jobs and other incentives to behave differently could -- and in Cincinnati did -- have a big effect on crime rates. Older ex-offenders mentor younger ones, offering credible counsel about the future they face: prison or early death.
As the recession has hit Cincinnati, the anti-crime program has taken big cuts in city funding, which some observers say has diminished its effectiveness. Toledo's initiative calls for no new direct public spending. But that need not obstruct its success, as long as law-enforcement officials, community leaders, and service providers work together effectively to coordinate existing outreach programs, public and private, and to mobilize community and volunteer support.
The Toledo program began last month with the summoning of dozens of gang members who are on probation or parole to a meeting at the Lucas County Courthouse. They heard tough warnings from Mayor Mike Bell and Police Chief Derrick Diggs about federal prosecution and more hard time behind bars for firearms offenders and their gang cohorts. They also heard pledges of education and training if they sought a different path.
Some of the talk elicited smirks, yawns, and eye rolls from the gangbangers. But Cincinnati officials said it took time for the message to sink in there as well, among criminals and citizens alike, that the city was serious about both curtailing lethal violence and offering better options to those who might be inclined to take advantage of them.
The anti-violence initiative can succeed only if Toledo residents get behind the program. That means giving police information about crime in their neighborhoods and who is responsible for it -- a challenge that can require courage. It also means a greater willingness among local employers to hire ex-offenders.
Such cooperation might be more likely if Toledoans saw immediate results from the initiative. But the effort to reclaim the city's streets won't be won in a day, or a summer, or even longer.
Yet given the alternative -- continued gun violence that destroys families, forces Toledoans to live in fear or flee the city, and discourages business and tourism -- the community effort needs to succeed.
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