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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Published: Friday, 8/1/2014 - Updated: 1 month ago

COMMENTARY

Group offers visionary way to fight gangs

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Recently I sat down with Toledo police Sgt. Anita Madison. She is a dynamo and an inspiration. She has been a civil servant for 34 years and a Toledo cop for 20. She heads up Toledo Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, an interesting and visionary program to combat gang violence in Toledo.

TCIRV is based on the scholarly and hands-on, in-the-street work of David Kennedy of the John Jay School of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York.

Mr. Kennedy summarizes his experiences and philosophy in a very readable book called Don’t Shoot.

The idea of Don’t Shoot and TCIRV, is a simple one: To get gangs to resolve their differences without gunfire — often-fatal gunfire.

TCIRV does not try to eliminate gangs. Or even dissuade kids from joining gangs. It aims only to reduce gunfire.

Gangs have existed since cities have existed. Shooting someone because he disrespected you by cutting in front of you in line or stepping on your new shoes — that’s recent.

TCIRV tries to disarm and de-escalate with three simple techniques: It targets a population instead of an area — the very small population of the 1 to 5 percent who cause most crime in cities. Second, it confronts possible future offenders directly with the technique of a “call-in.” Most are also past offenders and they usually come to a call-in as a condition of parole. Third, TCIRV involves the community.

When a group is called in, they are faced with three different collections of people.

The first is the police, who say, “We are watching you.” They tell, even show, possible criminal offenders what they have on them. They tell them they have the power to put them in jail now. They say this will happen unless behavior changes.

Next, those called in are confronted with a social services team. They say: “What do you need?” Maybe it is job interviews; maybe a drug counseling and rehabilitation program; maybe tattoo removal. Social-service caseworkers try to help the person who wants to turn his life around get what he needs to do it.

Finally, the people called in are confronted by the community — grandmothers of young men shot dead, girlfriends, fathers, and neighbors. They tell of their loss and what it did to them and loved ones. And they say: “We need for you to stop.”

How many people who are called in truly respond? A relative few. But that’s a few who willingly lower their weapons. Fewer people die.

Mr. Kennedy and Sergeant Madison readily admit that the Don’t Shoot approach doesn’t get rid of all urban violence. Domestic violence, our biggest local killer, is a whole different set of problems requiring wholly different remedies. But this approach has worked in many cities, and Sergeant Madison thinks it is helping here.

Sergeant Madison says the community point is key and the police component the least important. Violent young people, she says, will listen to a member of their community before they listen to a police officer.

TCIRV is one way to try to reduce gun violence in our city. It is not the only way — but it is one good tool.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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