Updated: June 17, 2020 12:09 AM
Created: June 16, 2020 10:31 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For the past several months, the City of Albuquerque has quietly gathered funding and resources to build a Violence Intervention Program at the Albuquerque Police Department. It’s a fairly new strategy that has reduced crimes in other cities by targeting potentially violent people before they commit a crime.
In late 2019, members of the Greater Albuquerque Greater Chamber of Commerce and law enforcement leaders traveled to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City to learn how to implement violence intervention strategies, and they traveled to New Haven, Connecticut to see the strategies in action. The KOB 4 Investigates later made the same trip.
What is Violence Intervention?
Louisa Aviles is the director of Group Violence Intervention at the National Network for Safe Communities housed at John Jay College. Aviles explained the strategy begins when law enforcement leaders understand that half of one percent of a city’s population drives most violence.
“A very, very small number of very, very special people are disproportionately connected to a very high percentage of the most serious crime in a given community,” Aviles said.
With that basic knowledge and learning who that small percentage is, police officers can dramatically realign resources to focus on that small percentage. Identifying who is most likely to commit a violence crime allows law enforcement to partner with social service providers to help remove that person out of a dangerous situation.
“If we know who those folks are, and we know they are living at really high risks, then that creates and opportunity to go to that person and say we really don't want you to do this,” Aviles said.
Aviles explained that many homicides are created by retaliatory action by rival groups. As an example, one group may be upset with another over a drug debt. Members of the upset group may kill a member of the rival group. Without intervention, the two groups may continue killing each other racking up a high number of homicides in one neighborhood. The strategy behind violence intervention allows police to predict the retaliatory violence and intervene by first talking to the two groups. The violence intervention team may offer jobs, housing or other assistance to work with group members to get out of the group. The team will warn the groups that the violence must stop and if it does not, law enforcement will work to bring the entire group down.
“There is absolutely nothing fancy about the mechanics here. The strategies that turn out to be most effective around violence reduction are effective because they are focused,” Aviles said. “People are basically rational, and they don't want to go to jail or prison. Folks don't want to be hurt or killed themselves.“
Cities that have embraced violence intervention strategies have seen dramatic declines in homicides and group-on-group shootings. Violent crime in Oakland, California went down by 50 percent, youth homicides in Boston fell by 61 percent, homicides dropped by 35 percent in Cincinnati and New Haven saw a 56 percent cut in homicides.
A Case Study
A decade ago, New Haven was ranked the third most dangerous city because of the high number of homicides. After city leaders worked with the John Jay College and embraced violence intervention, change happened almost overnight.
“For violent crime, it's worked and it has changed the face of New Haven,” said New Haven Assistant Police Chief Karl Jacobson.
New Haven consolidated communications by bringing in the entire law enforcement community into daily meetings. Federal partners, prosecutors, university police and others meet each morning to share information.
“We saw law enforcement operate in silos for years,” Jacobson said. The FBI was doing something and we didn't know about it. DEA was doing something and we didn't know about it. So we made a decision to make everybody work together and say that the most important thing in the city is violent crime.”
The New Haven Police Department also beefed up its ability to know who is gangs or groups by creating a criminal intelligence unit. When one person commits a violence crime, the detectives in this unit use social media and other tools to build out the network of associates. Knowing who is in the entire group allows police to have that precision focus to start the conversations.
“We would identify those groups and then if someone in that group became violent, then we would go and what we call ‘touch’ the entire group. That may be just having conversations,” Jacobson said.
New Haven officials often force the groups into a room to hear about social services and to get some tough talk about what will happen if violence continues.
“We're not holding hands and hugging thugs. We are telling them, ‘please make the right choice, if you don't make the right choice, we're going to come after you.’”
If all this feels like negotiating with the bad guy, perhaps that’s the whole point.
“This framework, the group violence intervention and strategies works better than literally anything else we know how to do to reduce serious violence,” said Aviles.
A form of police reform
This method is seen by some as a form of police reform. These strategies enhance community policing efforts and force officers to really listen to people in dangerous lifestyles.
“In fact it's one of the most forward-looking forms of police reform in the 23 cities doing it. For us, we're excited it will do two things-- help people and save lives and also bring down violent crime,” said Mayor Tim Keller.
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