by Michael Karpman
Six cities selected to participate in a National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention have completed comprehensive plans to reduce youth violence in their communities.
Mayors and other municipal leaders from Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Salinas (Calif.) and San José presented their plans at a Summit on Preventing Youth Violence hosted in Washington, D.C., last week by the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies.
Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Special Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, M.D., and Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske all gave remarks expressing support for these Forum cities' efforts.
"This work could hardly be more urgent," said Attorney General Holder at the Summit. "Today, we know that the majority of our young people - more than 60 percent of them - have been exposed to crime, abuse, and violence...And we know that exposure to violence - as a witness or a victim - can have devastating, long-term effects on our children, increasing their chances for depression, substance-abuse, and violent behavior."
The launch of the Forum by President Obama last October was inspired in part by the California Cities Gang Prevention Network, a 13-city initiative of NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. The network has helped participating cities develop comprehensive gang prevention plans, identify effective strategies for reducing gang violence and highlight state and federal policy changes that can support local efforts. Salinas and San José participate in the both the network and the Forum.
The U.S. Departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy are collaborating to provide technical assistance to the six Forum cities.
Local plans developed by network and Forum members blend a combination of prevention, intervention, suppression and reentry strategies. The plans recognize that cities cannot simply "arrest their way out of the problem" of gang and youth violence. Law enforcement officials work in close partnership with service providers and other community partners on multidisciplinary, balanced, data-driven approaches in each city.
In Boston, local officials seek to build on a strong record of interagency collaboration to improve outcomes for youth. For instance, the city plans to connect violence prevention efforts to the Circle of Promise initiative, a place-based approach to improving student achievement and family economic stability in Boston's most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Other key activities include earlier detection and intervention with youth who may be prone to violent behavior, better information sharing between agencies and engagement with the community, and advocacy for the resources needed to expand mental health services.
The CITY Task Force in Chicago - where violence claimed the lives of 510 people in 2008 - will integrate the Chicago Public Schools Student Safety Initiative, the Juvenile Intervention Support Center and the newly created Juvenile Violence Prevention Forums. A youth violence prevention coordinator will work with the task force in coordinating program efforts in two violence-plagued police districts.
In Detroit, a community-based planning process will also focus on two pilot areas. Community Safety Teams composed of neighborhood leaders, service providers, police and other city agency representatives will guide this work. A key objective is to ensure that youth can envision a productive future and career for themselves amid the city's high unemployment. Detroit leaders also plan to expand restorative justice practices, renew the work of "violence interrupters" through Operation Cease Fire, promote in-school alternatives to suspension and expulsion, and restore a successful Wayne County community prosecutor program.
Operation: Safe Community is a collaborative effort in Memphis that seeks to reduce violence by young residents under 24 years of age by 25 percent over the next five years. The first phase of its Memphis Youth Violence Prevention Plan will focus on the city's northwest quadrant, where 50,000 children and youth live in poverty. The city will work with neighborhood networks to provide a continuum of evidence-based services from prenatal to career, and will promote data sharing among law enforcement, schools and service providers.
In Salinas and Monterey County, the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP) aims to reduce violence caused disproportionally by the county's 71 gangs and 5,000 gang members. CASP has developed a comprehensive strategy built on four principles: a single operational structure for coordinating violence prevention work by multiple agencies, data-driven action and data sharing, putting youth needs at the center and promoting meaningful community engagement.
Finally, San José will continue building on the success of the 20-year old Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force, which has helped it become one of the nation's safest large cities. In 2010, San José recorded its lowest number of gang-related homicides in a decade (six). However, gang violence has increased in recent months. Developed with a strong youth and community voice, the task force's new five-year strategic work plan adds a stronger focus on reentry and public-private partnerships.