Nothing undermines the sense of safety in a community than violent crimes, and in several major cities, police have struggled with the demands put on them to combat the causes of these crimes. Violent crimes are a category of crimes that are part of the annual FBI report (the Uniform Crime Reporting Program) on crime data in America. Crimes in this category are aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. While violent crimes overall have declined in the US every year since 2006 they are on the rise in major cities. American Police Officers Alliance looked at several large cities where reduction is a priority to better understand the situation and put together some answers for the following questions.
- What challenges are preventing the reduction of violent crime in large cities?
- What have cities tried to reduce violent crime?
- What’s worked to combat violent crime in large cities?
What challenges are preventing the reduction of violent crime in large cities?
The causes of violent crimes have been hard to identify, with multiple research reports conflicting each other and law enforcement agencies presenting a variety of theories including gang violence and retaliation, violence associated with drugs, the number of illegal guns on the streets, and poverty in specific neighborhoods. While the causes aren’t exactly clear, the challenges are. Lack of funding, police shortages, strained community relations, and lack of resources all work against reducing violent crimes in largely populated cities. Less obvious challenges can even undermine successful programs. In Milwaukee, the Homicide Review Commission was responsible for a 43% drop in homicides.
The commission was made up of police, prosecutors, judges and parole officers who met regularly to analyze and homicides and shootings and collaborate on solutions. The program worked for over 10 years and was even duplicated in Chicago and New Orleans, but was ended in Milwaukee after a police chief reprioritized technology and data collection. Without support from all parties the commission was no longer effective, leaving Milwaukee without the tool it inspired other cities to add in the battle against violent crime. Milwaukee is also funding how critical funding is, after another successful program, Community Prosecution Units, which stationed prosecutors in neighborhoods to work police officers and community organizers, lost financial support. The program led to decreased in three of four monitored violent crimes. State funding has dried up, but officials are looking for ways to keep the program alive.
What have cities tried to reduce violent crime?
The challenges are many and so cities try to attack the problem from every angle. Some cities like Baltimore deploy hundreds more police in high crime neighborhoods. In Memphis, they’ve hired more police, increased resources in tasks forces, and focused on prosecuting gun crime. In Chicago, they’re also deploying more police and in Camden, once known as the most dangerous city in the country, they’ve completely restructured the police department moving from a local department to a county department that relies on the latest advancements in technology to help manage violent crime. Though large cities have significant differences and tried many techniques, there appears to be one common approach that is seeing results: rebuilding and strengthening relationships with communities.
What’s worked to combat violent crime in large cities?
While most large cities or seeing high violent crime rates, New York City has seen a decrease Camden’s transformation has led to it’s lowest homicide rates since the 1980’s and Chicago where violent crime has spiked recently has learned not only from Milwaukee programs, but from the successes of these two cities in using stronger community relationships to lower violent crimes. New York’s Neighborhood Policing Program focuses on strengthening community relationships and making police accessible at all times, not just when dangerous or criminal activity is taking place. Neighborhood coordination officers keep the same police in the same areas so that they are familiar with the problems and residents build trust and confidence in working together with law enforcement.
NYPD officers are also training in methods of deescalation and conflict resolution to help better equip police for unpredictable and high-pressure situations. The focus community relations is also at the core of what’s happened in Camden. Police Chief J Scott Thompson has used the past 10 years to shift the focus of the department to community policing in addition to all the new resources available in Camden and believes that creating a police force that are more “guardians not warriors” has, in addition to new technology, led to the historic reduction in violent crime in that city.
These techniques and prioritizations were also cited in the recent reduction in homicides in Chicago in 2017, which previously had seen a historic increase in homicide in 2016, as police superintendent, Eddie Johnson attributed community engagement and data-driven policing as contributing factors.
Violent crime in cities isn’t going away any time soon, but it appears that there are some approaches that have a higher impact. Combining new technologies like gunfire locators and data analytics with old school methods of trust and familiarity between police and communities has borne results in some large cities, while others continue to struggle despite trying many types of programs. Whatever the approach, police departments need financial and legislative support. If you are concerned about violent crime and want to do your part, please contact your representatives and let them know that issue is important to you and please vote for and support candidates who prioritize police resources and programs to make communities safer for everyone.