Journal Issue: Children, Youth, and Gun Violence Volume 12 Number 2 Summer/Fall 2002
The epidemic of youth gun violence in the United States from 1985 to 1998 triggered a crisis of social and political consequences that mobilized legal institutions to develop effective policies and programs targeting youth violence.1 Even before this most recent homicide crisis, however, numerous experiments and innovations in policing had been taking place in cities across the United States; some of these were quickly adapted in the effort to combat youth gun violence.2 Under the flag of "community policing," "problem-oriented policing," and "order-maintenance policing," police departments launched a variety of new approaches to chronic problems of crime and disorder. Youth gun violence was often the focus of these reforms and experiments.
These initiatives ranged from intensive and aggressive street-level interdiction of low-level disorder to new forms of neighborhood–police partnerships, often called "community policing."3 Several of these efforts were designed in response to an influential essay on "Broken Windows," which described the contagious effects of disorder on crime.4 (See Box 1 later in this article.) Other programs focused on specific individuals and high-crime neighborhoods.5 Still others sought to expand the toolkit of police to include solving social problems through interaction and collaboration with citizens.6 In these strategies, police focused their efforts on issues that concerned residents the most, while motivating citizen cooperation in the everyday policing of crime.
This article presents eight case studies (see Table 1) of cities where policing innovations were targeted at gun violence. It summarizes the underlying conceptual framework of each effort and describes both its strategies and its specific focus on youth violence.7 Evaluation data are limited, but when available, the results of each initiative are reported. These case studies suggest three different approaches to strengthening social control to reduce youth gun violence:
- Reciprocal Control. Cities that adopted this approach to policing gun violence, including Boston, Chicago, and San Diego, aimed to make the crime-control activities of police and community groups mutually reinforcing. Power-sharing arrangements evolved between police and citizens through a process of problem solving and collective decision making.
- Punitive Legal Control. The punitive approach focused on deterring gun violence through vigorous law enforcement. New York City emphasized aggressive street-level enforcement to detect and remove guns through intensive surveillance and high arrest rates. Project Exile in Richmond pursued aggressive prosecution strategies against gun offenders. In these cases, citizens were often excluded from the process of designing strategy, and citizen perspectives were of secondary importance in setting policy.
- "Soft" Legal Control. This approach emphasized community-driven, nonarrest methods to reduce youth gun crime. The Firearm Suppression Program in St. Louis implemented voluntary searches of homes where juveniles were suspected of keeping weapons. In Detroit, the juvenile courts adopted a therapeutic, rather than a punitive, approach to encouraging juvenile gun offenders to put down their weapons. Police collaboration with mental health professionals to address gun-related trauma in New Haven also featured the systematic use of nonarrest alternatives to prevent youth gun violence. These efforts helped to mitigate cultural and social barriers between police and citizens.
In several cities, these social control strategies overlapped. Cities such as Boston and Chicago, for example, used both reciprocal and punitive policing strategies. They incorporated both community involvement and intensive surveillance, and enforcement focused on high-risk offenders in specific neighborhoods. Similarly, well-publicized innovations in community policing in San Diego were credited with the lion's share of that city's reduction in violence through the 1990s and were offered as a positive contrast to New York City's aggressive model.8 But intensive enforcement efforts targeted at street gangs and drug traffickers were also a focus in San Diego throughout this period.9
The innovations in police responses to youth gun violence described in this article reflect diverse theories not just of organizational change, but also of how citizens and police might interact to produce security and social control. As these case studies illustrate, police–citizen interactions can influence the course of youth gun violence outbreaks.