Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence-NCJA-DC Public Safety

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– Audio Begins –

Len Sipes: From our studio in Downtown Washington, DC it’s DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. The program today is the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence and one of the things that we have, yet another in the series for the National Criminal Justice Association, and focusing on exemplary programs is a program within Cincinnati, Ohio that’s produced a 55 percent reduction in group member involved homicides over an eight month period. And I think what we’re doing there is talking about gangs. We have three principals with us on the show today. We have Karhlton Moore, the Executive Director of the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services; Doctor Robin Engel, the Director of the University of Cincinnati Policing Institute; and we have Greg Baker. Greg is the Executive Director of Community Relations for the Cincinnati Police Department. And to Karhlton and to Greg and to Robin welcome to DC Public Safety.
Greg Baker: Thank you very much.
Robin Engel: Thank you.
Karhlton Moore: Thank you.
Len Sipes: All right. Greg, Greg Baker. You’re going to start. Give me a sense as to what the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence is all about.
Greg Baker: Okay, Leonard. The Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence goes by the acronym of SERVE and it’s a multi agency collaboration that we began back in April of 2007. And it’s designed to reduce gun related homicides and associated violence with sustained reductions over time. Our focus deterrent strategy is loosely modeled after the Boston Gun Project which began in the mid 1990s.
Len Sipes: And was very successful for a good amount of time.
Greg Baker: And it was, and that’s why we emphasize the sustained reductions over time. And that’s one of the problems with the Boston Project is that it began to lose its effectiveness after a period of time and we don’t want to model that part of the initiative as well.
Len Sipes: And as somebody who has spent ,
Greg Baker: The program ,
Len Sipes: , Department of Justice , as somebody who has spent ten years in community crime prevention earlier in my career, that was my common finding of community crime prevention programs was that whole sense of deterioration over time. But continue, please.
Greg Baker: Well, our partnership involves multiple law enforcement agencies which is pretty much mirrored after the Boston Project, but where we took some liberties in the model in Cincinnati, we included a social service component as well as a community component. And we used those two components to deliver a clear message to violent street groups that the violence must stop.
Len Sipes: Okay. And the whole concept here is to what? Target specific offenders within a particular area that targets specific offenders in terms of their crime backgrounds?
Greg Baker: Well, as you know, Carl(?), back in 2001, the Cincinnati Police Department was subject to a Department of Justice memorandum of agreement as well as a settlement to raise the profiling lawsuit which culminated in a collaborative agreement and in both of those documents the department was committed to utilize problem solving as its chief strategy in reducing issues of crime and disorder. So SERVE has actually been built on a problem solving model and back in , well, when we began this initiative, we looked at homicides that occurred chiefly during the period of 2006. And determined from that about 75 percent of those homicides involved either as a victim or the perpetrator an individual that was participating in a group of individuals that were conspiring to commit violence or otherwise known as a gang.
Len Sipes: Right.
Greg Baker: So as we looked at that commonality we developed the strategy that would impact those individuals.
Len Sipes: Okay, but what we’re talking about is gang members. So that’s the operative concept here.
GG: Gang members not necessarily in the former sense of the word, though we do have some gangs operating in Cincinnati and just recently had an enforcement action against a group that probably would meet the former definition of a gang. However we actually kind of lowered the definition somewhat to include any individuals that operate in a group that conspired to commit crime.
Len Sipes: That’s right. Robin, you’re trying to come in?
Robin Engel: Well, I was just going to say that one of the things we realized pretty quickly in Cincinnati is that are our offenders are really loosely knit, loosely organized in these types of violent groups. And so you might have a very organized gang, in fact one of our most recent gang crackdowns, there were 96 known members of that very structured organized gang, but we also have individuals, three, four, five individuals that hang out together, that commit crimes together, they engage in violence together. And so the beauty of this initiative is that it spans across these different types of gangs, groups, clicks, sets, whatever you’d like to call them. But the idea is that it’s based on a handful of very active chronic offenders commit the majority of violence in our city. And that’s, we’ve been able to demonstrate that empirically as well.
Len Sipes: And that’s a common finding throughout the country. We go back to the RAND(?) research back in the 1980s where they said that a minority of offenders commit the majority of crime. So I think what you’re doing is targeting a high rate violent offender. Is that it?
Robin Engel: Yes. That’s exactly what we’re looking at. But here we believe that the violence that they’re involved in, we can impact that violence through group pressure and support. Pressure through the police departments, support through our social services in our community and that if we have a sustained communication with these offenders and with the streets, we can ultimately reduce that violence over time.
Len Sipes: I’m going to read a little bit more from the message that I have in front of me. The anti violence message is powerfully communicated through a number of different mechanisms including call in sessions with probationers, parolees, direct contact with street workers, advocates police problem probation and community outreach. The core enforcement step is to tax groups for violence through any convenient legal means such as drug enforcement and create conditions within the group that members will control each other’s violent behavior. So the whole idea is to reach out to the group structure in terms of enforcement and in terms of programs that can help them, yet at the same time delivering the message that the violence must stop. And that they are going to be held responsible for each other’s behavior in one way shape or another.
Greg Baker: And part of our message is that we actually set the bar of homicides. So not so much the drug enforcement, but we communicate to those individuals that the, on very clear terms that the next body that falls, not only will the shooter be aggressively pursued, but each member of the group that he hangs with.
Len Sipes: Right. Because it’s just not the shooter, the shooter is with a network of individuals who sell the gun, rent the gun, hide the gun, provide the transportation, know of the actions, know of the actions beforehand. And so they all, in one way shape or form, are involved in some sort of criminal conspiracy, right or wrong?
Robin Engel: Yes and no. I think part of it really is about that peer pressure that they, that the influence that they have over other members of the group. And that’s really what we’re trying to tap into here. A lot of the violence that we see is really not associated with drug business per say, but it’s about disrespect. It’s about norms and narratives of the street, what it means to be a man and how you respond to acts of disrespect. And so if we can tax these groups in the sense that, hey, if their buddy is going to go out and shoot someone and they know that law enforcement is going to come down on them too, then they’re more likely to say, hey, put the gun down. C’mon, don’t bring attention to us.
Greg Baker: It’s really an approach that, you know, in that society operates in general. That we try to get those individuals to police themselves.
Len Sipes: And I think that that’s a powerful message and most of what we’re discussing here I would suggest applies to other cities throughout the country as well. Within the city of Washington, DC, that loosely structured group of individuals that we refer to as crews, and Baltimore has exactly the same problem, I find that when we talk about gangs we talk about organized criminal conspiracies. It’s not as stereotypical as most people think. And in some cases, I think as Robin Engel just pointed out, that they’re pretty much loose groups of individuals who do crimes together. Am I right?
Greg Baker: That’s exactly the case. That is exactly the case. And that’s why we focus on those individuals, the loose knit, low lying crimes that often have some dramatic effects.
Robin Engel: And as Mr. Baker said before, 75 percent, three quarters of the homicides in our city that we looked at were group member involved, either the victim or the suspect or the circumstances indicated to us that there was, the violence was associated with these gangs or groups. So three quarters of our homicides are based on this very small group of individuals at the street level and we know their names.
Len Sipes: And with a 55 percent reduction in group member involved homicides over an eight month period obviously you were able to successfully get involved with these individuals and convince them that this is something that they should not do.
Robin Engel: Well, you know, it’s an ongoing process. Our numbers has changed. We’re looking now at 15 months of a 15 month pre-imposed where about a 40 percent reduction in group member involved homicides at this point.
Len Sipes: That’s a huge reduction.
Robin Engel: It is. It’s an ever evolving and changing strategy though. And what we also realize is that there’s constant change of the groups on the streets and the needs for continued intelligence and updates. And really just to find out what’s happening on the streets, it’s a continual process. And it’s a lot of work, a lot of moving parts on this project. And we’ve been very fortunate to have the support from the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services, Director Moore has been very instrumental not only in our city, but also bringing the strategy to other cities in Ohio.
Len Sipes: And Karhlton, that’s where it goes over to you. You were able to provide Department of Justice money. I know it’s JAG funded in terms of those within the criminal justice system, but basically it’s the U.S. Department of Justice seed money to get this thing up and running, correct?
Karhlton Moore: Well, we were able to provide some funding to the city, mainly to the University, so that they could provide services. They have some technical services that are a big part of this initiative. Most of the money for this in the city of Cincinnati though, those are City of Cincinnati resources that were put into this. We have a larger project where we’re trying to take the success that Cincinnati is seeing and spread that throughout the state. And that’s where we see more of a state investment. And those with the Department of Justice, JAG funding.
Len Sipes: Right. And I can say the only point that I’m trying to make because the more Federal funding that we have for these innovative projects, the more we can do in terms of this sort of, what seems to be an exemplary program in terms of the 40 percent reduction over what period of time again, Robin? A 14 months period did you say?
Robin Engel: Fifteen months.
Len Sipes: Fifteen months. And that’s pretty dog gone good considering the homicide problems that we have throughout the country.
Greg Baker: Exactly. As far as impacting that targeted group of active offenders we’re making some substantial reductions.
Len Sipes: What are the takeaways , I’m sorry, go ahead please, Robin.
Robin Engel: We’re also seeing record numbers of folks actually signing up for services as well. And I was one of the first, I was a naysayer, I didn’t believe that individuals that were so heavily involved in the criminal element and violent lifestyle would be willing to take an opportunity to get out of that lifestyle. And I’ve been proven wrong here in the city, actually to the delight of my team and to city residents and everyone else in the city, we have found that now, you know, over 300 would be violent offenders have made that call to our social services team and we’ve been able to provide job readiness training, getting lots of folks through that and providing opportunities for jobs and second chances for these individuals. And I’m really thrilled at that outcome as well.
Greg Baker: That’s one of the beauties of the program is that in addition to reducing our homicides, you know, among this group of offenders, we also are able to improve police community relations. And by using the HOPE arm which resonates very soundly within the community, the police department along with the collaboration of other agencies are able to extend itself in not just the traditional law enforcement means but are also actually able to provide individuals with alternatives to the lifestyles that they have committed themselves to.
Len Sipes: And whenever I do these radio shows, what I do is look for the takeaways from the other agencies you can use throughout the country and considering the fact that 20 percent of our listeners and viewers to the program are not in the United States, they’re spread out all over the world, to offer everybody an opportunity to learn what are the takeaways, what are the key issues. Because there’s a lot of things here. I mean, the Boston Gun Project in the mid 1990s did deteriorate to a large degree. It was extremely successful but it’s that deterioration I would imagine that it takes a lot of effort and a lot of, oh, I don’t know, breaking down the bureaucratic barriers for the University of Cincinnati to come together with the police department. To come together with the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services, to come together with community groups and to offer what is basically a multi-faceted program, a clear message to those people who are involved in violence, enforcement actions, targeted enforcement actions if necessary, but at the same time social services for those people who want to escape a life of violence. And I would imagine community outreach at a fairly significant degree. I mean, that’s a lot of different moving parts.
Greg Baker: A number of the moving parts, but one that you omitted is in the police community relations arena. We’re able to, as Robin defined it, we actually know we have somewhere over 1,000 identified group members in Cincinnati. And we know them by name, address, control number, et cetera. When we actually have to move into an enforcement mode, we’re able to strategically go after those individuals, which is somewhat of a change from the traditional approach where you have saturation and suppression within a neighborhood. The traditional approach is that if there is some type of high level of criminal activity going on in one specific geographic area, the normal mode is to saturate that area with police officers, set out the net. And then what happens is, particularly in the African American community, a lot of individuals get caught up in that net that aren’t really any violent offenders. And that’s very abrasive against the community. You know, therefore you start getting into racial profiling, a lot of other things that really have an adverse impact. Where as with this initiative, we’re able to strategically go in after specific individuals, extract them from the community and leave the community intact.
Len Sipes: One of the most powerful messages I ever heard is when our people were working, and I represent the Federal Parole and Probation Agency in Washington, DC and our people are working with the U.S. Marshall’s Office and the Metropolitan Police Department. And we’re in the community. And we’re serving warrants. And a woman who was powerful in the community came out while everybody was there. And in essence said; take the ones who are causing us the most problems, but help the ones who really do want to be helped. And I think that that is the essence of so much of what we’re doing today is to target individuals, not communities, and to help the ones who do want to escape the life of violence.
Robin Engel: Leonard, getting back to your point about the significant number of moving parts, David Kennedy, who is formally at Harvard and is now at John Jay College in New York has been really instrumental in helping our team as a consultant. He was involved in the Boston Project and has subsequently worked in lots of different agencies and communities across the, around the world, actually.
Len Sipes: Yeah. And Baltimore when I was there. Go ahead, please.
Robin Engel: Right. Well, one of the things that he said to me that I thought was so profound that we know how to control the bad guys. It’s the good guys we have trouble with. And what he meant by that, of course, is that we know what works and we know what we need to do to make it work, the problem is sustainability, the problem is the moving parts getting everyone to operate on one page and speak in one voice.
Len Sipes: Yep.
Robin Engel: And why I think SERVE is very unique is that we have been fortunate enough to have some executives from Procter & Gamble that have volunteered their time to help us set up an organizational structure to help coordinate that team. And we talk about corporate principles of objectives, goals, strategies and measures. We have a systematic data collection approach. A comprehensive services plan. And most importantly we have executive level involvement and leadership from our city, from our political leaders, our mayor, our city manager and council members as well. Our police chief. We have a high level commitment to the long term here in Cincinnati and I think that’s going to help us push through.
Len Sipes: Robin, I think that that is exemplary but that is, the bottom line question is can you sustain it? Now, you just told me that you’re in it for the long run. But what is the long run? Is it a matter of months? Is it a matter of years? Is it a matter of the next decade? Because, again, all of that requires a lot of energy. All of that requires a lot of money.
Robin Engel: Well, one of the things that we’ve said here in Cincinnati is that Cincinnati has a new way of doing business. This is literally a change in philosophy. It’s not a program. It’s a new way of doing business here in the city. And so as the leadership changes, as people come in and out, we believe we set up a structure that will accommodate those changes over time. And I know also that the Cincinnati Police Department has said, if SERVE goes away tomorrow, Lt. Colonel Waylen always says this, if SERVE were to go away tomorrow, we would still police in this fashion. Because it makes sense to target groups and to think about our law enforcement strategies in terms of groups.
Len Sipes: We’re well beyond, just for a second ,
Greg Baker: What comes from our chief of police is that we can not arrest our way out of this problem. And what he means by that, particularly in this climate of dwindling resources is that arrest is not always the best and the only option. So we have to look at how can we be proactive in trying to prevent some crimes from occurring? And that talks about the help and the hope component when we get individuals that normally would participate in these groups without any other avenues for supporting themselves and then putting them into gainful employment.
Len Sipes: We’re well beyond our half point in the show where I ordinarily reintroduce the guests; Karhlton Moore, the Executive Director of the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services; Doctor Robin Engel, Director of the University of Cincinnati Policing Institute, so those people not involved in the criminal justice system is well known as one of the really great research institutions in terms of criminal crime and justice issues. And we have Greg Baker, the Executive Director of Community Relations for the Cincinnati Police Department. For those people interested in learning more about the information, go to the show notes in the program and I’ll provide Greg Baker’s email address. It’s gregbaker – greg, – g-r-e-g dot b-a-k-e-r at Cincinnati dash ohio dot gov. And I’ll repeat that one more time at the end of the program and it will be in the show notes. And, Robin, I guess that’s the issue of sustainability because this concept is not unique to Cincinnati. Cities have tried this concept to one degree or another, and found it difficult to maintain.
Robin Engel: Absolutely. You know, we’ve seen successes across the country, but we’ve also seen those successes dwindle over time. And there are, you know, there could be two things going on here, it could be that the focused deterrents approach is just simply a short term, it has short term outcomes. That could be one of the possibilities. But more like in what we’ve seen I think from some of the other cities is that the breakdown becomes the teams stop doing the work. They get away from what worked for a whole host of reasons, political reasons, changes in personnel, whatever it may be. And they just literally stopped doing what worked. And so that’s what we’ve been able to guard against here. We believe we put in a structure in place that will make sense for us long term. But addressing the first possibility that this is really just, it has a short term impact, that’s why we’ve embedded heavily into the services area as well, into the community components of this, so that ultimately we can turn this over to the communities and help them police themselves.
Len Sipes: All of you suggested, in essence, that this is a different way of policing. And I think that is probably the most exciting part of this concept. It’s a different way of doing things, it’s a different way of conducting business. Greg, I think you’ve really made that strong point. That the concept is that we within the criminal justice system, if we’re really going to have a sustained impact on violence have got to do things differently, have got to join together with the community. And we just can not march in like a paramilitary force and conduct our business. It’s got to be done within the community and the community wants the bad guys out, but the people who are marginal and are trying to make it, they want the system to try to assist them.
Greg Baker: You know, of course, the community organizing is probably the most important element, but likewise it’s probably the most difficult to actually achieve. So to that, on that note what we’re doing is working with some community organizations to really target on those 1,000 individuals that we have identified as being the most violent offenders. And then identifying who within the community, or what individuals would have influence over them? Is there this kind of community, informal community leaders? Are there elders? Members of the faith based community? You know, grandparents, uncles, whoever it is that might have some influence and then helping those individuals carry our message that the violence must stop. And then we’re working to really provide the words to say as well as different printed medium so that they could actually assist us in providing, or resonating our stop the violence message and then providing those individuals with the connections that they need to get out of that lifestyle.
Len Sipes: Is the message here that the community needs to basically manage its own problems that we, in the criminal justice, are obligated to get in there to help them, but we in the final analysis have a very limited impact, that it’s really the community coming together, coalescing and controlling itself. Am I right or am I wrong?
Greg Baker: You’re absolutely right. It’s kind of rolling things back to the 1960s where my mother would go out on the porch and if someone was throwing a bottle on the grass and it broke in front of the house, she’d go and chastise that individual and get them to pick up the glass. We don’t have that type of community control anymore. Everyone is operating in a state of fear. What we want to do is empower those community members and let them know that they are in the majority and that it’s just a small group of individuals what are perpetuating or perpetrating these crimes that we want to target and go after.
Robin Engel: And I might add that I don’t really think that it’s just a community issue and that we turn it back over to the communities per say but rather a partnership of law enforcement. One of the most powerful things that I’ve seen is at these call in sessions where we bring in folks that are on probation and parole that we believe are involved in violence, or likely to be involved in violence. And to see the community stand together with the police department, with law enforcement, with the street workers and the outreach, all again in one voice speaking together. It’s a very powerful message that’s being sent. And if I can also add, one of the things that I love about this initiative and the assistance that we’ve been receiving from the Office of Criminal Justice Services is that we can now there are other communities in Ohio that are doing similar work. And we can compare notes together. And we talk about what’s working in other places and we learn from one another as we’re moving through the strategy. Now, Cincinnati has been held up right now as the model, but the truth is we have a lot to learn. And as we’re, you know, hitting little bumps in the road, we’re learning from the other cities in Ohio and around the world that are doing these strategies as well.
Greg Baker: And that’s important as we look at being able to sustain these results. There’s a lot of ways to approach this. Probably one of the reasons that some of these other cities were not able to maintain those results is that you have to keep that message fresh. The traditional approaches that we have used, a courtroom and we call individuals in and we actually go through a formal presentation to those individuals in communicating this message from the law enforcement as well as the services and the community component that these things have to cease to exist. What we’re looking at now is looking at different ways to communicate that same message. Possibly going into prisons, having volunteer call in sessions. Having sessions right in the community itself to call these individuals in and to provide them this information.
Len Sipes: Because in essence it’s the community that’s ,
Karhlton Moore: On Robin’s point, I think – and this goes to sustainability, I think the fact that we have multiple cities around the state, we don’t have a situation where a city feels like we’re in this on our own. It’s a, what we’ve tried to do is take the success of Cincinnati and use that as a model for other cities around the state. And we have a fair number of cities around the state who are at different stages of implementing the model that Cincinnati has already implemented. And to allow them to share ideas, share experiences, share knowledge and there’s this sense of, it’s almost like a synergy there that we’re all responsible to each other. And so maybe in some of those instances where you’ve had individuals in a city who just decided for one reason or another that they weren’t going to continue the work, to do the work that allowed them to get the results that they were getting, I don’t think we’ll see that here. First of all they’ve gone into it with the idea and the understanding that sustainability has been an issue from the very beginning. And as a funder, that’s one of the things that we really focus on, programs are short term. But they went into this with the idea of saying, hey, we’re going to make this long term and we’re going to build the sustainability into the program. And that was very attractive to me as a funder. And then I think, when I talked about before, about this kind of we’re all in this together I think will help make sure that it won’t just be someone decides one day we’re not going to do it and everything falls down like a house of cards. But that this is going to be the way that law enforcement throughout Ohio and those cities who decide to implement this program, the way that they’re going to do business.
Len Sipes: And Karhlton, you’ve got the final word, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been talking about the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence. What do we have? A 40 percent reduction in group related homicides over a 15 month period, 300 individuals receiving social services who are trying to get out of this whole issue of a continuing cycle of violence. We’ve been talking today to three individuals, Karhlton Moore, the Executive Director of the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services; Doctor Robin Engle, Director of the University of Cincinnati Policing Institute; and Greg Baker who is the Executive Director of Community Relations for the Cincinnati Police Department. I’m going to give Greg’s email address as the contact point; greg – g-r-e-g dot b-a-k-e-r at Cincinnati – oh dot gov. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety and we are averaging about 120,000 requests at the moment for the radio and television and blog and transcript, a part of our social media service. We really appreciate all of your suggestions. We read every suggestion. We incorporate many of them into the shows. We use your idea in terms of new show topics. So please keep them coming in. And everybody have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio Ends –

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