A Sweeping Youth Violence Battle Plan

By Trugman, Kristan | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 25, 2000 | Go to article overview

A Sweeping Youth Violence Battle Plan


Trugman, Kristan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


City leaders will soon combine law enforcement, intervention and prevention efforts to break the cycle of youth violence ensnaring the District.

The youth violence reduction program is modeled on a successful, nationally praised effort called "Operation Cease Fire" in Boston, which has seen a dramatic drop in youth-related violence.

But it remains to be seen whether local authorities can ensure the cooperation and coordination of the various agencies, community groups and young people needed to repeat the success of the Boston program.

"We have to do what is best for D.C. Boston has a similar population, but they never had the same problems we had here," said Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. "It can't be a one-size-fits-all approach, but can we learn lessons from them? Absolutely."

Mayor Anthony A. Williams has directed two of his deputies - Erik Christian of public safety and Carolyn Graham of children, youth and family - to devise a youth violence reduction plan incorporating prevention, intervention and law enforcement efforts.

City officials will first implement the program in six distressed "capital communities" and 10 "21st-century schools" and later make it a citywide effort using funds from existing resources from public safety, employment services, parks and recreation, and the Children and Youth Investment Partnership.

"As we have learned through painful experience, we must do more to keep our young people safe in the neighborhoods and at school," Mr. Williams said. "Through this initiative, I want to create programs that nurture the potential of even our most troubled kids and teach them alternatives to violence."

So far this year, at least 57 persons have become homicide victims in the District. Moreover, 18 school-age children have been killed in the District this school year.

In Boston, where only one schoolchild was killed last year and none this year, Operation Cease Fire has involved police, federal agents, clergy, probation officers, social workers, judges, gang outreach service providers, gang members and prosecutors to cut youth violence.

Boston has known the same violence that plagues the District. Youth homicides there increased from 22 victims in 1987 to 73 victims in 1990. Between 1991 and 1995, an average of 43 young persons were killed each year.

"We were responding to six, seven shootings every night. You just ran from crime scene to crime scene," said Boston police Lt. Gary French, commander of the department's Youth Violence Strike Force.

Six years ago, Boston officials developed a plan to prevent firearm violence after determining how guns were getting into criminals' hands.

Federal agents and local police targeted gun trafficking and other gang-related activities. In talks with gang members, they found that a small number of chronic offenders were responsible for much of the city's violence.

"The biggest part of [the program] is knowing who the players are and sharing the information with the different agencies. It has to be a broad and comprehensive strategy," Lt. French said.

Police, prosecutors and probation officials met with gang members to set clear standards for behavior and offer alternatives to gang life. Those who continued violating the law were jailed.

Operation Cease Fire also relies on preventing crime and intervening in the lives of at-risk youth to address the social problems that cause the violence.

"Everybody has to carry their weight. Everybody has an impact on this," Lt. French said. "You're not going to stop the violence, but you can affect it dramatically."

To that end, Boston authorities work with clergy and other community leaders to intervene in the lives of gang members by offering them counseling and helping them find jobs.

Boston also houses social workers in police stations for counseling and remediation and sends police officers into schools to conduct anti-drug and anti-gang programs.

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