Philadelphia, state consider rebooting ‘focused deterrence’ to combat gun violence

An officer removes crime scene tape after the investigation of what police say was a shooting with one victim in Philadelphia, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

An officer removes crime scene tape after the investigation of what police say was a shooting with one victim in Philadelphia, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

This article originally appeared on The Philadelphia Tribune.

A new effort is brewing between city and state officials to reboot the law enforcement strategy known as “focused deterrence” to reduce gun violence in Philadelphia.

The model, which puts pressure on and provides services to the small groups of offenders who are believed to drive gun violence, could return to Philadelphia by the spring of 2020, state Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell said.

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The West Philadelphia Democrat said she has been working with stakeholders, including Mayor Jim Kenney’s Office of Criminal Justice and Public Safety, the Philadelphia Police Department, District Attorney Larry Krasner’s Office, and state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-7.

“This looks very promising,” Johnson-Harrell said, but added, “It’s not a done deal yet.”

The pilot program would be a collaborative effort between agencies and departments, who were working the anti-violence research center National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College in New York.

Specifics and funding about the program remain unresolved, Johnson-Harrell said.

David Kennedy, a criminologist who developed the focused deterrence model and leads the National Network for Safe Communities, said he has been involved in informal discussions with city and state officials, who have had a “renewed interest in this approach.”

“It does look like there has been a decision made. There is a commitment at the city and the state level to do this,” Kennedy said.

Officials were expected to travel to John Jay College to receive training and information on the approach from the National Network for Safe Communities.

Hughes, who said he’s been involved in these discussions since mid-June, said funding for the program could come from both the city and state, as well as other sources.

“If we can figure out a lot of other things, we should be able to find resources to deal with this issue,” he said.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross and Kenney administration spokesman Mike Dunn did not respond to email and phone requests for comment on Friday.

Krasner spokeswoman Jane Roh said in an email the district attorney was working with city and state officials and community members “toward pursuing a gun intervention strategy that has shown some success elsewhere in both reducing gun violence and in delivering badly needed resources to underserved communities.”

But Roh did not address specific questions about the focused deterrence strategy or whether the district attorney endorsed the program.

The focused deterrence program, which has been used in Chicago and Oakland, was first brought to Philadelphia in 2013 for a two-year pilot program with an approximate $150,000 budget.

The strategy was credited with reducing shootings by 35%, according to a 2017 Temple University study.

The 2013 program brought together an array of partners, including local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and departments, health providers and community groups.

The model uses nontraditional enforcement tools, including prioritizing group members for child support and utility theft enforcement. These pressures are put on not only those suspected of committing gun violence but the groups they are associated with.

In addition, the program offers to those group members intensive case management, social services, employment opportunities and other resources.

But the program faltered because it “didn’t get the support and the institutionalization and the sustainment that it should have,” Kennedy said. “It worked, and it was not institutionalized.”

In the years since the program ended, the number of shootings has gone up.

There were 353 homicides in the city in 2018, which was a 10-year high.

The city had tallied 185 homicides through Friday, up 7% compared to this time last year. Black men were the victims in three out of every four shootings and homicides so far this year.

In June, there were 23 shootings in a violent Fathers Day weekend, and more than 30 people were injured or killed. Among the incidents was a shooting during a graduation party at Finnegan Playground in Southwest Philadelphia left one dead and five injured.

Earlier this month, seven people were injured in another shooting during a basketball tournament at Baker Playground in the Overbrook neighborhood.

Bilal Qayyum, a long-time community activist, welcomed the revival of the focused deterrence model. But he hoped the city would provide enough money, resources and services in order to sustain the program long-term, which the city previously failed to do.

“To keep it going, you’ve got to give guys support services,” he said, adding, “At this point, any program in the past or present that can demonstrate that it reduces shootings, we have to support.”

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