Birth of BRAVE
|The EBR crime reduction initiative aims to replicate the early success of a Boston program.|
Some Boston neighborhoods in the late 1980s and early 1990s, like parts of Baton Rouge today, were in crisis. Young men were killing each other at a shockingly high rate, and few people thought much could be done to stop it.
In 1994, three faculty members from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government approached the Boston Police Department's leadership and offered to help develop a “problem-oriented policing” strategy to combat youth homicide. The cops enthusiastically agreed, and the Boston Gun Project, better known as Operation Ceasefire, was born.
Various levels of law enforcement, prosecutors, probation officers, street activists, even clergy were brought into the loop. The mission: identify and target the most violent gangs and give them one last chance to stop killing each other before raining down on them with the full force of the federal, state and local governments.
East Baton Rouge Parish, which just landed a $1.5 million federal grant for its own Operation Ceasefire-style program, can only hope for a drop in crime. The local version has been dubbed the Baton Rouge Violence Elimination Project, or Project BRAVE.
“We will reduce crime in our community,” says Mayor Kip Holden.
In Boston, officials quickly realized the vast majority of the youth murders happened in one of three neighborhoods. The Gun Project working group, led by Harvard's David Kennedy, identified the most violent gangs and mapped out the rivalries among them.
The program rolled out in 1996, and the murder rate dropped, but 16 years later Boston has not kept up with its early success. Kennedy insists the Ceasefire approach not only can bring down the killing, it can help keep people out of prison and heal the wounds between law enforcement and the community. But Boston, and a lot of other cities, have let it fall apart, he says.
Here, the focus will be on north Baton Rouge's 70805 ZIP code, home to only 13.5% of the city's population but the setting of 30% of area homicides, according to Holden's office. Compiling the street-level intelligence already has begun, says Chief of Police Dewayne White. He says the BRAVE officers have established a rapport with the residents of 70805, leading to tips about criminal activity.
The Boston working group held a series of meetings with selected gangs to demonstrate the new reality: A variety of agencies were working together with the single goal of reducing violence. The gangbangers weren't offered a deal—lay off the killing, and we'll let you sling drugs—only a promise that more murders would lead to extra attention, on top of the usual baseline law enforcement. Street crime that might once have been a local matter could now lead to federal charges, and federal prison.
District Attorney Hillar Moore III says the first local meetings could happen by November. The worst of the worst won't be in attendance, he says, only those youths that might still be salvageable.
“This is not a counseling session,” Moore says. “Somebody who is a killer will not be at this meeting.”
GOALS OF A GRANT
Project BRAVE, launched in May with $150,000 of East Baton Rouge Parish funds, now will be supported with a $1.5 million federal grant. The grant will provide up to $500,000 a year over three years for:
• Violent crime research and data analysis tools from LSU to help identify criminal suspects and groups that should be targeted.
• Caseworkers and resources to provide substance abuse counseling, mentoring and job training to 25 youths per year who want to break away from the crime lifestyle.
• Support staff to maintain grant records and conduct media and community outreach.
Moore expects skepticism. Law enforcement can't credibly promise harsh consequences to what he guesses are 2,000 or 3,000 “bad guys” across the parish. But identify a few dozen, and let them know that not only local police and deputies, but also the district attorney and even the U.S. attorney, know their names, and the message might get through, he says.
“We embrace our role as a full partner in this endeavor,” says Don Cazayoux, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana.
Kennedy, the Boston Gun Project director, says Ceasefire methods also have worked in such cities as Baltimore, Minneapolis and Cincinnati. In a book published last year, he says not everybody gets how it works, or even likes it. It strains credulity to suggest that one-hour meetings can cut down on murders in the worst places.
While it may seem too good to be true, Ceasefire isn't simple or easy or guaranteed to work, especially over the long term. The people on the ground—cops, prosecutors, community leaders, everybody—have to own it.
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