Fixing Criminal Violence Amidst Chaos: Reflections from the SPP (Part II)

Coming from Caracas has fueled my academic interest in criminal violence, as well as my motivation to find solutions to this complex and pervasive issue. In fact, finding alternative ways to tackle crime in the streets was originally one of the areas that drove me to apply to the SPP.

Given my personal and academic interests, therefore, I found Joseph Bock’s lecture Health Challenges and Peacebuilding incredibly useful, as it provided some insights on some of the most innovative and promising initiatives to tackle criminal violence. One of the most interesting examples to tackle criminal violence is the Cure Violence project (www.cureviolence.org), which approaches violence as a contagious disease that can be cured. In a nutshell, this initiative consists of a three-pronged method that is similar to the three components that are used to reverse epidemic disease outbreaks: (1) detect and interrupt the transmission of violence; (2) change the behavior of the highest potential transmitters; and (3) change community norms. The first component involves trained “violence interrupters” and an outreach team that prevent shootings by identifying and mediating potentially dangerous conflicts in the community. The second component consists of a trained outreach team working with high risk individuals to dissuade them to commit violence by meeting them where they are at, talking to them about the costs of using violence and the potential consequences they face by doing so. Finally, the third component involves engaging community leaders as well as business-owners and residents to convey the message that violence should not be as the norm, but as something that can be changed.

Another interesting and very successful example came up in our discussion with the chief of the Salinas Police Department, Kelly McMillin, who introduced us to the idea of the call-in process. This idea was originally developed by David Kennedy to alleviate crime in Boston, as he realized that gans were at the heart of the violence problem and that an extremely small number of gang members were responsible for a vast majority of the city’s violent incidents. The call-ins involve a face-to-face meeting with gang members in a forum setting, where different community leaders (including business-owners, religious leaders, and others) deliver a clear moral message against violence as well as a credible ultimatum from law  enforcement officers about the consequences if violence persists.

Other strategies for reducing criminal violence that I am familiar with include Antana’s Mockus’ (ex-mayor of Bogota, Colombia) ideas to “denormalize” violence and revitalize slums and other public spaces. The rationale of such strategies is to make it harder for people to ignore criminal violence and to create spaces for community participation and action. In my view, these type of strategies would greatly complement initiatives such as the Cure Violence or the call-in process, and would be great alternatives to the top-down and often coercive approach generally adopted by governments throughout Latin America. And in countries like Venezuela—which do not count with the resources, institutions, and a strong criminal justice system—all of these initiatives seem far more appropriate than the narrow and ubiquitous top-down approach to strengthen the criminal justice system. Thus, bottom-up, community-oriented approaches such as the ones described above seem far more effective to alleviate the issue of criminal violence in a country where the government neither has the capacity, the political tools, or willingness to address the issue.

Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.