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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > June 2013 > Safe Neighborhoods Initiative targets gun violence

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Safe Neighborhoods Initiative targets gun violence

Strategies that have produced drastic reductions in gun-related crime in cities around the country form the foundation for Attorney General Mike DeWine’s new Safe Neighborhoods Initiative.

In Boston, youth homicides fell by two-thirds and all homicides by half. In Cincinnati, homicides involving gangs fell 41 percent and other violent firearms incidents dropped 22 percent. In Stockton, Calif., where gang homicides fell from 18 the year before implementation to one afterward, the overall gun homicide rate fell 42 percent.

The Attorney General’s Office has begun a pilot of the Safe Neighborhoods program in Akron in collaboration with local law enforcement, community and church leaders, social service providers, and victims’ families. The plan — there and later statewide — is to target the most violent career criminals, a small segment of the population shown to commit the majority of Ohio’s violent crime.

According to Ohio State University Professor Deanna Wilkinson, who analyzed Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and Bureau of Criminal Investigation data from 1974 to 2010, those with two or more violent felony offenses make up less than 1 percent of Ohio’s adult population, but are responsible for 57 percent of Ohio’s violent felony convictions.

“Our goal is to revitalize and restore the spirit of neighborhoods paralyzed by crime and gun violence,” Attorney General DeWine said. “My office is going to help communities across the state implement holistic solutions.”

Assistant Attorney General Bob Fiatal will lead the effort and work with local authorities interested in expanding it to their communities. A former FBI agent, he headed the Attorney General’s Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy from 2010 until May, when he began his new assignment.

How it works

Here’s how the strategy is implemented:
  • A city’s high-crime groups or gangs are identified, and the most violent is targeted first.
  • The most violent offenders and gang leaders who are on parole or probation in that area are ordered to appear for a “call-in.”
  • At this meeting, local, state, and federal law enforcement warn offenders of the prison time they will face if they continue to commit crime. (A proposed Armed Violent Career Criminal Act that would stiffen penalties for repeat violent offenders is under consideration by Ohio legislators.) Offenders are told they are being watched and have one more chance to stop. If they commit another gun-related violent crime, law enforcement comes out in full force on the entire gang.
  • Clergy, community leaders, and residents who have lost family members also speak at the call-ins, sharing the community’s plea that the violence end.
  • Information on job training, alcohol and drug rehab, GED prep, and other social services is provided in a “one-stop shop” approach for those who want help.
  • This same process is repeated with the next-most violent group and others as they are identified.
“The call-ins are an efficient and effective method of communicating the strategy’s key message back to the entire universe of violent groups in the neighborhood,” Attorney General DeWine said. “As these groups come to understand that violence by one may lead to law enforcement attention to all, the peer pressure that drives violence is reduced.”

Why it works

Three elements of the strategy address what really drives violence on the streets. First, it conveys that the community wants to see the violence end, values the offenders, and wants them to succeed. Second, it offers help to offenders who want it. And finally, it spells out specific and credible consequences for homicides and shootings directed at violent groups.

“This is more than an enforcement-based action. It’s proactive work,” Fiatal said. “We want to stop crime before it happens. The mindset in law enforcement has been to lock them up. And until a couple years ago, that’s where I was, too. But it doesn’t work in the communities we have now.”

David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, developed the model, first piloted as Operation Ceasefire in Boston in the mid-1990s. He has since worked with more than two dozen cities on firearms violence and drug market disruption initiatives.

Kennedy lays out the strategy — and the challenges of implementing and sustaining it — in his 2011 book, “Don’t Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America.”

“It takes about 10 minutes to explain it,” he writes. “… What we need to do is identify those core offenders, which is easy. Then we need to put together a core partnership of law enforcement, service providers, and community voices. If we can add strong figures close to the offenders — parents, elders, ‘influentials’ — so much the better.

“We need to organize law enforcement so it can provide a clear, crisp, predictable strategic response, particularly to the groups … at the center of the action. We need to organize the social services and the community voices. We need to build a sustained relationship between the partnership and the streets in which we clearly, crisply, and repeatedly spell out standards, opportunities, and consequences. And in order to do all that, we need to undo the worst of the toxic rift between law enforcement and the neighborhoods.”

Cincinnati is among cities that have worked with Kennedy to reduce gun violence. It implemented the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) in 2007 after the homicide rate rose from 41.3 per year in the 1990s to 88 in 2006. Loosely modeled after Operation Ceasefire, the program produced impressive results, including a 41 percent drop in gang-related homicides in the 42 months after its implementation, according to University of Cincinnati researcher Robin Engel, who has been involved from the start.

Sustaining such gains can be a challenge, and that’s been the case in Cincinnati, Engel said, noting that a recent increase in gang-related homicides has coincided with changes in CIRV leadership, the loss of critical partnerships, and reduced funding.

Cincinnati Assistant Police Chief James Whalen supports the concept. “The application of focused deterrence principles to gun violence saves lives,” he said. “It’s a technique that we’ve employed here that has been very effective for us. It’s a work in progress, and it requires constant attention and adjustment, but we’ve been very satisfied with the results.”

AG provides additional resources

As part of the Safe Neighborhoods Initiative, the Attorney General’s Office has designated $7 million for grants to fund community efforts that offer alternatives to violence. The grants will fund social service and community programs.

“It is important that these neighborhoods have necessary social services available to help offenders get on a new track and get their lives turned around,” Attorney General DeWine said.

The Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) also will play a role. Criminal intelligence analysts can help establish data baselines, measure results, and identify patterns of gang activity, violent crimes, and firearms use to complement local agencies’ efforts. Agents can provide advanced crime scene reconstruction to identify locations where shots were fired and conduct forensic investigations of crime scenes.

BCI also can provide a “virtual command center” for local coordination, and agents can be part of a visible presence when violent crimes occur. In addition, BCI will collect data on gang activities to contribute to a statewide strategy for reducing violent gang activity.

“Some of the concepts of the group violence reduction strategy have been tried in Ohio cities previously. What the Attorney General’s Office can bring to the table are resources and continuity that can help sustain these efforts over the long haul,” Fiatal said.

For more information
  • For details on the Safe Neighborhoods Initiative, contact Bob Fiatal at or 216-787-3030.
  • Read “Don’t Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America” by David Kennedy.
  • Visit the National Network for Safe Communities website at