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  Reinventing the Homicide and Violence Reduction Wheel
June 29, 2005

Members of the media provide a lot of useful services that sometimes are overlooked. I want to cite a couple that just happened today.

The first was making inquiries to the Coast Guard that likely played a key role in convincing them to reverse their decision not to grant Richmond a fireworks permit. The Coast Guard apparently has an arbitrary 60-day permit requirement, but with Richmond scrambling for a donor to pay for the fireworks and focused on a budget and a STATE OF EMERGENCY, the certainty of the July 3rd fireworks event was not known until very recently. Other cities were able to meet the deadline, but Richmond was late. You could blame this on City staff, but you could also question the rationale for a 60-day lead time for a city to celebrate the 4th of July right off its own shoreline. Deborah Byrd of the Contra Costa Times (dbyrd@cctimes.com) was all over this last night after I talked to her by cell phone from the City Council Chamber, and Tom Lochner (tlochner@cctimes.com) was all over it this morning, both on the phone up and down the Coast Guard chain of command. Other journalists may have helped similarly. At any rate, it appears that media inquiries to the Coast Guard my have turned it around. From today’s Contra Costa Times website http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/email/news/12015509.htm:

"I told (Richmond) no, initially," Clark said. "My supervisor told them no. It went all the way to the top," most probably the district legal office, Clark said.

Wednesday morning, the Coast Guard informed the city the display is on again.

"Basically, we didn't want any bad publicity," Clark said. "A lot of people would have felt let down in Richmond."

We appreciate the media inquiries, and we appreciate the Coast Guard’s flexibility.

In the matter of homicides, it was Jim Zamora of the San Francisco Chronicle who reminded me today that the U.S. Department of Justice had funded a 1997 comprehensive study of homicides in Richmond after a flare-up in the mid 1990s that exceed by far our most recent experience. I knew I had the study at home in my files, and I had made a mental note to dig it out and look at it. But I had not gotten around to it. Zamora told me today that the study is on the Internet and gave me the URL, which is http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles/168100.pdf. I pulled it up and read he whole thing. Jim can be reached at Jim Herron Zamora, Staff Writer, San Francisco Chronicle / Oakland Bureau 510-433-5990 direct 510-433-5980 main bureau, 415-777-7102 metro news desk, 925-609-3654 pager, JZamora@sfchronicle.com.

In all of the testimony by some 60 people at City Council meetings, I never heard one person or one City staff member suggest we revisit this resource that is still pertinent. City officials should turn the study into a priority checklist for action now. In 1998, the year after the study was published, Richmond homicides dropped to 18 from a high of 62 in 1991, 55 in 1993 and 52 in 1994. The Summary is reproduced below (underlining is mine):

Although the Comprehensive Homicide Initiative in Richmond, California, is still in its implementation stage, this pioneering community’s early experiences will help shape the next stages of the program.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance created the Comprehensive Homicide Initiative program not to funnel large sums of money to selected sites to start hosts of new programs but rather to catalyze local efforts focused on homicide. In practice, this focus on homicide reduction has widened to include a focus on violence reduction because homicide is understood in that larger context. In Richmond, this perspective has led to a multidisciplinary, multifaceted strategy that recognizes that homicide, and violence in general, must be addressed on fronts that encompass the needs of youth and adults in education, training, employment, and alternatives to drugs and guns.

Perhaps most compelling in Richmond’s experience is the natural extension of problem-oriented and community policing approaches to the last bastion of traditional policing—the homicide unit. Under the Comprehensive Homicide Initiative, homicide prevention and investigation are no longer isolated from the rest of policing and community crime problems. Richmond’s initiative recognizes the critical role of the police/community relationship, both in solving current cases and in devising community strategies to reduce the likelihood of future homicides.

Richmond’s implementation plan has been effective because it incorporates a wide range of goals both within and outside conventional notions of law enforcement. However, these goals, while disparate in substance, share a central theme—transforming the relationship between community and police. In preparing its homicide reduction plan, Richmond Police Department officials saw an immediate need to improve police services and a longer term need to invest in youth who are most at risk of becoming both perpetrators and victims of violence.

The Comprehensive Homicide Initiative has passed an important first hurdle in Richmond. Its early success there shows that an effective strategy can be led by an effective police department, but not by the police working in isolation. The involvement of other agencies and an active community are key ingredients, without which the most inspired police approach will not succeed.

As the Comprehensive Homicide Initiative enters a new phase in fiscal year 1998, BJA will continue to assess the Richmond strategy as a model of communitywide planning and will work with partners at the Federal, State, and local levels to develop initiatives in other sites.