Oct 19, 2009

Unique New Plan to Reverse Violence in Chicago

Earlier this month, Derrion Albert, a young honor role student in Chicago was beaten to death with a wooden plank, apparently after stepping into a massive fight between two groups of neighborhood youths. As we have reported previously on this blog, the murder rate in Chicago is quite high -- and Derrion's death has (unfortunately) provided even more of a galvanizing force to address and quell the violence.

The New York Times recently reported on a new initiative underway in Chicago to use statistics and probability to identify likely victims of gun violence. Funded by the federal government at a price tag of $30 million, this plan involves targeting the 10,000 young people at highest risk of becoming victims to the tide of gun violence in the city's south side. Having conducted a survey of 500 victims of violence, the Chicago Police Department has devised a system of predicting the characteristics of potential victims -- and then flooding their lives with adult attention, giving them paid jobs, and providing a community advocate on whom they could call any time of day or night.

As the Times article reports:

"The students at highest risk of violence, by statistics, are most likely to be black, male, without a stable living environment, in special education, skipping an average of 42 percent of school days at neighborhood and alternative schools, and having a record of in-school behavioral flare-ups that is about eight times higher than the average student.

Attacks have typically happened beyond a two-hour window from the start and end of school — that is, late at night or very early in the morning — and blocks away from school grounds, where neighborhood boundaries press against one another.

Within the three dozen or so schools where 80 percent of the victims in the study attended classes, the plan calls for a rethinking of the security philosophy so that policies favor mental health strategies and prevention over policing and punishment. And officials are becoming more strategic about providing safe passage to school by increasing police enforcement and by keeping tabs on gang and clique activities in real time as their turf wars hopscotch around school catchment areas."

There is, of course, some concern that 10,000 students will be consuming $30 million of resources; and some people from these communities beset with violence are skeptical that anything will work. But Ron Huberman, the new chief executive of the and a former police officer, is convinced that targeting small numbers of students will yield large-scale results.

What do you think? Does this kind of plan represent the best use of crime data in action? What are some of the potential consequences of this initiative -- and do you think it will bring the peace that Chicagoans are looking for?


Here's another good article from the Chicago Tribune about the young people who were involved in Derrion Albert's death.

And here is a CNN report featuring short video clips of the beating. Please be forewarned: it is quite disturbing.