This Anti-Violence Strategy May Be Coming to St. Louis, but Activists See Red Flags
Both mayoral candidates in tomorrow’s elections are in favor of what is known as targeted deterrence, but some proponents warn that doing so could reinforce the criminal police.
262 people were murdered in St. Louis last year, making the city’s homicide rate higher than it has been in 50 years. Most of these cases are still open and unsolved. These numbers have made reducing violent crime a top priority in the city’s upcoming mayoral election.
Activists have stressed that this should not mean increasing policing but instead addressing the root causes of violence. They hope the next mayor will take a public safety approach that embraces that vision.
The two candidates elected on Tuesday both promised some criminal justice reforms. Town Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Alder Person Cara Spencer agree on several issues, such as: For example, directing emergency calls to mental health workers instead of the police, and closing The Workhouse, one of the city’s notorious prisons. Jones has also campaigned for bail ends and the decriminalization of sex work.
However, both candidates have also put forward plans for a model of violence prevention, known as targeted deterrence, which risks becoming another tool of law enforcement.
This approach identifies individuals who the police suspect may be likely to commit violent crimes and offers them social services that are under threat of harsh prosecution if they break the law. Regardless of who wins the mayoral election, a targeted deterrent strategy is on the St. Louis horizon.
“Targeted deterrence can be very police force, and I’ve seen it abused that way,” said Antonio Cediel, urban strategy campaign manager for the LIVE FREE Campaign, a faith-based movement to reduce gun violence and end mass imprisonment . “I would really warn against simply viewing it as a more ingenious version of the hard crime.”
Focused deterrence strategies assume that a small number of people in “street groups” are responsible for much of the violent crime in a city and that people at risk of violence can avoid it if they take the right steps. Authorities should partner with nonprofits and community leaders to identify these individuals and groups. They do this by reviewing data on murders and non-fatal shootings, information about people in criminal areas with a criminal record, and details about people on their social networks.
Officials and community leaders then reached out to the groups to deliver a message Spencer described as a “carrot and stick.” They offer them tailor-made services and support such as housing, healthcare or vocational training. However, when someone commits violence, law enforcement and other agencies take targeted action against them.
Some advocates of criminal justice reform are pushing against the criminal threats on which this strategy is based. As part of a targeted deterrent strategy, law enforcement agencies typically take action not only against individuals accused of violence, but also against others with whom they are associated. This can include arresting people charged with unrelated crimes and non-traditional enforcement actions like checking group members’ vehicle registrations, fining them for apartment code violations, or trying to evict them from public housing.
“We don’t want people’s rights trampled while draconian measures are being taken,” St. Louis resident Johnson Lancaster told The Appeal: Political Report. Lancaster added that better addressing violent crime and providing social services could show promise as long as it doesn’t lead to strong policing that violates people’s civil liberties.
David Muhammad, the executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform and who has worked with cities across the country to implement programs to reduce violence, says most places do not implement targeted deterrence well. Just strategy or enforcement – mostly strategy, “Muhammad told the political report.” It’s not the carrot and stick. If you do not receive any services, you will not get enforcement. It is not that if you continue to use gun violence there will be enforcement. “The focus should be on providing social services and involving community members in the decision-making process.
Other initiatives in St. Louis to curb violence have prompted activists to treat targeted deterrence with caution. For example, the city introduced a program to heal violence last year. It should include hiring outreach staff and violence interrupters with strong community connections to mediate conflict and connect people to services. However, according to local activists, city officials ignored contributions from the community groups that brought the program to the city in the first place.
And in 2017, Metropolitan St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden launched a strategy called Hayden’s Rectangle, a form of “hotspot” police that targets a specific geographic area of the city and increases the police presence in that neighborhood. Hayden measured some success in terms of the number of arrest officers, which is inconsistent with the solutions that activists have called for. Lancaster said the city needs “a new vision of public safety that focuses less on arrest, law enforcement and incarceration and more on tackling the root causes of crime in communities and building opportunities for them.”
David Kennedy, professor of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and director of the National Network for Safe Communities, is credited with developing some of the earliest targeted deterrence strategies in the United States. He said concerns about targeted deterrence were not surprising given the communities’ past experience with the police. But ultimately, he sees it as a departure from other types of police strategies that tend to tackle low-level crime or attack entire neighborhoods.
“People are rightly vigilant and skeptical of really bad criminal justice practice because these communities have forever been over-police and underprotected,” said Kennedy. “But this is a way of stopping doing the damage bad policing does.”
Studies have shown that targeted deterrence can reduce gun violence, and proponents like Kennedy often cite Oakland, California as an example where community service and community engagement take precedence over law enforcement.
Oakland launched a targeted deterrent program called the Oakland Ceasefire Strategy in 2013. In the first five years of the ceasefire, homicides in the city fell by 45 percent, although they returned to pre-ceasefire levels over the past year. According to proponents, Oakland’s model has been successful as the city has made significant investments in the program by funding positions such as outreach staff and life coaches who connect with individuals, connect them to services, and develop a relationship to them encourage adherence to the program of life changes they make and avoid violent behavior.
Efforts to reduce violent crime in St. Louis will fail if targeted deterrence strategies are compromised, Muhammad said. “Some cities will say, ‘Oh, we gave them some recommendations for service providers. ‘ That is not enough. You need to create positions so that it is people’s full time employment to be in touch with the guys who are most at risk. There has to be a continuous, structured and intensive engagement. “
Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Arms Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said Baltimore had failed to provide solid services and relied too heavily on law enforcement to put in place a targeted deterrent strategy. He said there was little community engagement in Baltimore and that the city “did not have enough support services and” focus “on targeted deterrence”.
Including Philadelphia’s targeted deterrent strategy persistent punitive measures, including cutting off supplies for people’s loved ones in response to shootings.
“I remember once speaking to a US attorney who almost bragged about threatening to shut down services. It was some kind of heroic move,” said Cediel of LIVE FREE.
Spencer and Jones told the political report that they would not do this. Jones’ campaign said her strategy would “not use critical resource deprivation for St. Louisans to encourage participation.” Spencer said, “Shutting down the utilities is often the first step in homelessness. Using that as a threat my administration wouldn’t. “
Spencer has repeatedly cited Oakland as the model on which to base her administration’s targeted deterrent strategy, saying she would reduce the city’s first-term homicide rate by 30 percent if elected. Spencer said while her model would involve law enforcement and prosecutors, her program would not be a highly criminal program. The city would “work with agencies that connect people with the resources they need to change their lives,” she said.
Similarly, Jones said their targeted deterrent strategy would involve police and prosecutors, but that would come with other changes Jones wants to make in relation to public safety.
“Successful implementation of targeted deterrence requires not only focused police attention on a small group of citizens, but authentic relationships with credible prevention workers and robust social services for those willing to avoid criminal behavior,” said Jones’ campaign the political report in an email. “The St. Louis-focused deterrent version will incorporate critical city services and access to nonprofits to assist with employment, substance abuse, mental health, and other services.”
While groups like the Coalition Against Police Crime and Oppression are not yet required to take an official position on this strategy, Lancaster sees what happened to the Violence Cure Program as a cautionary story: although the coalition was involved in the effort to prevent violence against the Healing to St. Louis, he later dropped out of the initiative, as did others, citing concerns about the way it was being implemented.
“That happens when there is a disconnect between the will of the people and the people who implement the guidelines at the government level,” Lancaster said. “If they would rather fulfill their political goals than realize the will of the people. We hope to avoid this at the next mayor’s administration. “