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October 17, 2016

City to expand successful violence-reduction strategy beyond South Philadelphia

During his campaign, mayoral candidate Jim Kenney repeatedly called to expand Focused Deterrence, a violence intervention strategy that contributed to a dramatic decrease in shootings and homicides following its 2013 implementation in South Philadelphia.

More explicitly, Kenney pledged to make it “not just another program, but...a strategy for police across Philadelphia.”

Little has been made public about Focused Deterrence since he was elected mayor almost a year ago.

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After multiple inquiries from PhillyVoice, however, the Kenney administration, the Philadelphia Police Department and the District Attorney’s office have confirmed plans to expand the strategy, but details are scarce. Officials will not yet disclose the new target neighborhood.

“We have identified an expansion area and we’re in the process of coordinating resources between the City’s various public safety and criminal justice partners to implement the program there,” Lauren Hitt, Kenney’s communications director, said via email. “Once that process is further along and we have a more precise timeline for implementation, we will announce the location.”

Each city tailors Focused Deterrence a bit differently, but here’s how it has worked to date in Philly.

Police identify a group of young men who are likely to shoot or get shot. They find out not only who they are, but where they live, where their relatives live, and everyone in their circle. At a “call in” meeting, multiple city agencies present these individuals with an ultimatum: If you keep shooting each other, expect a swift crackdown by law enforcement. Stop shooting, and we’ll try to help pull you out of the cycle of violence. Jobs, social services, a GED. Whatever it takes.

Developed by criminologist David M. Kennedy in the 1990s, Focused Deterrence is part of the larger practice known as Group Violence Intervention, or GVI. Kennedy piloted the strategy in Boston, and its implementation coincided with a 63 percent drop in youth homicides.

Kennedy’s studies focus on gun violence that is perpetrated by a small, manageable segment of the urban population. Through a multi-agency effort — neighborhood leaders, social services providers, city prosecutors and others — Kennedy details how the cycle of violence can be disrupted before it starts.

When Philadelphia agencies collaborated to implement Focused Deterrence in 2013, shootings in South Philadelphia plummeted by more than 40 percent, according to media reports, and homicides were cut in half. While not all of the groups cooperated fully, stakeholders were successful in convincing a number of young men to put the guns down.

In August, the city made its sixth “call in” to gangs (or groups) in South Philadelphia, and it’s still going well on both sides of South Broad Street.

“The shooting and homicides attributed to gang activity went down by such a degree that when you look at shootings in the years after [2013], it’s only chipping away at the initial massive decline in shootings,” said Assistant District Attorney Caroline McGlynn, chief prosecutor for the DA’s South Division.

So, if it’s so successful, why not implement it in every neighborhood where groups are shooting and getting shot?

The strategy’s success is hinged on targeting entire circles that are prone to violence. Not every high-crime area in Philly has the group dynamics required for this strategy to work, Hitt noted.

“To help us make decisions about where to expand, Temple has been studying Focused Deterrence for the last several years and we expect to have their study’s full conclusions by late this year/early next,” she wrote in an email.

Temple is also evaluating other strategies, including the CureViolence model and the Youth Violence Reduction Partnership, which may be implemented in areas where Focused Deterrence would be less successful.

Focussed Deterrence puts relatively little strain on the city budget compared to other violence-prevention measures. All told, the initial implementation in South Philly cost the city $150,000 for social services and job training.

For contrast, the Department of Human Services awarded a $1 million, one-year contract to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Association for “violence and delinquency prevention” in 2015, and a $2.73 million contract to the Urban Affairs Coalition for “youth violence prevention,” according to city budget data.

But Focused Deterrence takes a toll on human resources in each department, which needs to factored into implementation in a different section of the city.

“It takes a lot of dedicated people doing a lot of work. There’s a tremendous amount of human capital to achieve what we’ve achieved in [South Philly],” Hitt said.

Reuben Jones, the city’s social service coordinator for Focused Deterrence, was not available for comment.