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"Focused Deterrence" Helping to Curb Gun Violence Among New Haven Gangs

Paul Bass
New Haven Independent
Retired New Haven detective Stacy Spell, at left, local Project Longevity chief, with Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Markle at a Project Longevity call-in earlier this year.

A Yale University initiative is helping to reduce gang violence in the Elm City. It's called focused deterrence, and the strategy is simple: focus resources, like social services and more police, on those most likely to be affected by gun violence. In New Haven's case, that was street gangs.

Starting in November 2012, a group of concerned people from law enforcement, social services, and the community at large invited representatives from the various crime groups or gangs to come in for what's called a call-in. The gang representatives are then given a clear and straightforward message.

"There is help for you if you want help to get out of this life that you are currently involved in," said Michael Sierra-Arevalo, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Yale, and a researcher on the project. "We have social service providers here that want to help you. The community cares about you; law enforcement cares about you; we want to help you. But even if you don't want the help, the violence must stop."

Credit Yale University
Michael Sierra-Arevalo, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Yale.

Sierra-Arevalo called it the "new rules of the game." For gangs that don't heed the warning and continue the gun violence, there are repercussions, not just for the person who pulls the trigger, but for every member of the gang.

"The idea is that you have a lot of these -- in most cases, young men that are already under the supervision of probation or parole," Sierra-Arevalo said. "You can exert a lot of control over people by doing simple things, like enforcing curfews. Like doing mandatory urine checks. These are things you can do to other members of the group to show that there are consequences for you not heeding the message of the program."

Credit Project Longevity / Facebook
A group works together during a Project Longevity event last year.

Focused deterrence seems to be working in New Haven. Since the first call-in in November of 2012, there have been 4.6 fewer gang related shootings and homicides per month, falling well below shootings and homicides attributed to non-gang members.

Focused deterrence is part of Project Longevity, a multi-year initiative to curb gun violence in New Haven.

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