Pubdate: Tue, 07 Feb 2012
Source: News Journal, The (Wilmington, DE)
Copyright: 2012 The News Journal
Author: Mike Chalmers, The News Journal


State Delegation Hears Firsthand About High Point Model

HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Wilmington seems to already have most of the
building blocks it needs to deploy the crime-reduction strategy that
has helped this city break up open-air drug markets and cut gang
violence, officials here told a Delaware delegation Monday.

"It may be just a matter of connecting those resources," said
Wilmington Police Chief Michael Szczerba.

Szczerba said police are already planning a call-in meeting, possibly
next month, to tell a group of repeat offenders that their behavior
won't be tolerated any longer. Such a meeting is a major part of the
"focused deterrence" methods that High Point police have been using
for several years.

Szczerba and eight others from the city and state heard from High
Point police and community leaders in an all-day session Monday. They
are scheduled to return for more discussions this morning.

"It's pretty impressive what we heard today," said William Montgomery,
chief of staff for Mayor James M. Baker.

High Point first used focused deterrence on violent offenders in the
late 1990s, then deployed it in 2004 to break up a violent open-air
drug market in the city's West End neighborhood. They deployed the
strategy successfully in four other drug markets and applied it to
gang violence, youth crime and robberies.

High Point Police Lt. Col. Marty Sumner said the efforts have helped
cut violent crime by 47 percent since 1990, even as the city's
population climbed 34 percent.

Later this month, police plan to use focused deterrence for the first
time with chronic domestic-violence offenders.

"There are good people in those neighborhoods who want the same things
I want in life and the same things you want," High Point Police Chief
Jim Fealy said. "You have the right to be safe in your community, and
it's our job to help make that happen."

Wilmington had the nation's third-highest violent-crime rate among
cities its size in 2009 and 2010, while High Point's rate is about a
third of that.

Last fall, The News Journal wrote about how police in Providence,
R.I., used focused deterrence to squash two violent drug markets
there. Szczerba initially resisted the strategy but later said he
would consider it.

In Monday's meeting, Szczerba pressed Sumner for details about 
differences between Wilmington and High Point: population density, 
racial makeup, economic forces, the availability of needle-exchange 
programs and medical marijuana, the presence of an Occupy protest and 
others. He asked about the diversity of the police force and whether 
officers are required to live in the city, which are criticisms he 
hears from Wilmington residents, he said.

"This is what I'm going to face when I get back," Szczerba

Sumner said the strategy isn't limited to one kind of city and isn't
affected by those factors. Dozens of cities nationwide have used it.

"It goes anywhere," Sumner said. "You just have to figure out how to
scale it."

Montgomery and Szczerba said Wilmington is already doing many of the
things High Point police suggest, such as focusing on offenders at a
high risk of committing more crimes.

"The policing side has been working well," Montgomery said. "It's a
matter of incorporating the social services. The force multiplier
would be to get the community involved."

Wilmington Police Capt. Marlyn Dietz, who heads the department's
community policing unit, said the city has about 40 neighborhood
groups that could be enlisted to help.

"It's still fragmented, and maybe what we've been missing is getting
them all in a big pool and talking to each other," Dietz said.

Social-service agencies also must help offenders who want to get away
from gangs and drug dealing, Sumner said. It's essential that those
agencies follow through on their promises.

"The offer of help has to be as real as the threat of prosecution," he

Wilmington Police Capt. Nancy Dietz said last year's effort targeting
almost 90 repeat violent offenders helped bring down shootings 37
percent. But police have started to see the numbers creep back up in
the past two months, she said.

After discussing the situation for a few minutes, Sumner and High
Point Police Capt. Larry Casterline said Wilmington had effectively
done the first part of focused deterrence by aggressively going after
the worst offenders. Taking them off the streets caused shootings to
drop, they said.

"Any time you target a population, you'll get an immediate reduction,"
Casterline said, "but you're not going to maintain it."

The next step is to notify the lower-level offenders that they'll get
that same aggressive treatment if they continue their behavior, he
said. Use the first group as an example of what the police can and
will do to them, he said.

"That's what gets out to the rest of them and makes it sustainable,"
Casterline said.

In West End, police expected to find 50 or 60 drug dealers. Instead,
they found only 16. The four most serious ones were prosecuted
immediately, while the other 12 were called into a meeting where they
got a chance to go straight.

"We're talking about small numbers," Casterline said. "The idea there
are all these bad guys out here just doesn't hold water."

Montgomery asked how to keep "grandstanders" from taking over the
process. Sumner said the police have to maintain control of the
initiatives and not let them become platforms for individuals or
expansive social-service efforts.

"It has to be about making the community safer," Sumner said. "If we
save a few of these people along the way, great. If we can't, oh, well."

Casterline said offenders need to hear the community's condemnation at
the call-in meetings, but those messages should be delivered with
respect and credibility.

"This isn't an in-your-face, scared-straight, confrontational thing,"
Casterline said. "It's just factual."

Montgomery also asked whether the drug market initiative would just
drive drug sales behind closed doors. Sumner said High Point police
considered the same question and came up with an almost humorous answer.

"Yes," he said, "that's called the suburbs, where people are doing
drugs but no one's getting shot every day."

Since 1997, High Point police pressed charges against about 160 of the
most serious offenders, who were never given a second chance and were
prosecuted immediately as examples, Sumner said.

More than 1,000 others have been called in for the second-chance
meetings, he said, and only about 10 percent to 12 percent of them
have been caught violating the rules.

"Some of these guys want to know, 'How long do I have to be good?' "
Sumner said, laughing. "Forever! Like the rest of us. You never come
off the watch list." 
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