Pubdate: Tue, 07 Feb 2012 Source: News Journal, The (Wilmington, DE) Copyright: 2012 The News Journal Contact: http://drugsense.org/url/1c6Xgdq3 Website: http://www.delawareonline.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/822 Author: Mike Chalmers, The News Journal CRIME-REDUCTION RESOURCES ALREADY IN PLACE, DELAWARE OFFICIALS TOLD 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 said. 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 said. 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." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.