Community Response on Curbing Youth Violence
In late fall of 1997, Rochester, NY Mayor William A. Johnson, Jr. convened representatives from all of the local, state and federal criminal and juvenile justice agencies operating in the Rochester community. This was done in response to the rising levels of youth violence in the Rochester area, and was intended to create a partnership that would develop and implement a comprehensive response. The incident that most directly resulted in the Mayors "call to action" was a robbery, captured on surveillance video, that occurred at a local restaurant. Four young people ranging in age from fourteen to nineteen and armed with guns, entered the restaurant. Operating with the precision and efficiency of an elite military unit, they began systematically robbing and terrorizing patrons. When the restaurant owner resisted, and later when police arrived on the scene, these individuals did not hesitate to fire their weapons. Although the robbery was thwarted, some of the victims and perpetrators sustained injuries.
This incident, along with a few others that were highly publicized, made it clear that fairly drastic measures needed to be undertaken immediately to deal with the small percentage of young people inclined to commit violence, and to prevent others from joining this group.
All of the agencies who were asked to participate in this partnership responded enthusiastically, dedicating staff and other resources to the development effort. An exhaustive search was conducted to locate similar initiatives in other cities, resulting in several consulting sessions with members of Bostons Gun Project. Rochesters initiative includes programs modeled after those implemented in Boston, while also being augmented by unique efforts developed specifically for Rochester.
After several months of intensive planning, the City of Rochesters Youth Violence Initiative became fully operational on July 1, 1998. This effort has one simple mission: to reduce the level of violence among young people between the ages of 13-21. It attempts to accomplish this mission through intensified law enforcement and intervention programs, while also working closely with Rochesters prevention oriented human services community.
The Initiative has produce interagency cooperation at levels heretofore unseen in Rochester, and in communities throughout the nation. Participating agencies include: The Mayors Office; the Rochester Police Department; the Monroe County Executives Office; the Monroe County District Attorneys Office; the Monroe County Sheriffs Office; the Monroe County Probation Department; the Monroe County Attorneys Office; the New York State Police; the New York State Division of Parole; the New York State Department of Family & Childrens Services; the United States Attorney for the Western District of New York; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms; and the Rochester City School District. All of these agencies have dedicated staff to this effort, directed by a committee of the chief executives or area representatives of partnering organizations, which is led by Mayor Johnson. In addition, fourteen new full-time City and County staff have been hired to staff the programs that comprise the Initiative.
Although it is very early, initial results have proven encouraging. In late January, Mayor Johnson and other representatives from partnering organizations reported significant reductions in levels of violence among young people targeted by the Initiative. Specifically, since inception, these individuals showed recidivism rates well below 10%, which is significant given that violent youthful offenders typically re-offend better than 80% of the time. This aggressive targeting of those most prone to youth violence led to declines in the victimization rates for their peers (ages 7-21) I three of the Initiatives four key measurement areas: homicide (16.7%), robbery (39.5%) and serious assault (8.5%). The fourth, criminal possession of a weapon, typically has no victim. Additionally, violent crime citywide was down significantly, including a 20% reduction in homicide, further evidence of the Initiatives effectiveness.
Commenting on this early success, Mayor Johnson said "though it may be premature to attribute current crime reductions solely to our efforts, were sending clear messages to the small number of young people engaging in violence. They now better understand that they cant continue their criminal activities without severe consequences; that this community is working together on many levels to cast a net through which there is no escape; and that they do have alternatives to the lifestyles theyve been leading. We believe this Initiative has played a major contributing role to the substantial reductions in crime that our community is enjoying."
He went onto say that the Initiative will further quantify its impact in the near future. "Over the next year, we will continue to report results in our four key measurement areas: homicide, serious assault, robbery and criminal possession of a weapon. We expect to demonstrate significant statistical progress in reducing levels of youth violence in our community."