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Kennedy: Bermuda can tackle gang problem within a year

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Gang expert David Kennedy believes Bermuda can get a grip on its gang problem in the space of a year if it truly commits to an Operation Ceasefire-style approach.

The criminal justice professor and author, who visited the Island and its gun-crime hit neighbourhoods this week, told

The Royal Gazette he saw nothing here he hadn’t encountered before.

“We are always prepared for the situation on the ground to be something we haven’t seen before,” he said. “What we have seen here is as it always is, very similar.

“It really seems that these issues, in their fundamentals, are very similar from place to place to place which means that the approaches that have been developed can travel.”

He said Operation Ceasefire methods had been used in more than 100 US cites — mostly successfully but not always — and the key to their effectiveness was probably long-term commitment.

“The failures have come in places where people give it lip service but were not really serious about it and in places where they were serious about it for a while and have let it slide,” he said. “There are a lot of places like that.”

The director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York said his “very gratifying” visit convinced him Bermuda “could be fundamentally in control of all of this in a year — no problem.”

An Operation Ceasefire approach for Bermuda has been discussed since 2009, when gun deaths here began to rise dramatically, with the last Government promising to implement it by spring 2011.

Prof Kennedy said his office had been aware from newspaper reports for several years that the Island was interested in Ceasefire, though it was never approached by Government.

“What my office does when they see something like that is reach out and say ‘we are here’. We did that [earlier this year] and literally within a few weeks, [Senator] Jeff Baron was in my office.”

That meeting led to this week’s visit, during which Prof Kennedy was able to “get out in the neighbourhoods”, along with Sen Baron and “some very seasoned officers from the police service who know about gangs”.

What he found didn’t surprise him, as it mirrored what he’s seen in countless US cities: “What is underlying all of this is something that’s not limited to race or class or country or even continent.

“People think this is all about making money on the street and it’s not. It’s street code, honour, culture, respect.”

He said if economic disparity was the root cause of gang crime, it didn’t explain why “in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, it’s only a few percent of the young men who behave like this”.

He added: “It’s actually a tremendous insult to those neighbourhoods to say they are neglected so they can’t help it, because nearly everybody in them does help it. It’s slanderous.”

Talking to residents in so-called gang areas here, he discovered “they hate what’s going on. They want it to stop”.

And he said that was likely true of the gang members too. “What you find when you actually are able to get close to even most shooters is they hate what’s going on and they feel trapped, they feel pressured.”

His method focuses on direct engagement with gang members — warning them about the repercussions of their actions and focusing police resources on the most violent groups — rather than eradicating social causes of crime.

Prof Kennedy, who is also director of the National Network for Safer Communities, said: “There is a zero record of success in addressing those core violence issues by addressing root causes. Nobody has ever made that work.”

He added: “You can’t address root causes when communities are living in terror. We should have priorities. One of the things that’s wrong with the way we tap into these issues, especially with law enforcement, is that we try to fix everything and what that means in practice is that we fix nothing.”

Useful website: www.nnscommunities.org

David Kennedy, the professor who came up with the Operation Ceasefire concept. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
David Kennedy, the professor who came up with the Operation Ceasefire concept. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published May 02, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 01, 2013 at 10:07 pm)

Kennedy: Bermuda can tackle gang problem within a year

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