FiveThirtyEight released a series of great articles on gun violence in America today and they dedicated a whole piece to New Orleans gun violence. It’s long, but you should definitely read the full thing if you’ve got the time. If you don’t have time though here are the five passages that sum it all up:1) Author Ben Casselman summarizes the fight to reduce gun violence rather beautifully in a paragraph relatively early on. We’ve made some progress but there’s lots more that needs to be done.
But beneath the local political wrangling, there is a larger lesson in New Orleans’s murder reduction effort. In recent decades, cities across the country have learned how to combat gun violence through innovative law enforcement strategies. But they have made far less progress in addressing the underlying problems that lead to that violence — and in focusing those efforts on the people who need them most.
2) Casselman spoke with Andrew Papachristos, a Yale professor whose work I greatly respect and have tried to mimic. Papachristos’s work tries to identify concentrations of individuals at substantially higher risk for involvement in gun violence. The results are pretty stunning in my opinion.
The numbers are breathtaking. In Chicago, the overall rate of non-fatal shootings was about 62 per 100,000 people.5 But in the networks that Papachristos identified, rates were about 12 times as high. In city after city that Papachristos has examined, 3 percent to 7 percent of the population is responsible for 50 percent to 60 percent of the shootings.
3) A pair of University of Cincinnati criminologists wrote the definitive study of the impact of anti-gang measures on NOLA gun violence. Their findings mimicked mine regarding the impact of call-ins and indictments on gun violence down here and one of the study’s authors, Nichola Corsaro, makes the same point I like to make when discussing why murder fell in 2013 but has been relatively steady since.
But Corsaro said that at some point, a leveling off was inevitable. The combination of call-ins and indictments succeeded in taking some of the city’s most violent offenders off the streets, or perhaps of convincing others to reform. But such strategies can only achieve so much.
“There is a diminishing return,” Corsaro said. “There has to be. If you’ve got a small percentage of gang members that are driving your violence and you focus on them and they go away for whatever reason … then you’re going to hit a ceiling.”
4) Back to Papachristos and his networks. Identifying concentrations of high risk individuals is interesting, but only if you’re going to focus your prevention efforts on them.
The implications of Papachristos’s network analysis go beyond law enforcement: If only a tiny percentage of people are responsible for a large percentage of violence, then interventions must be similarly narrowly tailored.
“The gap [in risk] between the average citizen and the guys in my network are so exponential that you’re not going to shift it by affecting the rate of people whose risk is already zero,” Papachristos said.
5) Finally, I found this quote by Thomas Abt to be very interesting, especially when combined with Papachristos’s research. Abt actually wrote a paper earlier this year that reviewed what works in reducing gun violence. His work found two strategies that work better than most: ‘Focused Deterrence’, which is what the city carried out in its anti-gang work, and ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’ like Chicago’s Becoming A Man (BAM) which works to change violent behavioral patterns (badly oversimplified explanation). BAM was recently academically recognized as responsible for a reduction in violent crime arrests and increase in graduation rates.
Thomas Abt, a Harvard researcher who has studied gun violence, said politicians and policymakers too often think that by tackling one set of problems (poverty and inequality), they can address another (murder and violence). That, Abt said, is “fuzzy thinking.” Job training, educational opportunities and mentoring programs that target a broad population — low-income black youth, for example — are worthy efforts in their own right, but they aren’t necessarily effective at deterring violence.
Put it all together and you see that the key to reducing gun violence in New Orleans is in identifying high risk individuals and developing effective social interventions to prevent people at high risk from becoming shot or shooting others. We know what works in reducing gun violence, now we just have to have the wherewithal to go out and do it.
It really is a great piece on New Orleans that speaks to the complexity of the issue. Give it a read!