Guru Returns To Help City Stop Shootings

Paul Bass Photo“TimeZup” for New Haven’s shooters again. Only you won’t hear that name this time—and the plan has changed in the hopes of making the results stick.

“TimeZup” was the name of a three-year federally-backed New Haven effort starting in 1998 to get illegal guns off the streets. A novel approach at the time, it was one of five such “Strategic Approaches to Community Safety Initiatives” of the U.S. Justice Department.

Thanks to TimeZup, for a while the number of violent-gun incidents did drop in New Haven over those three years, from an average of 719 to 487. Then it immediately shot right back up again. (Click here to read a detailed assessment.)

It turned out that it was also “TimeZup” for New Haven’s broader community-policing experiment, which had done the heavy lifting, cutting citywide violent crime by 41 percent form 1990 through 1997 (compared to a 10 percent national drop).

New Haven officials promised to bring an updated version of that program (now commonly referred to as the “High Point” initiative) in 2007, then never did.

Under a new police chief who helped usher in that earlier community-policing era, an architect of that 1990s TimeZup plans to return to New Haven. His name is David Kennedy. He’s a social scientist at John Jay College. He has spent the years since TImeZup traveling the country improving the basic concept of that plan. Backed by the U.S. Department of Justice (and recognized by, among others, the New Yorker magazine), Kennedy and his colleagues have helped cities cut violent crime by as much as 50 percent, and, unlike in New Haven, to make those lower levels the new realities in some places. One of his star collaborators: Then- Providence Chief Dean Esserman.

That same Esserman started work this month as New Haven’s police chief. One of his first moves: engaging Kennedy to bring the new version of the program (it doesn’t have a name) to New Haven, which has had 31 homicides so far this year.

Esserman said he has invited Kennedy and his team (including Tracey Meares, who worked with him in Chicago and now is at Yale Law School) to begin rolling out the program in a few months. (Details of the arrangement remain to be worked out.) Eventually, Esserman said, he hopes the effort enlists the whole city in dramatically reducing shootings, closing open-air drug markets, fundamentally “resetting” (as Kennedy puts it) the relationship between the cops and people in neighborhoods. Mayor John DeStefano has embraced the idea, too.

In Providence, Kennedy’s team helped not just slash the crime rate but also start to rebuild neighborhoods; that city became a leader in a coalition called the National Network of Safe Communities. Esserman said New Haven will join that coalition as Kennedy’s team gets to work.

The basic concept will be the same as TimeZup’s: Identify the small number of people in organized groups who are doing most of the shooting. Bring them in a room with cops, prosecutors, federal agents, probation and parole officers, grieving mothers and community leaders from their neighborhoods. Promise them you’re about to crack down hard on any shootings involving anyone in their groups, arresting all group members possible if any of them continues to use their guns. (They’re avoiding the word “gangs” these days.) Also promise them help if they go straight: job-training, drug treatment, school.

New Haven wasn’t the only city that saw gains evaporate once that effort left town. From the ashes of experimentation Kennedy learned the plan also has to tackle the deeper mistrust, some of it race-based, between cops and neighbors, for instance.

Kennedy details the lessons of more than a decade of confronting urban violence in a new book called “Don’t Shoot.” (He’ll discuss the book and the program with New Haveners on the front lines of anti-violence efforts, and with members of the public, at a Dec. 7 multimedia forum at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School; it is free and begins at 7 p.m.)

As he plans his return to New Haven, Kennedy, who showed up at Esserman’s Nov. 18 swearing-in at City Hall, also discussed those lessons and his plans here in an interview with the Independent. Excerpts of that interview follow.

Kennedy was asked first to describe the plan he’s bringing to New Haven.

* * * *

A Hard-Core “Call-In”

Kennedy: This is about homicide and serious violence in our most troubled and needful neighborhoods. It has worked all over the country. It has worked in New Haven, and New Haven let it fall apart, as many cities have done. So this is a return with the absolute commitment to building this into the work of the city so it will be sustained and continue to save lives.

When you look at what is behind the kind of violence that has been devastating New Haven, it is always concentrated among usually small disorganized groups of really stand-out offenders. And those may be what people call “gangs.” They may be drug crews. They may be no-name neighborhood sets. But they are groups. They are easily identifiable. In most places they’re associated with as much as three-quarters of all the killing.

You identify the groups. You identify the people in the groups. Because they are comprised of such high-rate offenders, almost always somebody in the groups is on probation or parole, which means the probation and parole authorities can tell people to come to a meeting as a condition of their court supervision.

So they come to a meeting. In the meeting they find the partnership that New Haven has put together to make all this work: People of standing in the neighborhoods. People who the members of the groups respect. And those can be such folks as the mothers of murdered children, neighborhood elders, older wiser gang members. Social service providers. And law enforcement; police, probation, parole, state prosecutor, DEA, FBI. That partnership looks at the offenders in the room, the probationers and parolees that have been called. Because you’ve got one or two people from each of the groups in New Haven, you are talking to all of the groups.

The first thing the partnership says: “This is not personal. You’re going home [after this meeting]. You are here because you are running with one of the groups in the city. We need you to take what you’re about to hear back to the group.” The people in the room are in effect messengers back to the street.

The community folks say: “Your community needs this to stop. We are not the police. We are not the chamber of commerce. We are you. We care about you. We want you alive. We want you out of prison. We you to thrive. The killing has to stop.” I have seen rooms of what everybody describes as the biggest thugs in a big city literally sitting in tears listening to the mother of a murdered mother of a peer of theirs [describing] what his death has meant to her and her family, the surviving brothers and sisters.

NHI: Is this about drugs or the killings? [The book describes both campaigns targeted at breaking up drug markets and at stopping homicides.]

What we’re talking now is the killings. There are various versions of this. What New Haven needs first is for the killing to stop.

The social service providers say, “Here is the phone number you and members of your group can call. We will do everything we can for you. We are not promising you a job. You have to make your lives whole. You have to put your guns down. This is not a deal. But we will do everything we can to help you.”

Law enforcement says, “We want you to take the help you’re being offered. We want you alive. We want you out of prison. We are trying to save your lives. This is not a negotiation. When you walk out the door, law enforcement in New Haven will be doing the following two things.:We will be systematically focusing all of our inter-agency law enforcement attention on the most violent group in New Haven. We will be tracking shootings, firing, assaults. Whichever group is on the top of the list, we will focus on everybody on that list. Guns, drugs, warrants, probation and parole, outstanding cases, cases you thought you walked away from, unpaid child support, unlicensed driving, everything. When we focus on that group, we will win and it will lose. So if you want that kind of attention, be part of the most violent group in the city.

The second thing: When you all walk out of here, we will be waiting for the first shooting or killing. Whatever group commits that shooting or killing, we will go to that group. Once again, everybody in law enforcement will focus all of its resources on everybody in that group. We will win. It will lose. If you want that kind of attention, if you see your boy picking up a gun to do a stupid revenge shooting, don’t tell him to put it down,

Then you send everybody home. And you keep your promises. If people want help, you help them. [And make arrests if they don’t.]

Then you have another call-in. At the second call-in, the partnership again once again renews the community stand against the violence. There will be people called in who said they want help. The partnership will explain the help they got. They will say these folks are really helping me turn my life around. Law enforcement will say, “Here are the groups that didn’t listen. Here is what we have done. You’re all free to go.” Once again, we will be looking for the most violent group and the next group that does a killing. “It is up to you whether we come calling ...”


How many cities has this worked in?



Everybody knows the Boston story, which has two parts. It completely stopped the killing. And the city let it go. That is also the New Haven story. The fact that it works in not in dispute any longer. The field history is there. The evaluations are there. The real work here, which is what my role is focusing on, is making sure that it is institutionalized. When we did it in New Haven last it was a side project for the city. ...

We have learned an enormous amount about how to build up the community piece. And especially how to address the racialized gulf between law enforcement and the community. So it’s a different enterprise than we had before.

How so?

The community component is enormously stronger. and the understanding of the way the community and law enforcement [interact] is enormously stronger.

Specifically? What’s something you’ll do this time that you didn’t last time?

What we all want is for the community itself to have a voice that says, “We don’t want violence here.” And for the tiny number of mostly young men that are likely to be violent to hear that and to put their guns down. The communities hate what’s going on. Communities are devastated by the violence. Many of these communities are so angry at the police that they don’t feel comfortable standing up and saying, “Young men put your guns down.” They see that as snitching. They see that as standing with a law enforcement community that they see as racist and oppressive. Law enforcement is very frequently acting very badly in these neighborhoods. There’s improper stop and frisk. There’s disrespect. Even legal enforcement means virtually all the men have gone to prison. You can’t get out from under that felony record once you’ve got it. The main way this work has changed since we were doing it in New Haven: understanding and fixing that has become the most important thing we do.

But in your book you point out that cities can’t solve those underlying [societal] problems. ...

I never said that. I said we have not gotten to the point where everybody can get a job. This relationship between police and the community, we can fix. That is a process of law enforcement coming to understand that the com unity is not complicit, not uncaring. It is angry and withdrawn. And law enforcement coming to understand when they try to protect the community by locking everybody up and stopping everybody on the street, treating everybody as a felon, you alienate the community. You play into the African-American’s history of racial oppression under color of law.

By the way, we called [that stop and frisk approach]  “ID-Net” a few years ago. We had a neighborhood lock-down program that marked the end of community policing.

The community correctly hates it.

Although at first, some people applaud [a swarming of cops making piles of arrests] and say, “The cops are finally here.”

It never lasts. In the most dangerous neighborhood, it’s 5 percent of the young men that are driving the core craziness. If you treat everybody in the neighborhood as though they were a potential gunslinger, almost everybody in the neighborhood is treated badly.

There’s that second issue of short-term sweeps [on minor charges] that put people [right] back on the street.

Let me finish the story. You asked what’s different about what we’re doing.  What’s different now is explicit attention to the neighborhoods ... to the unintended damage of our law-enforcement strategies. ... We need law enforcement in the community in a way that is respectful and does no harm. And we need communities that are very clear, explicitly, publicly consistently, that violence is not OK.

Is there a name for the new iteration of your program?

No. If you have a good one, we’d like to hear one. This stuff does not fit bumper stickers.

Tell me about building bigger cases [against leaders of violent groups] versus sweeps that that return lower-level offenders to the street right away.

What turns out to matter isn’t big cases and fed[eral jail] time, although there’s a place for all that. What matters is that the groups understand that the groups will get attention. We know that very little of the violence is about making money. Very little of the violence is any way in the interest of or ordered by, green-lighted by, decided upon by the groups. Group members behave like this. Most of the violence isn’t even good for business. Some guy gets into a shooting dispute with ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend about a respect issue. Or when you’ve got a beef with another group that’s been going on for 15 years and nobody on either side can say why we’re shooting each other. We just know that we are. That’s not even good for making money. It draws heat.

What matters is not big sentences. What matters is the group knows the group is going to be accountable. If all every member in the group knows is that their probation supervision is suddenly going to get intense for a couple of weeks, they’re going to stop their friend from doing that drive-by. They’ve got no stake in that beef with their ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. If they know they’re not going to be able to smoke joints and drink beer, that’s enough..

But David, a big part of the High Point plan in your book was the methodical, months-long mapping of gangs and observation of low-level transactions that build a bigger. Is that not central anymore?

We’re talking about two different operational strategies. The logic’s the same in both of them: We want the community to take a stand. We want social services. We want creative use of law [enforcement agencies] so we create certainty. We want direct communication with the right people. But what I’m quite sure we’re going to do first in New Haven is to stop the killing. The way you stop the killing is change the behavior of the groups. What a lot of cities have done, once the violence has stopped, then they move on and shut the street markets down. That’s what the second move is.

New Haven Buy-In

Anything strike you when you came to the new chief’s swearing-in last week?

What was just overwhelmingly clear to me that Dean’s coming home. He loves New Haven. He understands the city, knows the department; they respect him.

There was something else that struck me in the larger ceremony That was the mayor’s very clear statement in a variety of ways that he understands what the city needs to do to do this work.

In fact, he was quoting you almost word for word.

The thing that is most frustrating for the national community that has grown up figuring this work out and training other people to do it, is the fact that most of the people who most need to understand that we have figured out how to address this violence, don’t understand it yet. Most civic leaders keep on going back to all the things that we have been trying to do for generations that we know don’t work.

In fact that’s how New Haven’s community policing ended.

It’s what almost everybody has done. This mayor clearly gets it. What we will need in New Haven to institutionalize this and make it last is the clear roll-up-your sleeves commitment of the city and the police department and of the right neighborhood partners, and the neighborhood partners are always there.

Who are they? I know it was oversold in Boston that the ministers did it.

If you go to any neighborhood that is suffering from this violence, you will find people already devoting themselves to trying to stop it. They’re not usually getting paid. They’re not usually high-profile people. Sometimes they are. Usually they are simply amazingly good people from the community who are giving of themselves to try to keep the kids alive. You don’t need anybody else. You don’t need new money. You don’t organize the community. The community is already in motion about this. They need the rest of us to work with them in different ways.

I’ve heard some cops [describe] your ideas as well-intentioned but unworkable, that they believe you can never get relatives to come to call-ins or even the gang-bangers.

This is part of the misunderstanding law enforcement has of the community and the streets. The misunderstanding is completely understandable because the community and the streets and the cops have been working with each other in a certain way, and it has been deeply dysfunctional and alienating. Lots and lots of police officers and prosecutors think the guys on the corner are sociopaths and the community completely corrupt. That is completely understandable. That is completely wrong.

I was in the room at Dean’s swearing in on Friday; one of the citizens took me aside. Not one of the cops. [He said,] “I’ve been reading your book. I used to be in the life. “He said, “It’s exactly right. I thought the cops hated me. I never had a cop do anything to me. And I was absolutely convinced that they were racist oppressors.” And he’s realizing that that’s wrong. That’s the process that people go through [when] you pull people into one of these meetings.

The community thinks the cops are racist oppressors who get up in the morning to lock their young men up. Then they see the cops say, “We would like to help you get a job. I will tell you what our plan is. [If you cooperate,] I won’t have to lock you up.” The community can’t believe their eyes.

The cops see the mothers or the grandmothers or the older wiser gang-bangers stand up and say, “I love you. You’re doing wrong. Your community is dying because of what you’re doing. You need to stop it.” The cops can’t believe their eyes. Everyone sees these guys who say they don’t care if they live or die or go to prison, listening to the mother of the murdered child, weeping in public. Nobody can believe they’re doing that. Part of what is so vital about this work is that in a very concrete way it lets people see that they want the same thing, that they’re not really enemies. Once they get that, things change a lot.

We’ve had 30 homicides this year, in a city of 130,000 or so people. Does that sound high to you?

It’s huge.

Compared to other places?

That’s a very, very high homicide rate. Again, that’s not really a New Haven story. Most neighborhoods in New Haven are really safe. That is going on in a small number of very particular neighborhoods. That means people in those neighborhoods are terrified, and rightly so. That’s not OK. We need to fix that.

New Haven officials traveled to High Point in 2007, then announced they were bringing the plan here. What happened?

I don’t know.

You don’t know why it didn’t happen? Were you called in?


“Gangs”? Shhh!

In cities like New Haven officials have sometimes been reluctant to acknowledge the existence of gangs. They call that an exaggeration, or say that [acknowledging gangs’ existence] will give too much credibility or reinforcement to young people causing trouble. Or they fear the media will use that information to paint a negative picture of the city. Do you agree with that? Should we be avoiding “gang”?

We actually don’t talk about gangs. Gang talk makes everybody nuts. It’s entirely besides the point. I don’t want to get involved in an argument with anybody about whether their city has gangs or not. It goes nowhere.

Your book jacket starts out with “gangs” and says it several times.

I didn’t write the jacket copy. The book also says, “We learned not to talk about gangs.” Back in the day, we got into this in New Haven with the U.S. Attorney’s office. We had not learned our lesson at that point. Connecticut had just pretty much dismantled the Latin Kings statewide.

The Latin Kings are back in New Haven. The Hell’s Angels. The Crips and the Bloods.

Let me finish the story. Law enforcement was dead serious. We said, “Go back and talk to New Haven police department. Ask them what is driving the shooting.” The answer was “little neighborhood groups.” That’s what they said. Don’t argue about gangs. Just forget about it. What matters isn’t the gangs.

We had a problem [in the 1980s. Official] refusal to acknowledge the existence of gangs made us unable to deal with [the problem].

You don’t have to acknowledge gangs. You have to acknowledge what’s going on in the streets. What’s going on in the streets is groups. This neighborhood group that’s calling itself “Crips” didn’t come out of L.A . They don’t know any real Crips.

But we do have Latin Kings.

And are Latin Kings shooting the place up?


Most places they’re not. Hell’s Angels are not killing kids in the neighborhood You just follow the violence and you deal with it. The rest of it is a sideshow.

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posted by: LOL on November 28, 2011  2:58pm

Enough with the social engineering, don’t bring them all togetherfor a group hug, if you can identify the group responsible for the shootings lock em up and get them off the street.

posted by: anon on November 28, 2011  3:12pm

“Most neighborhoods in New Haven are really safe.”

The Hill, Dixwell Ave, Fair Haven, Dwight, West River neighborhoods are collectively averaging 12-18 killings per year. 

Meanwhile, East Rock, Westville, East Shore, Fair Haven Heights are collectively averaging less than 1 killing per year.

This should come as no surprise given the national figures that the murder rate among young black males is 40-50 times higher than the murder rate among other population groups.  The NHPD anti-homicide community strategy has to focus on young black males or else it won’t work.

Regarding the reduction of crimes other than homicide and shootings, which are at least as much of a concern to most residents, Kennedy’s strategy won’t help much, at least in the short term.  What’s the plan for that?

posted by: Fair Haven Mom on November 28, 2011  4:01pm

To LOL and anon…

What is going on right now is not working. Stop hating and give this a chance . We have NOTHING to lose at this point. Inaction/status quo will not stop the issues. At least this is a plan with proven success.  Again, more than we have had in a long time.

Good luck with this. I really hope it works!

kids are dying. ...

posted by: Larry L on November 28, 2011  4:09pm

At first the article speaks of police conducting unlawful stops and frisks and how that needs to come to an end, but then it goes on to speak of targeting specific groups. So as long as the stops and frisks are targeted towards certain groups to discover driving violations or what not, it will be tolerated?  When the police start stoping a bunch of young black males because they’re part of a group, that will be profiling. This is not 20 years ago. This is almost 2012 where we have plenty of lawyers and activists ready to fight the police on this one.

posted by: New Havener on November 28, 2011  5:16pm

As a former resident of Newhallville, the description Mr. Kennedy provides of how the streets of New Haven and the killings that take place on them seem closer to reality than his critics give him credit for - especially with respect to the ‘group’ versus ‘gang’ issue. 

That said, it would probably be a mistake to equate New Haven’s murder rate declines of the late 1990s exclusively with community policing strategies.  Even though New Haven never had an economic boom per se, the economic prospects for New Haven’s youth may not have seemed so dim during these years, which can increase stress and poor decision making in all manner of ways.

Regardless, I hope Mr. Kennedy’s tactic succeeds in preventing a significant number of murders in New Haven.  It is the most perceptive of New Haven’s murder problem and it has the most realistic approach to murder prevention that I’ve heard of.

It’s hard to stop folks from being idiots sometimes, but using community and law enforcement pressure to make those idiots’ friends stakeholders in each idiot’s bad decision making does sound like a good place to (re)start.


posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 28, 2011  5:45pm

@Larry L

You are right.In fact New Haven better get ready for New York style Zero tolerance policing.

A Few Blocks, 4 Years, 52,000 Police Stops

posted by: Strother on November 28, 2011  5:55pm

What we got here is a failure to communicate! These guys need J-O-B-S!  Didn’t anyone see Butch Cassidy?

How about work in the security industry?  We could hire them as neighborhood guards.  The city could pay out in cold hard cash if there was a reduction in murders, shootings, other violent crime in the neighborhoods.  Obviously we would pay them a little less if the murder rate stayed where it was.  And if anyone who was hired as a security guard and subsequently committed a murder, we would have the right to dock their pay and even fire them on the spot!

Of course, not everyone has what it takes to do security work.  So how about early childhood day care? We have a day care crisis in our city.  We could hire them to babysit or chapperone safe passage walks to and from school.  All the bad guys will know that the chapperones are packing heat so they won’t mess with the kids!

Of course, we would have to raise the livable wage in order to compensate for the lost drug dealing income that they would have to recognize.  Maybe we can get their new alders to take that up in their first session.

posted by: Fairhaven Dave on November 28, 2011  7:49pm

Handguns for shotguns exchange program.  Trade in your crappy old 9 for a brand new shotgun that can’t be sawed off and hidden in your pants. 

You get to keep your right to bear arms, get a new gun, and will still be able to defend your home, hunting ground, daughters honor, etc…  you just cannot “sneak it” anywhere.

posted by: Theresa on November 29, 2011  12:07pm

Please ask the Chief why he has stationed a officer outside of Starbucks on the green?  Why doesn’t he make them hire a extra duty cop like other business’s ?

posted by: anon on November 29, 2011  1:36pm


the downtown starbucks is a business like any other; the reason for the increased police presence is documented drug dealing outside of the starbucks on the sidewalk and across from it on the green