The Other 1%

Some cities have targeted gang members and seen significant reduction in gun deaths. By treating the disease, they are rediscovering the cure.

Major take-aways

  • About 74% of inner-city homicides (and other violence) is caused by 1% of the population
  • Motivating gangs to not kill works
  • The motivation can be peer pressure, intervention or incarceration

The never ending gang backstory

Criminologists have long noted that gun violence tends to be a Big City problem. Subcultures within urban centers spawn violence committed for little good reason. This then creates a disproportionate number of homicides.

But what we have also known all along is that even though America’s gang participation rate is huge compared to non-U.S. cities, the number of gang members in the general population is small. In one report (which we discuss in more detail below) gang members account for less than 1% of the population, though they are responsible for 74% of the homicides (and presumably a similar amount of non-homicide violence). It is worth noting that only a subset of these gang members are homicidal.

The cure has always been to focus intently on that 1%. California voters did that in 1993, and managed to drop the Golden State’s homicide rate from 40% above national averages down to the countrywide mean (all while national violence rates were falling).

Recently, I had two case studies lobbed over the transom, and they confirm that targeting gang members works. The interesting part is that how you target them is less important than getting it done.

Wretched Richmond

richmond-ca-homicides-before-after-onsI once lived next door to Richmond, California. To put it as politely as possible, Richmond is an arm pit. It is a town located next to an oil refinery, completely urban, graffiti filled and dangerous. A great place if you are looking for either soul food or a good torta … but only during daylight.

Growing sick of non-stop violence, Richmond decided to put boots on the ground. Not cops, but direct outreach to the gang members most likely to murder someone. Incorporating a variety of incentives (including outright financial ones), the city managed to bend the curve on homicides. When compared to cities of similar size and population density, but not in California, we see Richmond homicides dropping while other cities fluctuated or followed national trends.

We have to take Richmond’s “success” with one small grain of salt, for their homicide rate had been rising while national averages were dropping. But without intervention, and without obvious alternate explanations, it is hard to imagine Richmond’s murder rate dropping on its own (really, you have to walk through the town to have an idea of how bad bad can get).

Cincinnati’s Slide

Cincinnati had a more interesting report, given the amount of up-front data they collected before implementing their Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). Some of the gang stats discovered included:

  • 91% of gang members had prior violent crime arrests
  • 84% had prior felony charges (60% had collected five or more)
  • The approximately 1,000 gang members (less than 1% of the population) was responsible for 74% of the homicides
  • 81% of those homicides were done with a gun

cincinatti-homicide-rate-before-after-cirvCincinnati took a different approach than Richmond, though it still involved targeting just thugs who were known to be instigators of violence. Cincinnati:

  • Called the bad actors into a court room
  • Showed them how long they could go to federal prison on a gun charge
  • Told them that any homicide by any member of their gang would result in a crackdown of the entire gang (establish peer pressure)
  • Offered them some social services to provide an escape alternative
  • Broadcast on radio that coordinated crackdowns would occur
  • Kept their promise when the next few homicides happened

Like Richmond, Cincinnati showed progress. Perhaps the most interesting Cincinnati twist was revival of the old child discipline routine: everyone gets punished if someone breaks the rules. Gangs form in part due to peer pressure, so would a band of thugs who don’t want to do jail for crimes less than murder not put pressure on their homicidal brethren?

The important bit

Criminologist are not surprised by any of this. It has been well established, and for a very long time, that most homicides (and gun homicides) are largely inner-city issues. The Gun Facts project noted that just 20 American cities account for 21% of the nation’s homicides, but only 7% of the population. That clusters of homicides occur within street gangs presents the problem and the solution in one instant.


The Other 1% — 1 Comment

  1. Another excellent article. Anyone who has studied the crime data also knows that homicide rates within the inner cities are disproportionately higher homicides outside of those areas. While taking a detailed look at the FBI UCR pertaining to homicides in Detroit, I noticed that homicides dropped to zero or near zero even the cities directly adjacent to Detroit. Then, I looked at Chicago, Baltimore, Wash DC, Philadelphia, New Orleans, etc. Same thing.

    If you were to take a giant map of the US, and place a tiny light in the location for every homicide, cities like those listed above would light up like Christmas trees. The towns adjacent to or outside of these major inner city areas, would be virtually dark. Presents a powerful visual of what is actually happening.

    1) Homicides are highly concentrated to inner cities.
    2) According to one study I’ve read, approximately 90% people who commit homicides, already have at least one felony on their record. The average murdered has 4 felonies on their record. Goes to show that people simply don’t wake up one day and decide to kill. They “grow” into that level of violence.
    3) This also shows our politician’s dishonesty on what is actually happening. The moment there is a “mass shooting” we hear the cries for gun control. The thing is…mass murder inside the inner cities is a daily occurrence. The gun grabbers refuse to discuss that.
    4) Lastly, and perhaps most importantly. Virtually all of the cities with a very high homicide rate, have been run by democrats for a long period of time.

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