Last week we reported on the shooting of a San Bernardino Police officer who was shot three times shortly after approaching a small group of people standing in a San Bernardino neighborhood after midnight. The officer’s trainee returned fire and fatally shot the assailant. Later we learned that the shooter was a fugitive who had violated his probation in a DUI case. He also had past convictions for grand theft and assault with a deadly weapon. And had in his possession an AK-47 assault rifle and a revolver.
After the publication of last week’s issue, I received a note from an avid reader whose litany of questions caused me to think about the larger problem of violence in our cities: Why was this guy walking down a street carrying an automatic weapon? How did he get it and from whom? And how does society rein in the rogues wherever they may be? There are competing views on the best way to reduce violent crime in our communities, and lessons to be learned by looking at practices throughout California.
The “More Guns, Less Crime” school of thought argues that if more “good people” have the right to publicly carry concealed weapons there will be a reduction in crime by “bad actors.” While we normally associate the “right to carry” fervor with cowboy types in states like Texas, we are seeing the same frenzy a little closer to home in some unlikely communities. According to a recent LA Times article, six months ago the Orange County Sheriff’s office started issuing concealed weapons permits under relaxed standards, the number of requests has doubled with more awaiting approval. Those with a permit can take loaded guns to the mall, workplace, and to other public places. They are only restricted from carrying into bars, airports, some schools, and government buildings.
I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t feel safer knowing that just about anyone can walk into my place of business, or onto my son’s campus, or sit next to me in a movie theater strapped.
When it comes to stopping crime or reducing violence, I’m much more interested in learning more about prevention programs that promote peace like the Cooperative Participation Model for crime reduction that the City of Richmond, another California municipality, has successfully implemented. In an effort to reduce a high crime rate related to gun violence the city created the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) and worked cooperatively with the police department and broader community and now reports the lowest number of homicides and gun related assaults in more than a decade.
When the project started in 2009, Richmond was ranked the 14th most dangerous city in the country. The police department discovered that the majority of shootings and homicides were driven by a very small group of individuals. Richmond’s ONS was developed to solely focus on reducing the loss of life associated with gun violence. The agency developed a Street Outreach Strategy and a “Peacemaker” Fellowship, an intensive transformative mentoring intervention program for that small group identified as promoters or instigators of gun violence offenses. The Fellows are provided small incentives in exchange for their active participation in the program, which is designed to provide a “gateway” for positive change. Of the 43 Fellows who participated in the first two programs, all developed life plans, 41 are alive, 32 have no gun related arrests, and 37 have no gun related injuries or hospitalization since becoming a Fellow.
San Bernardino’s crime problem has been well publicized. It was recently reported that a person’s chance of becoming a victim of violent crime in San Bernardino is 1 in 95, compared to 1 in 236 statewide. Last week city leaders announced a crackdown on specific apartment buildings in the city that have been known to attract more crime and criminal behavior than others. Similar to Richmond’s strategy, they are implementing a targeted approach to reducing crime. I hope this is just phase one of a plan that will spend more time and effort on programs that prevent crime and encourage peace in our neighborhoods and cities. Look for updates on the city’s progress in future issues.
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