- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - A community policing strategy that sharply curtailed street killings in more than a dozen cities from Indianapolis to Winston-Salem, N.C., took root most recently in Rochester: Slayings of young black men plunged by more than two-thirds in 2004.

Operation Ceasefire, devised by a Harvard University criminologist a decade ago, targets drug-dealing groups committing the bulk of homicides in a city by setting down a vigorously enforced standard: Harm anyone, and your entire crew will be punished.

In Rochester, New York’s third-largest city — with 220,000 residents — murders soared in 2003 to 56 — and 31 victims were black males ages 15 to 30. In the past 12 months, nine persons in that high-risk category have been slain.

“So far, the results have been phenomenal,” police Chief Robert Duffy said. “Success is going to be five years in a row of dramatic drops. We believe if we can show long-term change with the deaths of these young men, that is the key to long-term homicide reduction.”

The city’s stubbornly high murder toll, however, reached 37 in 2004, driven by an unusual spate of domestic-dispute deaths and a doubling of killings of men ages 31 to 45. But while some neighborhoods remain magnets for violent drug dealers, others have witnessed a clearing out.

“I’m feeling safer. I have friends who are feeling safer,” said Karyn Herman, who lives in a west-side neighborhood where a dozen houses were drug hangouts at one time or another over the last 10 years. There’s no open drug trafficking now, killings have dissipated, landlords are employing “safer rental practices” and more people are sprucing up their homes, she said.

“I know some families connected to some of these young men, and they’re starting to feel hopeful,” said Miss Herman, a community worker.

“There’s still a few problem corners — nothing of the volume there was — but there have been incidents and, in those areas, there still is fear,” said Joan Roby-Davison, who runs a neighborhood association.

Following a national pattern, killings here declined from a peak of 68 in 1993 to a 17-year low of 29 in 1999 before climbing again to 41 in both 2001 and 2002.

Until now, about half of those killed each year over the last decade were young black men. More than 80 percent of homicides occurred in the Crescent, a bleak ring of black and Hispanic neighborhoods stretching from the city’s northeast to southwest sections.

Operation Ceasefire’s architect, David Kennedy, predicted a year ago that Rochester could expect the same startling falloff in killings of young men that the program has achieved in places like Stockton, Calif.; High Point, N.C.; and Lowell, Mass.

The concept is straightforward: Identify street groups implicated in one or more killings, then use every possible tactic — undercover drug buys, saturation patrols, old warrants — to methodically dismantle them.

Four such groups in Rochester already have been broken up and 27 persons imprisoned. The latest target was nicknamed Murder Unit: Nine suspects were hit in October with federal drug and gun charges that carry sentences of 10 years to life in prison.

At the same time, chronic offenders on probation or parole are put on notice. Every two or three months, a few dozen are rounded up and brought to a courtroom for face-to-face meetings with social workers, community leaders and law-enforcement officials.

“It’s very civil, it’s very businesslike, in its way quite respectful,” Mr. Kennedy said. “But the message is really uncompromising.”

“Whether they like it or not, they’re taking heed,” said Monroe County prosecutor Mike Green.

In creating “reverse peer pressure” by going after not only killers, but violent groups they belong to, “Ceasefire has been the most promising thing we’ve done in years,” he said.

Besides painstaking investigations, and noticeably stiffened prosecutions for gun crimes, the strategy relies on a coalition of community activists knowledgeable about street activity.

“Anyone is salvageable if that’s what they want,” said Keenan Allen, director of Pathways to Peace, an outreach agency. “We work on getting them into legitimate activities, changing where they go and what they do. We have helped hundreds of people refrain from violent behavior.”

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