What to do about concentrated violence

David Kennedy lays out what we now know how to do, and says it’s time to start doing it. Democratic candidates, please copy.

David Kennedy tells the Crime subcommittee of House Judiciary that it’s time to start acting on what we know about reducing concentrated gang-related and drug-dealing-related violence:

Gang violence and drug crime is an obscenity, but so is mass incarceration.


When law enforcement feels that communities have utterly lost their moral compass, they will not think to work with or influence communities. When communities feel that law enforcement is part of a conspiracy to destroy them, they will not think to work with or influence law enforcement. When offenders are seen as primitive “super-predators” to be “weeded” and “exiled,” neither law enforcement nor communities will think to work with or influence offenders. When networks of offenders tell each other that they are not afraid of prison, not afraid to die, and have to shoot those who disrespect them, then they will act accordingly.


If, ten years ago, the medical community had discovered a way to reduce breast cancer deaths among middle-class white women by 70%, every hospital in the country would now be using that approach. We have learned something that profound about this kind of crime problem. We should act like it.

This isn’t a partisan issue &#8212 Kennedy’s approach is too tough for the sort of crime-control “doves” who think that the most important crime problem is police misconduct, but too soft for the “lock-’em-up” crowd &#8212 but right now the Democrats seem to be responding more quickly than the Republicans. Now that the voters have learned how empty Republican claims about protecting the national security are, it would be great if they lost their edge on crime control, too.

I’d like to see Sen. Obama grab this one fast. As it happens, Chicago is home both to an unusually bad problem and to one of the more marked successes in dealing with it.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com