Kansas City, Mo. — Nearly 40 men sat silently in church pews on a Tuesday evening last month.
They listened as a mother described the lasting anguish over her son's murder.
They listened as a case worker detailed services — job training, mental health treatment and more — available to them.
And they listened as police, prosecutors and federal agents made sure they knew they were there for a reason: All 40 had been connected to violence, either directly or through people they knew.
"You're wreaking havoc in our communities," Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté told them. "We know who you are, we know where you hang out and we know who you have problems with."
The meeting, known as a "call-in," was part of the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, or NoVA, which is one of the latest examples of a law-enforcement strategy known as "focused deterrence."
The approach involves identifying people most at risk to commit or to be victimized by gun violence — often the same individuals — and hosting call-ins where they are given community support and offered resources. They are told they have the attention of law enforcement and will face serious, immediate consequences, often federal charges and long sentences, if they are arrested again.
The initial results in Kansas City were dramatic: In 2014, homicides dropped by nearly 20% from the prior year, to 80 victims, the city's lowest total in more than four decades. Last year, the results were less clear-cut, but officials remain undeterred.
In the midst of a spike in homicides here last summer, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn acknowledged that the focused deterrence strategy used in Kansas City and in High Point, N.C. — where the strategy was used to dismantle open-air drug markets — have produced results.
Questions about why it is not being used in Milwaukee have repeatedly surfaced in community meetings and panel discussions.
Could focused deterrence work here?
Kansas City offers lessons — and so does Milwaukee.
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Story credit: Ashley Luthern
Photo credit: Mike De Sisti