Interviews were conducted with seven individuals running citywide violence prevention initiatives. One of the questions addressed the "challenges and barriers" each faced when trying to involve the private sector. What follows are the seven most frequently identified barriers and suggested ways to overcome them.
“It's Messy and Some of the Kids Just Aren't That Pretty.”
–Jennifer Maconochie, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Policies, Office of the Police Commissioner, Boston, Mass.
Many foundations will prefer working with younger kids, truants, or families. Violent youth in violent neighborhoods present tough long-term challenges, and given that many such youth have multiple issues—drug abuse, no high school diploma, and trauma to name a few—success takes a great deal of effort and of time. If a foundation is uncomfortable with this population, show them that they have a role in other areas, or show them the evaluations of Ceasefire, service, restorative justice, and summer employment and recreation programs.
“It's a Hard Sell, Especially When Violence Doesn't Go Down Quickly. We Need Investments for the Long Term, and These Are Hard to Come By.”
–Michelle Fowlkes, Executive Director, Memphis Shelby Crime Commission.
Making sure to get some quick wins was the most-frequently articulated response to this challenge from those running comprehensive programs in their respective cities. But the quick win had to be in the context of a long-term commitment. Examples of quick wins included ridding a park of drug users, cleaning up a blighted neighborhood, ensuring safe passage for children on the way to school, having police commit to community-oriented policing, and cutting violent crime in a specific neighborhood.
“The Needs Are So Clear and Immediate, But Sometimes We Just Have to Be Patient.”
–Georgina Mendoza, Director, Community Safety, City of Salinas.
While the crime and violence issue pressed hard and begged for immediate intervention, both Maciel in San Jose and Mendoza in Salinas felt they had to be content, at first, with a relationship. A business representative joined Salinas' Community Alliance for Safety and Peace board, and “She has fallen in love with our work,” said Mendoza.
“Why Should Kids Who've Been in Trouble Be Rewarded with a Job? … It's Like 'Hug a Thug' … What about the Kids Who Are Obeying the Law and Going to School, But Who Have a Hard Time Finding Work ...?”
These were comments heard by Mendoza in Salinas, and some variants of this theme were heard by others. This most frequently applied to offenders returning from jail, those whose job prospects were slim and of whom employers were wary. Counter arguments included: the fact that many would recidivate and again hurt the community if the city did not help; that there were many vacant entry-level, non-sensitive jobs; and that the project proposed provided intensive support. Recent studies conducted by the John Jay College on YouthBuild AmeriCorps showed that those involved become more connected to their communities, grow to help more people in their personal lives, trust authorities and neighbors more, and respect themselves more. Or, as Father Greg Boyle, Director of HomeBoy Industries, puts it: “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”
Difficulty Finding Vendors to Do This Tough Work
This was frequently cited as a major challenge, the response to which clustered in four areas: (1) supporting “traditional” agencies, like the Boys and Girls Club in Salinas and Big Brothers/Big Sisters in Philadelphia who agreed to take on tougher kids; (2) providing more support, training, and oversight for those neighborhood/storefront entities; (3) getting commitments from employers to take on those who have been in trouble, and having them talk to/sell their corporate peers; and (4) adopting “Ban the Box” policies—opening non-sensitive city jobs to those who are trying to exit the criminal justice system.
“The Philanthropic Community Has a Hard Time Collaborating.”
While city directors were pledged to a citywide plan blending prevention, intervention, enforcement, and reentry, some directors felt that each member of the philanthropic community tended to “do its own thing.” While joint funding of certain specific initiatives was common, formal and strategic cooperation was not. Two examples of exceptions were Allstate in Chicago leading a major, coordinated drive and State Street Corporation in Boston doing the same.
Changing City Leadership that Impedes Sustainability
Comprehensive planning and action must be viewed as a strategy, not a program—a new way of doing city business, not a collection of initiatives. Thus the work had to be woven into the city’s fabric. Several suggestions emerged
- Ground the strategy into the community and ensure community participation. When Cora Tomalinas, citizen activist in San Jose, Calif., was asked whether the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force would continue under a newly elected mayor, she responded “You don't understand. It's not the mayor's, it's ours.”
- Presence in the city budget for programs or staff.
- Appropriate staff job descriptions.
- Memoranda of Understanding between participating agencies.
- Change in practice, e.g., community-oriented policing, new school discipline policies, literacy classes in third grade, data sharing between law enforcement and schools, data sharing between law enforcement and child welfare.
- Ability to point to successes, either reductions in violent crime, increase in high school graduation rates, or polls showing less fear among citizens in certain areas.
- Ensuring that the initiative's governing body—task force, commission, etc.—included leading representatives from the governmental, community, service, and philanthropic sectors.