EDITORIAL: York needs follow-through after impressive GVI launch

The York Dispatch
This Southside gang graffiti taunted law enforcement, but a joint investigation into Southside that led to federal indictments against 21 purported gang members disproved that taunting claim.
(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Attorney's Office)
  • It’s heartening to hear the program’s creators believe local officials are on the right track.
  • The fact is the York community desperately needs to stem the gun violence that doesn't discriminate.

York City is off to a good start with its new Group Violence Intervention initiative.

So says the national advisor for the organization that created the program on which it’s based, who notes the local stakeholders have “gone beyond lip service.”

"There are a couple pieces (to the initiative) that cities can get right — right out of the gate — that are really important," said Louisa Aviles, associate director of the National Network for Safe Communities' group-violence portfolio. "Some cities nail them, and other cities take longer to get them in place."

The piece York City nailed was getting the support and outreach community to help those targeted by the initiative with social services and other needs, such as help finding a job or housing or providing food, clothing or diapers.

Call that the “carrot.”

"York got that right off the bat," Aviles said. "It's amazing when you have partners who can meet those needs. ... That's no small thing, and it's been really impressive to us."

The premise of the initiative is that a very small number of people in any city commit the vast majority of violent crimes, so to reduce the violence, law enforcement identifies and targets that group of people, who are often involved in gangs, the drug trade or both.

Those targeted then carry the message back to their associates.

In York City, months of planning and coordination by government officials, law enforcement, community groups and local leaders culminated Feb. 21 in the first "call-in" of the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) initiative, modeled after nationally renowned criminologist David M. Kennedy's work in Boston in the 1990s.

More:York City's GVI efforts impress national adviser

The eight Yorkers called in were on probation and reportedly connected with various "groups" responsible for much of York City's gun violence.

They weren’t chosen because they were the worst, but rather because they were well-connected in their groups and neighborhoods and therefore able to widely deliver the GVI message.

That message is an offer of help in any way the community can – and a promise that if a group member shoots or kills someone, police and prosecutors from the local level up to the federal level will come down hard and relentlessly on every member of your group for every infraction, no matter how small.

That’s the “stick” – or perhaps more fitting, the “club” – aspect of GVI.

More:York City neighborhoods targeted by GVI after recent shootings

It’s heartening to hear the program’s creators believe local officials are on the right track. The fact is, the York community desperately needs to stem the gun violence that doesn’t discriminate between gang members and innocent bystanders.

Just last month, a York City woman leaving a corner store on West Princess Street died after she was caught in crossfire, and last week a 12-year-old boy was wounded on South Penn Street when two groups opened fire on each other.

The June 27 shooting death of Elizabeth Grisel Vega-Tirado, 48, of West Princess Street, prompted a massive GVI response from York City Police, York County Probation, The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Liquor Control Enforcement.

Police say there were 111 contacts, 11 traffic citations, eight criminal arrests, eight warrants served and five traffic warnings issued.

More:Initiative lays down law on gun violence, offers 2nd chance

It was one of more than a dozen such details since the first Group Violence Intervention call-in in February.

Despite the recent violence, York City Police Chief Wes Kahley said the program is yielding results.

"We've seen some very large reductions," he said. "This (gun violence) is not going to be cured overnight — we expect ups and downs."

Unfortunately, we think the chief is right.

And we hope the community members who stepped up to help give the GVI program an “amazing” launch have the patience to stick with it through the highs and lows.