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EDITORIAL: Innovative ideas needed to combat street violence

York Dispatch

Two years ago, York City officials responded to persistent street violence with a multi-pronged initiative modeled after a nationally renowned criminologist's work in Boston decades ago.

The premise of Group Violence Intervention is relatively simple: A small number of people in any city commit most violent crimes, so police need to identify and target that group of people, who are often involved in gangs, the drug trade or both.

In practice, GVI involves hauling in offenders for meetings with community members, social-services groups, government officials and those affected firsthand by gun violence. There, they hear a carrot-stick message: Stop the violence, and we will help you build better lives. Continue, and police will come after you and your friends with everything they have.

More:York City's GVI efforts impress national adviser

More:York City reinforces GVI anti-gun violence message with carrot, stick

Other cities that have used a version of criminologist David Kennedy’s program reported mixed to positive results, although some involved have said the most important ingredient to success is patience.

Candles and balloons inscribed with messages in memory of Phillip Trent Banks Jr., 20, of York City, are left outside of 46 N. Franklin St. in York City, Tuesday, May 22, 2018. Banks was pronounced dead at the scene following the Monday afternoon shooting. Dawn J. Sagert photo

But York City is now two years into the three-year, $300,000 GVI initiative, and the community’s patience is being tested by a surge in street violence and killings.

There have been at least 21 shootings in the city since January, five of them fatal. That compares to 11 shootings, including four deaths, during the same time last year.

Based on other cities’ experiences, it sounds like it’s too early to gauge GVI’s effectiveness. York signed on for a three-year program, and it should have three years’ worth of data before calling the program a success or failure.

More:VIDEO: York City's GVI initiative holds first "call-in"

More:York City's shootings drop by half, GVI credited for reduction

We suspect at that point city officials will report mixed results, as other cities did. Some aspects of the program worked well, other parts didn’t. Maybe changes will be made to better tailor GVI to York City’s unique issues.

York City Police investigate a shooting death in the first block of North Franklin Street Monday, May 21, 2018. Chris Dornblaser photo.

However, it’s as clear now as it was when GVI first launched that the program is no panacea for street violence and the underlying social issues that lead to it.

It’s simply another tool for law enforcement and the community. Perhaps it will be a powerful tool, although time will tell.

Rather than pinning all hopes on GVI, the people of York City should be exploring ways they can help curb the shootings and killings that so regularly shatter the peace.

Take, for example, Antwoine Dorm, the owner of Stick-N-Move Boxing in York City, who recently offered to let those with a beef settle their disputes in his ring.

Antwoine Dorm Jr., 11, of York City, participates in a focus mitt drill with his father Antwoine Dorm Sr., at Stick-N-Move Boxing gym Friday, May 20, 2016. Antwoine, who recently won the regional championship in Maryland, qualifies for the Junior Olympics in Dallas June 29 -July 3 and is currently raising money to help him achieve his dream. Amanda J. Cain photo

"(Gun violence) has been an ongoing situation, and I've seen that a lot of the violence is between people close to each other," he said. "When my friends and cousins had problems, we got into the ring. It's not to hurt each other; it's just to get the anger out."

More:York City gym owner wants shooters to put down guns, lace up gloves

It's a healthier way to solve problems, and families won't have to lose loved ones, Dorm added, noting, “You can't pull a trigger with a boxing glove on."

Around the same time the local businessman made his offer, York City Mayor Michael Helfrich announced plans for a “peace summit” later this month.

The York City Peace and Opportunity Summit, slated for 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 26, at William Penn Senior High School, is aimed at “families of those that have lost loved ones, people formerly engaged in violence, people working to free themselves from a life that involves violence, and most importantly, those that are engaged in violence now,” according to a news release.

"The goal … is to create an environment where young city residents are able to have an open dialogue about violence in the City of York," the release stated. 

As with GVI, the summit will include resources for those seeking an alternative to a life of crime. Organizers said participants will have an opportunity to “connect with neighborhood leaders, employers and trade schools that promote and enable successful and productive futures."

It sounds like a wonderful idea, and we suspect new and innovative anti-violence ideas and strategies could result from it.

Maybe you even have one you could share at the summit.

It doesn't have to be a cure-all. Another tool in the box is useful, too.