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Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference 1 Introduction Americans increasingly perceive their communities to be menaced by violence and fear that public institutions cannot maintain social order. Violence—and the fear of violence—have changed the way people live, their interactions with intimates and strangers, the way they raise their children, and their confidence in public officials. Across the country, states and cities debate strategies to prevent crime and punish criminals. A candidate's perceived ability to ensure law and order is frequently the decisive factor in elections. Congress is considering a range of legislation to combat crime and violence. The President has placed the issue of violence high on the national agenda, calling for a comprehensive public- and private-sector response. Despite this broad national consensus that things must change, however, there is little agreement about how to achieve change. Within the last year, the National Research Council has published three major reports that describe what is known about various aspects of violent behaviors. The first, Understanding and Preventing Violence, provides a comprehensive synthesis of the research literature on violent human behavior and patterns of violence in American society. The second, Losing Generations: Adolescents in High Risk Settings, describes the environments in which today's adolescents are growing up, and the influence of context on the development of antisocial or self-destructive behaviors. The third report, Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect, analyzes what is known about child abuse and neglect, including its impact on adolescent and adult behav-
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Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference iors. Collectively, these reports, and a forthcoming volume from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, offer a wealth of research-based knowledge about the causes and consequences of violent behaviors and describe comprehensive research agendas to further scientific knowledge about the various manifestations of violence and the effectiveness of interventions. In the normal course of events, the knowledge contained in these reports would work its way into the domain of practice over a period of years. Recognizing the urgent national need to formulate more effective strategies and interventions against violence—particularly in urban areas—the National Research Council in partnership with the John F. Kennedy School of Government undertook an experiment to try and shorten the process of translating research-based knowledge into program interventions for immediate use. The format was the Conference on Urban Violence, bringing together leading scholars of violence with citizens and public officials engaged in efforts to confront it. In his remarks opening the October 7-9, 1993, conference, Bruce Alberts, chair of the National Research Council, urged participants to use the research knowledge contained in the reports in combination with the experience and wisdom gained from practice to suggest new approaches and interventions against the various manifestations of violence. He emphasized the importance and value of efforts to translate science into action and the role that practice-based knowledge can play in facilitating that translation. In order to provide a way for participants to focus on potential strategies and interventions rather than a restatement of the problem, the conference was organized as a problem-solving exercise, using a case study approach developed at the Kennedy School. The case study for the conference was a fictional urban area, ''Cornet City," of roughly 1 million people that had just experienced a weekend of violence—six unrelated homicides (see Appendix A). The participants were sent the case study prior to their arrival at the conference with instructions that they would be asked to develop realistic steps that could be taken by the mayor and other leaders of Cornet City in response to the overall increase of violence in the city. The Cornet City murders varied in their characteristics and included an abused toddler, a convenience store clerk, a participant in a bar fight, a disgruntled employee, an estranged spouse, and an unexplained killing possibly connected with the sale of drugs. The clustering of so many killings in a 48-hour period, and a highly critical news report about the week-end carnage, provoked a political firestorm in the city. Officials were deluged with calls from citizens demanding action. In the words of one official of the (fictional) city: "The people who have been calling my office are just fed up. This violence is getting totally out of control, and they want something done about it… We have got to get these people off our streets." In response to the public outcry, the Cornet City mayor appoints a task
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Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference force that includes public health and safety officials, a local judge, the directors of social service agencies, public affairs, the police, city school officials, and representatives from other city departments. The mayor charges his "Antiviolence Task Force" to come up with a plan to deal with the violence facing the city and to present that plan to him within 100 days. Members of the task force are provided with briefings and other resources to familiarize themselves with patterns of violence in the city and with the resources available to the mayor. Participants in the National Research Council/Kennedy School of Government conference were divided into five task forces, each led by an urban mayor: Kurt L. Schmoke of Baltimore, Maryland; Stephen Goldsmith of Indianapolis, Indiana; Paul Tauer of Aurora, Colorado; John Norquist of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Edward G. Rendell of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Each task force was asked to act as if it were the task force appointed by the mayor of Cornet City and to develop a feasible and plausibly effective response to violence in Cornet City. Two briefings provided conference participants with additional information. First, key participants of the four recent academic studies noted above reviewed knowledge about violence and related urban conditions summarized the conclusions of their projects highlighting implications of the report findings for the Cornet City exercise (see Appendix B). Second, representatives of five federal agencies—the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy—summarized their departments' evolving plans to reduce violence as a background against which the mayor's group could formulate local plans involving federal resources. Armed with this information, each conference task force deliberated and developed a set of recommendations to guide the mayor of Cornet City. The reports were presented and discussed at the conference's closing plenary session, which also included a discussion about the federal role in preventing local violence. The primary contributors at the plenary session were the federal agency representatives and the mayors, who drew on experiences in their home communities, as well as the discussions in the task forces. This report summarizes the conference discussions. It should not be construed as containing findings endorsed by either the National Research Council or the Kennedy School of Government. No effort was made to craft participants' disparate views into statements that achieved both internal consistency and unanimous agreement. In addition, the limitations inherent in a short conference format prevented a disciplined evaluation of the ideas presented and the development of priority rankings. With these caveats, however, the ideas contained in the report deserve attention in
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Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference suggesting effective roles for federal, state, and local governments and, most importantly, recognizing the critical role that must be played by families and communities. Conference participants produced: wide agreement on the assumptions and general objectives that should guide strategic responses to urban violence at the neighborhood, city, state, and federal levels; specific objectives and tactics to be pursued in urban violence reduction and recommendations to the Mayor of Cornet City on tactics for achieving them; and ideas about organizational innovations to increase the effectiveness of local governments in supporting community-based responses and federal efforts in supporting local responses. The report follows the organization described above. Part 2 discusses the assumptions and general objectives that the participants suggested as a strategic plan for developing responses to violence in Cornet City. Part 3 expands those views into short-, medium-, and long-term objectives and suggests tactics that task force members thought might be effective in attaining them. Part 4 explores organizational issues that must be considered in establishing objectives and designing tactics. The appendices contain the case study and book summaries that served as background materials for the conference. Although the five task forces all worked from the same case material and all were composed with the same mix of expertise, each was free to approach the problem on its own terms. Not surprisingly, each task force maintained its own view of the problem and mapped an individual course of action. Issues considered to be primary in one task force were deemed less important in others. However, as the report reflects, there was a surprising degree of convergence around major objectives and many tactics. In addition to the areas of broad agreement, the report adds ideas that were raised in one or more groups and were greeted with enthusiastic response when presented at the final plenary session.
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