The Homicide Task Force is acutely aware that homicide reduction is a long and daunting task. It will require:
- heightened community awareness and involvement
- formation and nurturing of new collaborative partnerships
- willingness to tackle the problem at its roots by addressing the causative factors of violence and the cultural norms that allow and accept violence in our community
- patience with efforts that may not display significant short term results but which will pay tremendous long term benefits
There is much good work already going on in Charlotte that addresses the key issues related to homicide.
- The Police Department is addressing violent crime through both enforcement and prevention strategies
- The District Attorney's Office has recently received funding for 13 new Assistant District Attorneys, positively impacting case loads and the number of cases that can be accepted for prosecution
- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has a number of programs to assist students in need of intervention in both their academic and personal lives
- There are many prevention programs, including some at the neighborhood grassroots level, that are attempting to change one life at a time.
The Homicide Task Force acknowledged these existing programs in generating more than 40 potential recommendations for consideration. The following list of recommendations distills those ideas into a strategy that addresses the root causes of the problem through a balance of prevention, intervention and enforcement efforts. Most importantly, it is a strategy that articulates a role for virtually every member of the community. Task Force member Lisa Crawford reminded the group that, "we have not asked enough people to do a small thing; we have asked a few people to do a large thing." With the entire community as stakeholders in homicide reduction, we can make a difference.
Strenthen Police Partnership with Probation and Parole
Seek additional resources for the criminal justice system
Provide enhanced services to families of homicide victims
Support and enhance the network of services for offenders reentering our community.
Develop a collaborative violence reduction partnership among the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools
Recommendation 1: Increase Community Awareness
Develop a community education program on homicides that focuses on the magnitude and severity of the problem, dispels myths and increases awareness that everyone in the community is affected by the reality of homicide.
- Most citizens do not believe they are affected by the homicide problem and consequently are apathetic
- Solving the homicide problem will require the efforts of the entire community so it is imperative that our citizens understand their role as stakeholders and how they can make a difference
- Citizens must understand the broader impact of homicides in terms of the cost to the community, the perception of community safety, and homicide as a symptom of a culture of violence
- Knowledge is power. As Task Force member Jane Montogonese said, "The more a community is aware, the stronger it becomes."
Use the Operation Cease Fire approach to target the violent gangs responsible for a significant number of serious crimes and expand the Operation Dusk to Dawn Program, a curfew for robbery offenders out on bail, to other offenses.
- Targeted enforcement programs utilize police resources effectively to get the most violent and prolific offenders off the streets, often through federal charges
- These types of enforcement efforts, if publicized correctly, send a message to other offenders that violent criminal activity will not be tolerated by the police and the community and they may be the next enforcement target
- This enforcement approach requires public support from those neighborhoods most affected by violence and includes a strong prevention component such as the Steele Creek Youth Network
- Targeted enforcement reduces crime
- A curfew that is monitored reduces the opportunity for offenders to commit additional crimes while out on bail
Expand resources for the school system to conduct mental health assessments for elementary school students, ages 6-10, to detect behavioral and psychological problems at an early age; provide educators with a comprehensive resource guide on available services for children, youth and their families, and; engage in further dialogue on the role of schools and after school programs in the following areas:
- Early intervention in behavioral and family problems
- Teaching conflict resolution skills
- Prevention related training-drugs, gangs, etc.
- Parenting education and training
- Any effective homicide reduction strategy must look to the future and target young people
- The schools are the most effective way to reach the majority of youth in the community
- Education professionals are most likely to identify the early warning signs of problems
- The goal must be to help young people and their families break the cycle of life circumstances that breeds violence and give young people the skills to build their self- esteem and make appropriate life choices that include rejection of a culture of violence
Continue to support and expand existing prevention programs, including the Steele Creek Youth Network, Right Moves for Youth, Gang of One and the Police Athletic League. The emphasis of these programs should be the prevention of criminal activity, including gang involvement; providing healthy alternatives to criminal activity, and building self esteem and life skills. These programs should have a research and evaluation component to identify successful initiatives that can be replicated throughout the city. The faith community is a strong partner in the Steele Creek Youth Network and they should be encouraged to use their resources in prevention programs throughout the community.
- The Police Department's resources touch all areas of the community
- Police officers are positive role models for youth
- Preventing the next crime is the police mission
- Prevention is an integral part of the community problem oriented policing strategy
Expand existing mentoring programs, including the Mayor's Mentoring Alliance, and develop new ones with an emphasis on helping young people in the African American community develop positive concepts of manhood and womanhood; develop programs that explore the concept of mentoring families.
- Many young people believe that their manhood/womanhood and credibility is predicated on violent and/or anti-social behavior
- Role models for many young African American males who get into trouble are drug dealers or other men whose money and perceived power come from illegal activity
- A positive role model can have a tremendous influence on the path a young person chooses in life
Task Force member Willie Ratchford suggests, "the place where most of us learn our value system is in the home and as such we need to work on making the home a safer and more nurturing environment. We can teach by example that the home is where young people learn their behavior and as such parents owe it to themselves and their children to create the best possible environment."
Recommendation 6: Increase Job Opportunities
Engage in a partnership with the corporate community to expand the Mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program by creating a summer and after-school corporate challenge with public recognition for those corporate partners who create jobs for youth and positive publicity for success stories regarding the youth participating in the program.
- The lack of job opportunities is one of the reasons that young people turn to illegal activity; under-employment is one of the key causative factors for violence
- Succeeding at a job helps the young person build self esteem, learn team work and develop decision making skills
- Seeing their peers succeed at meaningful work can be a strong influence on youth
- Developing job opportunities for youth is one of the key ways the corporate community can contribute to violence reduction efforts
- Some companies can work with students in an alternative school setting, offering students who will not likely go to college the opportunity to learn a trade and become competitive in the job market
Lobby the State Legislature for stricter penalties for all offenses committed with a gun.
- Handguns are the weapon in the majority of Charlotte homicides
- The availability of guns is one of the reasons that homicides, where the motive is classified as an argument, are increasing
- Guns are part of the youthful definition of manhood
- Guns are seen by many as the conflict resolution method of choice
Expand the drug court concept to develop problem solving courts such as child neglect and family courts.
- Virtually no criminal act occurs in isolation; it is the end result of a series of circumstances that can include child neglect, domestic abuse, prostitution, mental health issues, etc.
- The drug court concept has proven its worth in taking a holistic approach to the offender by addressing both the offense and the circumstances behind it.; the concept can be successfully applied to other offenses such as juvenile crimes in which parental neglect is a major cause of the youth's behavior
- Court-mandated corrective action, such as treatment for drug offenders, does work
- Problem solving courts give the offender someone who has a vested interest in their success
- The alternative sentences and rehabilitation programs allow us to turn offenders into productive members of society and save prison space for the worst of the worst. Dennis Challeen, a Minnesota District Court Judge, says.
- We need to punish the offenders we are afraid of and treat the ones we are mad at."
Strengthen the partnership between the Police Department and Probation and Parole through more joint operations and shared information systems.
- There are over 8,000 offenders on probation in Mecklenburg County
- Successful police/probation partnerships can prevent parolees from committing additional crimes
- Police/Parole partnerships can target offenders based on their perceived risk to the community
- Shared information systems could enable the two departments to be more proactive in targeting offenders through surveillance efforts and a focus on curfew enforcement
- Police/Probation partnership provides more information to neighborhoods about the offenders who live in their communities
The City, County, and community should lobby the legislature for more funding for all components of the criminal justice system.
- Despite the recent funding of 13 additional assistant district attorneys, the District Attorney's Office is still understaffed, especially in comparison to other jurisdictions of similar size; additional district attorneys would enable the Assistant District Attorney to enhance the partnership with police by having ADAs assigned to work with initiatives such as Operation Cease Fire
- More judges and support personnel for the courts would allow more cases to come to trial and provide the opportunity to implement the concept of problem solving courts in Mecklenburg County
- Additional resources for police and community corrections (probation and parole) would enable those agencies to develop more enforcement and prevention initiatives while keeping up with the growth of the community
- An integrated information system remains a critical need for the local criminal justice system
- Judges need more pre-sentencing information on offenders so that sentences, where possible, can be tailored to the offender
- More electronic monitoring of offenders would save money and facilitate a quicker response to those offenders who are in violation of the provisions of their probation or parole
- Victim families must not only deal with their loss; they must also deal with the criminal justice system and their need for a link into the investigation of their loved one's death. Victim families need more:
- frequent updates from police on the status of the investigation
- information on what to expect as the case goes through the criminal justice system
- counselors who specialize in dealing with families of homicide victims
- sensitivity to their unique needs
- In many cases, the offender has no identifiable alternatives except to return to the environment where he became involved in criminal activity, increasing the likelihood that he will once again become involved in crime
- Offenders need a support system through programs that help them transition into productive members of the community
- Emphasis is needed on getting the business community to make appropriate job opportunities available to offenders to give the stability they need to start rebuilding their lives
- More re-entry planning services should be available to offenders while they are still incarcerated so they can have options identified before they return to the community.
- Violence reduction must become a community priority and leadership is needed from the governing bodies to make that happen
- Violence reduction efforts require resources from the City, County, and Schools
- Violence reduction requires a holistic approach that can only succeed if all governmental entities are committed and invested in the cause
- A collaborative partnership would allow all participating agencies to set joint priorities and goals and determine the most effective way to pool their resources to attain those goals
- Commitment from all governing bodies is needed to leverage resources from the private sector