Violent crime in your city? More cops are not enough

Donald Trump: We have to bring back law and order
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Story highlights

  • Michael A. Nutter: The answer to an increase in urban crime is not, as President-elect suggests, more law and order
  • It will take a renewed commitment to creating jobs, and a new commitment from all city leaders and stakeholders

Michael A. Nutter is the former mayor of Philadelphia, a commentator on CNN, a distinguished fellow on global cities at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and an executive fellow at UChicago Urban Labs, which recently co-published the action tour report: Combating Urban Violence and Building Unity in the Americas. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Violent crime, particularly gun violence, in the United States is a resurgent epidemic. While crime rates overall have fallen in the last two decades, violent crime in the United States began to climb again in 2015.

The national murder rate, projected to increase by 13.1% this year, is driven by an increase in homicide numbers in a handful of cities -- from Chicago to Baltimore to Tulsa -- and we are seeing shocking and increasing rates of violence that will only get worse if our society doesn't make a serious commitment to addressing it.
Michael A. Nutter
But how? President-elect Donald Trump argues that the country needs more "law and order." While law enforcement is crucial, the solution is far more complex. Our country needs a new social compact that integrates the education system, business leaders, philanthropists, communities and civic leaders into the strategy.
Many city leaders think they can solve this crisis by simply hiring hundreds more police officers. In reality, most cities need to put equal, if not more, resources into re-evaluating law enforcement training programs. Officers should be better trained at de-escalating intense situations, having situational awareness and prioritizing threats. They need to build relationships and partnerships with the community and use all the tools law enforcement has at their disposal.
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Community policing has also been identified as an effective and worthwhile investment, but community policing means different things to different people and needs to be adopted with flexibility. Each community needs to define what it means to them and identify who needs to be engaged before persuading law enforcement to adopt new programs. From block captains to community activists, and anonymous texting options to "beat meetings," programs should be tailored to the community and responsive to what it needs.
More robust programs that work directly with individuals who have committed crimes are needed to help prevent recidivism. About two-thirds of inmates released between 2005-2010 were arrested for a new crime within three years of release. In Philadelphia, where I was mayor, we launched Philly Rising (now known as SERVE Philadelphia) and RISE, and partnered with the Center for Returning Citizens, working immediately with the individuals on life plans and job opportunities after release to avoid recidivism.
CureViolence is another well-known program that trains previously incarcerated individuals to serve as "interrupters" who help identify conflicts and high risk individuals in their own neighborhoods to mobilize the community to change norms.
To truly combat urban violence, however, we need a new commitment from all city leaders and stakeholders — business leaders, educators and researchers, philanthropists and public officials — not just law enforcement or the neighborhoods most immediately affected.
The best crime-fighting tool is a job, and city leaders must engage businesses to support jobs and mentorship programs to youth drawn from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Curriculum needs to be integrated throughout the education system from K-12 so students are thinking of postsecondary education and careers at a younger age. Researchers and scholars can contribute by providing scientific and evidence-based policies to those designing these anti-violence programs, similar to the work of the University of Chicago's Urban Labs.
And finally, the philanthropic community can pool together resources and invest long and deep on evidence-based policies, as the MacArthur Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, and several other funders recently have to support the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities.
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Moreover, these approaches can be tailored to any city, in the United States or abroad. Earlier this year, I participated in an action tour with leaders from some of the most violent cities in the world — Buenos Aires, Juarez, Medellin and São Paulo — to discuss how they were grappling with violence in their cities. From community leaders to police officers, researchers to returning citizens, everyone agreed that these approaches to a multilayered, complex strategy are more effective than just increased "law and order."
Cities are on the rise. Luckily, they contain the answers to their own problems. As cities and society more broadly become increasingly diverse and dynamic, deliberate investments and interventions are needed to ensure future prosperity.
Every mayor is worried about keeping their cities safe and every resident wants secure and clean streets, walkable and well-lit neighborhoods, parks and open space for children to play, a great education, and professional first responders. We all need to work together to shape this future. In this new year, let's not leave it to "law and order" alone and lose sight of our shared responsibility.