A Crime-Fighting Experiment at Gilpin Court

Police patrol at Gilpin Court. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Attorney General’s office is funding an interesting social experiment. On the theory that fighting crime requires addressing root causes over and above actually, uh, fighting crime, the AG is providing $1 million to fund programs designed to improve health, education and economic outcomes and strengthen neighborhood ties at the City of Richmond’s largest housing project, Gilpin Court.

“Instead of a top-down approach that tries to tell Gilpin what it needs, we’re going to bring together everyone who cares about this community and who has good ideas to reduce crime, strengthen the neighborhood, and improve quality of life for Gilpin residents, especially young people, said Attorney General Mark Herring, as quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Greater Gilpin is going to reduce crime and make Gilpin Court safer by taking a more holistic approach and attacking the factors we know contribute to higher rates of crime, like poverty, drug use, limited educational or job opportunities, and poor health.”

The grant will allocate $187,000 to pay for additional police patrols in Gilpin Court, a project of 781 housing units occupied by about 2,700 residents. But the rest will go to hiring a full-time program coordinator and underwrite for programs identified through community meetings.

“Building stronger, safer communities means addressing the underlying factors that can contribute to violence and violent crime,” Mayor Levar Stoney said in a statement. “This initiative will build on the strengths of the community and empower Gilpin residents to have a say and a stake in the future of the neighborhood.”

The program encapsulates every liberal piety about the relationship between poverty and crime…. which, in my estimation, means that it is doomed to failure because liberal pieties about poverty and crime are misguided. While it is true that violent crime is more prevalent in poor neighborhoods, there has been very little correlation between changes in the rates of poverty and violent crime over the decades. The relationship between the two is tenuous and complex with many intervening variables.

One critical variable is the prevalence of families dominated by unwed mothers and the lack of consistent daily discipline provided by fathers, which results in a failure to enculturate young people with non-violent norms. Teenage boys roam free in Gilpin Court with few parental restrictions. They develop their own young, male, Lord-of-the-Flies subculture, which skews towards partying, substance abuse, petty criminality, an obsession with status among peers, and, often, violence.

To the extent that crime among male teens and young men is the outcome of rational calculation — weighing potential gains from crime versus the prospect of getting caught and punished — increased neighborhood patrols undoubtedly will be useful. Richmond police doctrine emphasizes the building of community bonds that engender trust with residences, so a heightened the police presence should have a positive impact. Conversely, while the funding of “community programs” may provide benefits to Gilpin residents, unless they interrupt the dynamic of fatherless boys, I am dubious that they will have any impact on crime.

I might be wrong, however. I’m not omniscient. Perhaps liberals have it right. Perhaps the program will be a smashing success. The fact is, nobody knows. That’s the point of conducting an experiment.

I’d be all in favor of conducting this particular experiment if it were set up so we might learn something from it. Ideally, the experiment would confirm or disprove the notion that addressing certain “underlying factors” by means of programs chosen through community input will reduce crime. Unfortunately by doing two things at once, both boosting policing and attacking root causes, the factors contributing to positive or negative outcomes will be hard to disentangle. If the program does prove to be beneficial, we are unlikely to learn anything from it because we won’t know whether the police or the community programs deserve the credit. In the absence of unambiguous data, liberals will continuing embracing their pieties, and conservatives theirs, everyone will continue believing what they always believed, and we will flounder about as always.

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4 responses to “A Crime-Fighting Experiment at Gilpin Court

  1. A Crime-Fighting Experiment at Gilpin Court will succeed if, and only if, those fatherless children in Gilpin Court begin to look up tovthose two police officers in the above photo as surrogate fathers walking the beat in Gilpin Court.

    The reason that President Obama was such a failure as a community organizer while President of the United States is because he chose for political reasons is to demonize the police in Ferguson and Baltimore, inflaming issues there and nationwide rather than solving them.

    Done the right way the police will rise to the occasion, and so will the otherwise fatherless, and the police and their boys will do it most every time, if we give them to support and opportunity they need. This is akin to the new effort to educate Virginia’s children in way that insure they can earn the right to good jobs, good lives, and be able to build good strong families, and communities.

  2. Okay, now you’re on my turf, baby. Who is providing those grant funds? Why were they funneled through a law office, and who in the law office is not working on legal issues and working on this instead? Is there an overhead allowance on the grant and how many political operatives will it sustain between campaigns? What other state or private agency with more expertise in community services did NOT get the dollars?

    Oh, I know as well as anybody how that office gets abused for political purposes and the TD has missed this story. More to tell, people. The National Association of Attorneys General has a REAL name – National Association of Aspiring Governors. This is politics 101. And to some extent its just normal and to be expected. Lord knows, we really did set up a regional office out in the Roanoke Valley 15 years ago just for legal work! Scout’s honor!

    A million bucks is a drop in the bucket of the federal ocean of expense which is the public housing and public assistance universe. I do not doubt what they are doing can prove helpful, and hooray for the efforts of the cops, but the marginal value of another $1 million will be impossible to measure. But the political value, which you just enhanced Jimbo, is huge.

    If I didn’t believe people can make a difference for other people, I wouldn’t spend my time with the programs under the umbrella of Families Forward, a non-profit which keeps me on its board for unknown reasons. But this has a very obvious additional agenda!

  3. I’m confused.
    I thought we have been told that more cops are the issue in minority/ underserved neighborhoods because they are over policed. Why don’t they send in restorative justice counseling specialists like are being touted in the schools? Wouldn’t it be more effective? And it would solve the whole prison pipeline/ destruction of the family issue by keeping the fathers in the community.
    Can’t we also cut the Justice Department budget by 75% and create a Restorative Justice Department with some of that funding? From what I’ve been reading decriminalizing crime would be a huge savings for all.

  4. These are band-aids on cancers.

    The liberals got it wrong but so do others.

    You can’t fix generation poverty by more police nor more welfare.

    You cannot expect parents who have terrible educations themselves to get and hold good jobs, stay away from criminal activities, no do a good job parenting.

    Folks can blame Obama, but police have been doing that behavior for a long time, long before Obama came along. He made the mistake of calling it out when his predecessors didn’t and pretended we had a “post-racial” society.

    And to a certain extent – I see police themselves as ordinary human beings doing an incredibly difficult job and some of them just get hardened to the reality of how little criminals themselves value lives of others and they simply are dealing with the here and now – not what needs to be done to fix it.

    But we’re never going to make much headway on this as long as we continue to end up with kids getting no better education than their parents did – the cycle will continue – they too will grow up, have kids, have a devil of a time getting a decent job and gaining economic security- and some will get involved in various activities that attract the attention of police – some justified, especially violent acts – others – will run afoul of laws that drive folks into the criminal justice system over things that should not result in jail time – and those things tend to focus on those who are poor and less educated.

    But as long as we can’t figure out how to get those from low-income circumstances a good enough education to get a decent job – we’re going to continue to have this problem.

    And sorry.. these narratives that blather on and on about “liberal piety” don’t do squat in terms of useful insight nor what we really have to do to do better.

    Yup..you can blame liberals and do – but this problem has been going on for quite some time and last time I checked, Conservative types have been around – and elected to office also,… and no matter whether they are in the majority and in charge or not – they have the same irresponsible blame-others foolishness. “We can’t fix it because it’s not our fault”.

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