On September 24, 2009, the fatal beating of a 16-year-old Chicago high school student was captured on a cell phone video that was viewed across the nation. Following this horrific event, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with school officials, parents, and students in Chicago to discuss the tragedy. Attorney General Holder responded that the event marked a “stark wake-up call to a reality that can be easy for too many to ignore as they go about their daily lives.”1 He stressed that a “comprehensive, coordinated approach” to youth violence was needed.2 This effort should not just involve law enforcement and schools only, but also local religious organizations, businesses, and social service groups. Secretary Duncan stated that “Chicago won’t be defined by this incident but rather by our response to it.”3
In response to the call to action, Assistant Attorney General Laurie O. Robinson and her Chief of Staff, Thomas Abt, began to pull together a working team to develop the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention (the Forum). The Department of Justice initiated planning efforts with the Department of Education, but in recognizing the need for comprehensive approaches they expanded the partnership to include a wider array of federal agencies. Federal partners include Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control, Department of Labor, Housing and Urban Development, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Through the development of this working federal team, the Forum was established to assist localities in instituting networks in their own communities and linking with others across the country, in order to share knowledge and experience on what works and what doesn’t in fighting youth violence and gang activity. As localities work on breaking down silos to address these issues, the federal government will do the same, providing additional multi-agency support in the form of needs assessment, strategic planning, and other types of technical assistance.
A small number of localities were indentified for participation in the Forum based on need and willingness/capacity to engage with a federal interagency effort relating to youth and gang violence. Selection of sites was also influenced by a desire for geographic diversity. The six participating cities in the Forum development are Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Salinas, and San Jose. After federal team members visited each city to engage in “listening sessions” with city officials and other local stakeholders, local representatives came to the Department of Justice Offices in Washington, D.C., to share perspectives and to begin developing comprehensive plans to address youth violence for their cities with their federal counterparts. Local stakeholders vary by city but all involved representation from the mayor/city manager’s office, schools, public health officials, law enforcement, and the local office of the U.S. Attorney. In addition, each city has made efforts to involve representatives of the local philanthropic, community service, and business communities. While each city is expected to tailor its plan to their unique youth violence problems, federal guidance stresses that these plans balance prevention, intervention, and enforcement. A member of the Memphis delegation, Richard Janikowski, a professor at the University of Memphis’ Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, expressed satisfaction with the October planning session:
It [The Forum] is truly an outstanding example of the kind of creative role the federal government can have in supporting the development of local strategies to address problems in our communities. Too often everyone has simply thought of the federal role as providing funding; I believe you are engaged in ground breaking work to demonstrate that funding is not the only role for federal partners, and maybe not even the most important one, but that instead the federal government can be a partner in developing the best evidence-based practices in local strategy development.4
Following the meeting in October, the local teams are now developing their comprehensive strategies to address youth violence. The plans will be finalized over the next several months through site visits from federal site-coordinators; technical assistance; sponsored peer-to-peer visits and exchanges between the cities; and teleconferences between the federal and local teams over the next several months. Local teams will reconvene with federal partners in early April 2011 to present their comprehensive plans.
The COPS Office has been involved in this initiative from the initial planning stages. Working across the Department of Justice, and with other federal agencies as well as the local representatives, has provided COPS staff with the opportunity to promote partnerships and problem solving. These core tenets of community policing are vital not only at the local level, but also among the federal partners involved in the Forum.
The COPS Office
Senior Social Science Analyst
The COPS Office
1 MSNBC. “Holder: Student beating death ‘a wake-up call’.” October 7, 2009. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33208453/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/
4 National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention Feedback. October 15, 2010.
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