The recent incidents of gun violence involving local youth have led city officials to "redouble" their efforts against crime by increasing the number of police officers patrolling crime-plagued neighborhoods and by putting out a plan to identify the District's "most wanted" criminals, enforce the city's youth curfew law, crack down on gangs and reform the District's sentencing and probation procedures. These proposed measures are necessary but not sufficient strategies for addressing youth-related crime and gun violence.
In his effort to identify the "best practices" to transform D.C. service delivery and community problem solving, Mayor Anthony Williams has cited Boston as a successful model of violence and crime reduction that should be studied and replicated here in Washington. Without question, Boston's efforts have yielded impressive results. While the core of the Boston strategy focused on extensive intelligence gathering on gang activities supplemented by aggressive community-based policing, the untold story of Boston's success is the comprehensive youth development strategy that complemented zero tolerance and effective policing efforts.
In Boston, faith-based organizations, nonprofit youth-service and advocacy organizations, neighborhood social and civic groups in collaboration with public-sector youth service agencies first came together to acknowledge that all sectors of the Boston community had "disengaged" from older youth ages 14 to 21. This manifested itself in too few prevention programs and services for Boston teenagers and young adults and not enough adults with meaningful relationships with older neighborhood youth. Acknowledgment of this gap provided opportunities for the city of Boston, nonprofit organizations and the faith community to collaborate with the police department to develop a multifaceted, comprehensive approach to positive youth development.
Once Boston decided to do better by its older youth, the police built partnerships with youth workers that built stronger ties to communities. More important, Boston targeted resources for street outreach workers assigned to specific neighborhoods who worked out of specific city agencies -- i.e., public housing, recreation and public health -- to serve as liaisons and resource people for neighborhood youth.
With workers out of the office and on the streets, city officials had information about what was happening at ground zero. This was complemented by an aggressive youth employment strategy and leadership development opportunities at the neighborhood level. Most important, the professional development of youth workers was taken seriously, and a citywide alliance of youth workers was formed to ensure that front-line staff were trained in the best practices and strategies.
Boston is not the only city to figure out that community policing strategies must be linked with an effective youth development strategy if urban crime and youth violence are to be addressed effectively. This policy also has succeeded in New Haven, Kansas City and Minneapolis -- cities known for the confluence of gangs, drugs and youth gun violence.
In the District, older youth in and out of school lack services, recreational resources and effective youth-development programs. They have retreated from mainstream community life, preferring alternative subcultures that include gangs. Many of their attitudes and behaviors are a response to the alienation, abandonment and disengagement they have experienced from families, schools and communities.
As we search for solutions to our most recent string of highly publicized shootings in the District, maybe it's time to admit our shortcomings and strengthen our efforts toward positive youth development. We don't need another study or a bureaucratized planning process. We simply need to respond with urgency and courage and admit that our city has dropped the ball.
Beatriz Otero is executive director of Calvary Bilingual Multicultural Learning Center. Lisa Sullivan is president of Listen Inc., a youth development and leadership organization.