A new article from Commonwealth Magazine interviewing David Kennedy, whose work we have posted on earlier, once in 2009 and again last February.

The Boston program is a strategy that has shown some success but has also proven difficul to sustain.

An excerpt from the Commonwealth article.

“David Kennedy is an unlikely figure to be leading the charge on behalf of an innovative policing strategy to combat urban gun violence. For starters, he’s not a cop and has no law enforcement background. Though he’s a full professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, the 54-year-old Kennedy has no formal training as a criminal justice academic, either. What Kennedy does have is credibility and standing that have been honed from the central role he played in the remarkable decrease in Boston homicides and gang violence in the mid and late 1990s.

“The drop in gun violence gained national attention, and quickly was dubbed the “Boston Miracle.” The label has always bothered Kennedy, for the decrease in gun violence was not the mystical result of any divine intervention, but the product of a carefully thought out and focused strategy.

“At the core of the approach, which Kennedy developed with academics and police officials while working at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, was a strategy for dealing with gang members that relied on delivering a forceful message that gun violence would no longer be tolerated in the community. The beauty—and effectiveness—of the approach, which has come to be known as Ceasefire, was its limited focus. It was not an attempt to solve the root causes of urban poverty or to turn gangbangers into choirboys. The goal was to curtail the gun violence that was taking so many young lives and destabilizing urban neighborhoods.

“Under the Ceasefire model, gang members, many of whom were under some form of court supervision through probation or parole, were ordered to attend meetings where they were met by a phalanx of law enforcement muscle. The gatherings often included not only police, but probation officers and state and federal prosecutors. Also present were clergy and youth outreach workers, who were there to say the community was fed-up with gang violence but also ready to extend a hand with jobs or schooling to those who were ready to put down the guns. The message from the law enforcement crowd: Stop the gunplay or we lower the prosecutorial boom on everyone affiliated with your group the next time there is a shooting that any member is involved in. The poster boy for these efforts became a Boston gangbanger named Freddie Cardoza, a career felon who received a federal prison sentence of 19 years and 7 months, with no possibility of parole, when caught carrying a single bullet.

“In this way, the strategy carries a harsh, throw-the-book-at-them promise to gang members who don’t heed the message that the violence must stop. At the same time, the real aim of Ceasefire is to quell gun violence without locking up every perpetrator—and to focus on the small number of offenders responsible for most of the urban chaos. The ultimate goal is prevention, to get those involved to wise up and turn away from guns and gangs before a Freddie Cardoza-length federal sentence is imposed.

“The strategy depends on making common cause with leaders of the affected neighborhoods, and it stands as the community-oriented alternative to the stop-and-frisk approach that has poisoned police-community relations in New York City. “We are destroying the village in order to save it,” Kennedy writes of the “orgy of incarceration” that is sending so many black men to prison.

“Many of those involved in gang life, Kennedy says, get sucked in by the peer pressures of the street and are as scared as anyone of its deadly consequences. That makes them surprisingly open to a way out of the craziness, he says, which is exactly what the strategy gives them.

“Ceasefire has been implemented in dozens of cities, often with almost immediate decreases of 25 or even 50 percent in gun violence. But it’s not easy to sustain. The effort in Boston fizzled out after a few years, and the same thing happened in many of the other early-adopter cities. The strategy depends on the relentless focus of a large cast of law enforcement and community players, something that Kennedy says requires a full-time coordinator and explicit commitment to its use from everyone involved. Those lessons are now being applied in the 70 cities that are part of the National Network for Safe Communities, a coalition Kennedy co-chairs that consists of law enforcement and community leaders committed to the Ceasefire approach.”