by James Forman Jr. and Trevor Stutz

“Mr. Kelly is correct that high levels of violence are intolerable and that those who would challenge stop-and-frisk—in which police officers use thin pretexts for streetside searches—must present credible alternatives.  At the Yale Law School Innovations in Policing Clinic, we have been visiting police departments around the country in search of such strategies.  One increasingly popular approach, ‘focused deterrence,’ is among the most promising.

“Developed by the criminologist David M. Kennedy, focused deterrence is in many ways the opposite of stopping and frisking large sections of the population.  Beginning with the recognition that a small cohort of young men are responsible for most of the violent crime in minority neighborhoods, it targets the worst culprits for intensive investigation and criminal prosecution.

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“Rather than sweep through and stop large numbers of young black men, the police built strong relationships with residents, promising greater responsiveness if they took back the reins of their community and told their sons, nephews and grandsons that the violence and the overt dealing must end.  Meanwhile, the police identified the 17 men driving the drug market and built solid cases against each.  In one fell swoop, they arrested three with violent records.

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“Why did the strategy succeed?  The Rev. Sherman Mason, a local minister, told us that a key factor was the decision to involve neighborhood residents in the process.  As a result, the police gained legitimacy, and their relationship with the community was transformed.”