Negativity wins: Pittsburgh police failed to cooperate on an anti-gang plan

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On Monday, the Post-Gazette published a front-page story about the failure of the Pittsburgh police to cooperate with an innovative program designed to address gang killings when it was introduced here in 2008.

Despite assurances by the Ravenstahl administration that it would fully back criminologist David Kennedy’s program and city council’s assurances that it would fund it, the police bureau was hostile to the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime from the beginning.

Versions of the program created by the university professor from New York had generated impressive results across the country. Its mix of incentives like job training, counseling and escalating punishment for gang killings was considered a practical way to reduce gun violence.

The program required tapping into the knowledge of veteran officers, and Mr. Kennedy sent in a team to do so. But even with Pittsburgh’s politicians on board, the unwillingness of the police to share with “outsiders” information they’d gathered on the gangs over the years doomed the program. Discouraged, Mr. Kennedy eventually walked away from the PIRC. He described the Pittsburgh police as the most condescending and uncooperative bureaucracy he’s ever encountered.

This incident was not a mere insult to a respected authority; it was a missed opportunity for Pittsburgh, a chance that could have saved the lives of some of the city’s young people.

One could argue that many of the cities that once saw reductions in violence under similar programs have seen gang killings rise in recent years, but that doesn’t excuse the Pittsburgh police department’s foot dragging. No one knows if Mr. Kennedy’s approach would have worked, but implementing a fully-funded program to stop the killing certainly was worth some effort from the police force. Active participation should have been a no-brainer.

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