This was reported by the NY times. Three police officers knocked on the apartment door of a 15-year-old boy. He had already been on both sides of a police blotter: shot and stabbed, but also arrested on robbery charges. He ran in an East Harlem gang and lived with his grandmother on the seventh floor of a public housing building, where the stairwells reeked of marijuana.
He was the type of teenager destined for trouble. And that was precisely why the officers were at his door on a recent winter night. NYPD has embarked on a novel approach to deter juvenile robbers, essentially staging interventions and force-feeding outreach in an effort to stem a tide of robberies by dissuading those most likely to commit them. (What happened to the presumption of innocence?)
Officers not only make repeated drop-ins at homes and schools, but they also drive up to the teenagers in the streets, shouting out friendly hellos, in front of their friends (and you thought parents embarrassed you!). The force’s Intelligence Division also deciphers each teenager’s street name and gang affiliation. Detectives compile a binder on each teenager that includes photos from Facebook and arrest photos of the teenager’s associates, not unlike the flow charts generated by law enforcement officials to track organized crime.
The idea, in part, is to isolate these teenagers from the peers with whom they commit crimes — to make them radioactive. “We are coming to find you and monitor every step you take,” said Joanne Jaffe, the department’s Housing Bureau chief. “And we are going to learn about every bad friend you have. And you’re going to get alienated from those friends because we are going to be all over you.”
The police also keep tabs in more covert ways. Detectives spend hours, day and night, monitoring the Facebook pages and Twitter accounts of teenagers in the program, known as the Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program, or J-RIP, and of their criminal associates. To do so, detectives create a dummy Facebook page — perhaps employing a fake profile of an attractive teenage girl — and send out “friend requests” as bait to get beyond the social network’s privacy settings.
At the same time, officers seek to forge relationships with the teenager’s family, drawing them in with perquisites like a hand-delivered turkey on Thanksgiving Eve and toys and brand-name sneakers for younger siblings. Officers also provide tailored help, shuttling family members to doctors’ appointments, connecting them with alcohol and drug-abuse counseling and filling out applications for low-income housing, food stamps, child support and child care.
The approach in New York comes at a time when gang violence has been blamed for higher murder and crime rates in cities like Chicago and Detroit, prompting federal and local law enforcement authorities to contemplate new initiatives to try to quell the cycle of gang activity and violence.
New York’s program is no panacea to violent crime; only a few hundred teenage robbers will be in the program at any one time, all from East Harlem or the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.
Nonetheless, the city’s efforts have drawn notice; the Police Department has given presentations on its program at conferences from Monterey, Calif., to Washington, D.C.
“I’m not aware of any police department nationally coming up with the same strategy or replicating what the N.Y.P.D. has done here,” said David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.
The program builds, in part, on Mr. Kennedy’s successful homicide-reduction strategy, called Operation Ceasefire, that began in Boston in the 1990s and was later implemented in scores of cities. But New York’s program has a different and more narrow focus: Juvenile offenders who live within specific neighborhood borders yet commit robberies beyond those boundaries.
Getting to Know Gangs
It is the Police Department’s own brand of tough love.
“We tell these teens, ‘You have a choice,’” Chief Jaffe said. “You will not victimize anyone else. If you commit a new robbery or any other crime that is going to hurt people, we are going to do anything we can when you get arrested to put you in jail. Your friends will get out. You are not getting out.” Youths in the program are flagged in police and court databases, so if one is rearrested, the police and prosecutors will coordinate their response.
I applaud creative ways to stop juvenile crime, but it just bothers me that these kids are targeted BEFORE they do anything wrong, but that is just me. –Mace
Mace J. Yampolsky is a Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist, 625 South Sixth St., Las Vegas, NV 89101; He can be reached at: Phone 702-385-9777 or fax 702-385-300. His website is located at: www.macelaw.com.