The streets have been a lot quieter since police doubled their patrols two weeks ago. There hasn’t been a single shot fired, said Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett.
But Bennett said the criminals who were shooting at each other over every small slight in March are likely to go right back to their old tricks if police back down. He wants to keep up the intensive patrols, which include state police, regular patrol officers and every other officer who can be spared from other duties.
“We’re pleased with the results, but we’re not comfortable,” he said. “Whether or not this indicates these people are changing their behavior … without knowing who they are and talking with them, there’s no way to know. I certainly do think the intensified police presence has a great deal to do with [the lack of shooting].”
He believes there are about 25 shooters loose in the city. Only a few have been arrested, mainly because they were injured by someone else. Bennett calls them “victim-perpetrators” because they were trying to shoot someone else when they were injured. They contributed to March and early April’s record number of shots-fired incidents, he said.
The fact that the shooters haven’t fired their guns in two weeks is encouraging, Bennett said, but not a helpful indication of what they’d do if police returned to their regular patrols. His intelligence indicates that the shootings revolved around an attitude that the slightest disrespectful comment must be instantly punished.
The shootings also always involved people who knew each other, he said.
He thinks shooters are now hesitating to fire their guns at their acquaintances because they worry police will quickly catch them. But calming the violence through police saturation is only a short-term solution — eventually, the police will have to return to normal patrols.
Probation Director Mary Lolik said the long-term solution must involve the criminals themselves.
City officials must provide programs “to give them incentives to be productive citizens,” she said.
Right now, they shoot because they don’t think they have anything to lose, she speculated.
“I think a lot of them think there is nothing out there for them,” Lolik said. “The kids have given up. My goal is, let’s get them jobs, get an education, so they stop getting in trouble over and over.”
This year probation is trying something new — a type of group therapy designed to get teenagers and young adults to talk about their dreams and goals in life. City Mission is helping run the program.
“From my experience, they need to have something they can hold onto,” Lolik said. “[They need to say] ‘I need a goal, I’m not going to give up on life, I care about my life.’ ”
While Lolik is trying to get her clients on the straight and narrow, her department is also working with law enforcement more than ever before, in hopes of quickly rearresting residents who are on probation and have committed another crime.
“Any time there is a shooting, we’re alerted. We’ll help identify who it might be,” Lolik said. “After the [parking garage] rape near Liberty Street, we gave them a list — it could be this one, it could be that one.”
The new strategy came about after the county agreed to pay for a probation intelligence officer who works with local law enforcement.
“We have never worked as closely together, never before,” Lolik said. “We actually started sharing information.”
In addition to the lack of shootings, there has been one other positive development in the past two weeks: residents are helping police more than ever before.
“We’re getting intelligence from people on the streets,” Bennett said.
The department is even getting phone calls from residents who offered the names of specific individuals who are carrying guns, he said.
But the wounded residents arrested after last month’s gun battles are not cooperating, Bennett said. They are now being charged for their involvement in the battles, including possession of illegal firearms.