I just got off the phone with a reporter from a local newspaper. He was doing his annual story on the number of homicides in our county. While our definitions of homicide differ (mine: death by another’s “hand” and his: charges likely to be filed) we were in agreement that the number of homicides by his definition have decreased. He pointed out that that seems to be a trend for a few years now.
We discussed possible reasons why that might be the case (all guesses and conjecture) and then he asked what I would like to see going forward to continue to impact the homicide/murder rate.
I mentioned a few things, some of which are in place and just need growing, others just beginning. As I have mentioned, we need to change the “social norm” and/or thought process that the only way to respond to certain things/behaviors/events is with violence, especially all out violence. Here is a perfect role for several social service programs and for the communities of faith, and they need to continue in that role. Also of particular value are programs like CeaseFire, which seek to break the cycle of escalation and retaliation (particularly in relation to gang activity). Also of great value are programs like Teen Court, Drug Court, and Mental Health Court, by keeping first time and low-level offenders and others ill-suited (if you will) for jail/prison out of jail and prison so that they don’t learn even worse maladaptive behaviors.
Murder/homicide is a public health issue, as much as it is a justice/legal issue (also justice in the social justice sense). They, too, are deaths we can prevent and we must “invest” in and support programs that can do just that.