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Boston Strategy
the story

Introduction

In the 1990s, Boston achieved dramatic success in reducing its level of gang-related gun violence—in particular, youth homicides. That success has brought widespread recognition and attention to what has now become known as The Boston Strategy to Prevent Youth Violence. Other cities have begun to experiment with some of its key programs, in particular Operation Night Light and Operation Cease Fire.

Yet, as all the participants in Boston’s anti-violence campaign agree, the effectiveness of those specific initiatives was entirely dependent upon the larger context of cooperation, trust, and respect within which they were developed and which continues to support them today. Only within that context could there be the collaboration among unlikely partners—police, probation officers, African-American clergy, gang outreach workers, and many more—that made a coordinated approach possible. Only within that context could the unusual law-enforcement tactics developed by the partners have widespread support within the community, not only from the inner city ministers who were some of the harshest critics of the police, but even from the families of the young people at whom the police initiatives were aimed. Only within that context has Boston been able to think strategically about how to seize the opportunity afforded by the lower rate of youth homicides to make positive and fundamental changes in the lives of the city’s young people.

The creation of that positive context is an integral part of the success achieved in Boston. It began with the efforts of individuals who were dealing with gangs and violence on a daily basis—people who, in frustration and despair over the sustained wave of killings, determined to find a way to do their jobs differently and better, and who decided to try working together. Gradually, out of those initial collaborations emerged a clearer understanding of the dynamics driving gang violence, and of the necessary conditions for a broader partnership capable of mounting an effective campaign against it. The emergence of that understanding is the central thread in the story of how The Boston Strategy came into being.

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