Yakima police use community book club to explain youth gang violence initiative

Book club to read 'Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America' by David M. Kennedy

YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima police are trying to get the community more involved in their efforts to curb youth gang violence through a city-wide book club.

“The community plays a huge role in what we’re doing and they don’t even know about this; they don’t even understand that there is a strategy,” Yakima Police Chief Matt Murray said. “To reduce gang violence, there are very specific things that we have to do as a community.”

Over the past year, Yakima police officers have been working with other agencies and community partners to curb youth gang violence with a focused deterrence program.

Instead of each group working separately, trying to reach anyone involved in a gang with broad approaches, they’re working together, conducting research to identify the small number of gang members committing most of the violent crimes in the city and using their pooled resources to help get those people out of the gang lifestyle.

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Murray said the program is promising, but in order to reach its full potential, more community partners are needed. That’s why he decided to create the Yakima Community Safety Book Club, which launched June 11.

The first book on the lineup is David M. Kennedy’s “Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America,” which community members are encouraged to read by the end of July to be a part of the ongoing conversation.

In the book, Kennedy breaks down his decades-long effort to reduce violent crime. He explains how the Boston Police Department used his methods in the 1990s to reduce youth homicides in the city by more than 60 percent —  the same methods that later evolved into the focused deterrence program YPD is using.

“What we want to do is really start to community conversation and this will help do that because it’ll help educate people on what does work and then how we need to stay focused as a community to make it happen,” Murray said.

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Murray is hosting the book club, along with City Attorney Sara Watkins, Yakima County Sheriff Bob Udell, Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic, Peter Orth with the FBI and Tom Hanlon with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The club will use a Facebook Group page to let the community discuss topics related to the book and combating violent crime. The group page can be found here, but community members will not be able to access it until it opens Aug. 1, to give them a chance to read the book.

“Then we’re going to start a series of community questions and if there’s enough participation …we’ll even do community forums and ask people to come in and we can all talk about it,” Murray said.

Yakima Valley Libraries is buying copies of the book for community members to check out in the near future.

“If you really want to get involved and don’t know how to, start here: read a book,” Murray said.

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