‘Focused Deterrence’ just may be changing the city

philadelphia skyline
Credit: Rikard Larma / Metro

Teenagers whose lives have been re-directd by the Focused Deterrence program were among those who testified at a City Council hearing today on whether the program should be extended from South Philly to the entire city.

“I coulda easily went back to the things I was doing,” said Christopher Frasier, 23, during the hearing. “With Focused Deterrence, I make my own decisions.”

Frasier is one of the 103 young men in South Philadelphia who so far have worked with Focused Deterrence, a collaborative program between police, prosecutors and social workers in which gang members identified by authorities as at-risk are offered social service assistance with the warning that any further illegal behavior will be punished harshly.

Another former participant who was at City Hall today to testify about his experience was Eric Tell.

“I’m not really in the streets now because I have a job,” Tell said.

Started in April 2013, the program is currently limited to South Philadelphia. But City Councilman Dennis O’Brien wants to push for the creation of a city Office of Violence Reduction with an executive director to promote similar efforts around the city.

Since Focused Deterrence began, out of the 103 men identified as “impact men” and called in by authorities, 28 have since sought out assistance with social services, said director of public safety Michael Resnick.

Of those 28, three have since been incarcerated. But the rest are involved in a variety of programs — some have jobs, while others have sought out drug or alcohol abuse treatment, job training programs, GED programs, and programs to get into higher education.

The Focused Deterrence program is based in part on the research of David Kennedy, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, who testified at the hearing.

Kennedy’s research has found that the vast majority of street violence originates with relatively few people —  violent members of loosely affiliated groups or gangs.

At a hearing today about the program, police and community members testified that they believe Focused Deterrence — first implemented in April 2013 — played a role in 2013 having a historically low number of homicides — 247, down from 331 in 2012.

“It’s spilling out into other communities,” testified Movita Johnson. “The word is out about Focused Deterrence.”

Johnson, a victim of gun violence whose 18-year-old son was murdered in 2011, testified that she believed this program could have prevented her son’s death, mentioning his killers by name.

“I believe if Troy Thornton and Sean Jones had participated in Focused Deterrence, my son might still be alive,” Johnson said.

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