This Man Says His Anti-violence Plan Would Save 12,000 Lives

Why aren’t more cities using it?

The Atlantic

Mark Obbie
September 11, 2019

(Left to right) Officer Michael Beavers, Lieutenant Mitchell Thomas, Officer Mark Alberti, and Officer Sheila Suggs-Barrons of the Buffalo, New York, Police Department complete a home visit. (Tony Luong)

… [Thomas] Abt does the math for the 40 U.S. cities that together have the worst homicide rates and numbers of killings. If these cities adopted his plan, at a combined cost of $900 million over eight years, he claims, more than 12,000 lives would be saved. Chicago, which has consistently had more murders than any other U.S. city in recent years, would save 1,500 lives using programs costing $112 million over eight years. (A Chicago police spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, bristles at the suggestion that the city ignores evidence-based strategies, saying it has done “some of the most advanced work” in the nation and has lower homicide numbers since 2017 to show for it.) Nationwide, Abt estimates that the investment would pay off not just in lives but in costs avoided: $120 billion in medical expenses, criminal-justice costs, lost wages, and reduced quality of life.

Abt advocates for progressive ideas such as limiting or excluding the involvement of police when using street-outreach counselors. But he also bucks the dogma of the left that crime’s principal root cause—poverty—must be made the priority, and that policing needs curtailment instead of reform. “Violence is not simply a manifestation of poverty; it is a force that perpetuates poverty as well,” he writes. “Poverty might precede violence, but reducing poverty requires working backward, beginning with violence itself.”

Such notions, says Jeffrey Butts, the director of the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, may skew the violence-intervention focus too far into short-term preventive tactics driven by law enforcement. “He claims the moral high ground by dismissing people who talk about fundamental causes and long-term solutions,” says Butts. He adds that Abt’s use of numbers shows an “aggressively overconfident” precision that can give people a false impression of how likely these outcomes are. Butts also questions Abt’s theory that a book can bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners where other tools haven’t worked. “It’s hard to change someone’s behavior just by telling them stuff,” he says.

Abt said he’s all for addressing social and economic root causes of violence, so long as they don’t substitute for “life-saving policies that can be implemented today.” He also said he was careful to label his numbers on projected lives saved and costs as estimates, and called them conservative estimates at that.

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