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Published:September 17th, 2006 05:29 EST
Northern University Reaches Out

Northern University Reaches Out

By Meghan Gargan

The Executive Office of Public Safety (EOPS) awarded Northeastern University a $270,000 grant last week [July 12, 2006] in a funding effort to stop gang violence. The award is in addition to the $11 million  Senator Charles E. Shannon, Jr. Community Safety Initiative, " a statewide program dedicated to the prevention and intervention of gang violence. The EOPS named Northeastern as Massachusetts` Statewide Youth Violence Research Partner.

It was a competitive process, " said Patrick H. Bradley, undersecretary of criminal justice for the EOPS. The EOPS enjoys a great relationship with Northeastern; they have a high level of concentration on criminal justice and violence issues. We are thrilled to be partnered with such a terrific organization. "

Both Bradley and Sean P. Varano, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Northeastern with a specialty in gang violence, says the cause for funding is gangs are on the rise again in Boston and surrounding areas, and are a real concern.

The issue is that crime and violence is on the up swing, when in recent years, especially the 90s, Boston saw a decrease in violence and crime. Now we are seeing an increase in this and the theory is that it`s linked to gangs, " said Varano.

Dr. Varano admits that there has been no firm or conclusive evidence that gangs are the cause of the recent increase in crime, but believes they are part of the issue. " 

The important question is why something like this was funded amidst other issues such as terrorism and the war? Why $11 million is going into gang violence when historically violence is at an all time low? This is because the perception is there is going to be an increase in violence, particularly gang related, and policy makers want to nip it in the bud. It`s a fair decision, " he said.

Northeastern`s role in the program will stretch locally and statewide. The researchers at the university are responsible for training and providing technical assistance to all of those involved including: researchers, policy makers, police departments, intervention groups, and the communities involved.

We`re going to coordinate the efforts of the research part and establish statewide evaluation criteria of how gangs and violence should be evaluated, " said Varano.

As part of the local effort, Northeastern will serve as the researcher for Boston and New Bedford, providing an analysis of which crimes are gang-related and creating gang member databases.  After analyzing the data it will be Northeastern`s job to develop and implement strategies that cater to the local communities.

It`s been proven that gangs in one city are not the same as ones in other local parts. Gangs are affected by economic, ethnic, and social shifts, " said Varano. It`s a real possibility that the gang problems in New Bedford are completely different than those in Boston. "

The final question researchers will ask is, did the strategies work?

Undersecretary Bradley has high hopes that this funding will lead to some definite answers about gang violence and help increase public safety in the targeted communities.             

You can`t out-muscle this problem, you have to out-think it, " said Bradley of the impending research. We are anxious to put [Northeastern`s] solutions into place and make sure they work. We want to find ways to control and minimize the issues. We`re dedicated to this initiative and this project. "

Regardless of the results, this is a huge opportunity for Northeastern University and its students. Varano confirmed there would be some student involvement, but the project is still in preliminary stages and just how much students will take part has yet to be decided.

Jonathan Watkins, a middler and criminology and corrections major, is excited about the funding and the possibility getting involved. I know that a major problem in terms of stopping gang violence is that we just don`t know enough about them. Also, there have been problems in analyzing gangs due to lack of funding and interest, so all in all I think this is a great idea. I would love to be part of this kind of program, " said Watkins.

Some students aren`t as optimistic about the success of the program, such as John Guilfoil, a senior and criminal justice and journalism major. No one can come up with an explanation for why crimes happen and there`s not a successful method to prevent it. As long as there are laws people will break them, " he said. Guilfoil did admit that he thinks the funding will help " with the gang problem but not provide a real solution. [Gang violence] is cyclical in Boston, the violence crime rate goes up and down every ten or so years, " he said.

Varano is keeping suspicions like Guilfoil`s in mind, So as far as how big the gang problem is in Boston, its open for debate. The bigger concern is the perception in crimes. "




Written for J2 class at Northeastern University - timed writing.