By Todd Gilbert
Gilbert is Majority Leader in the House of Delegates. He is a Republican from Shenandoah County.
What would you say if I told you there was a proven way to reduce gun violence in our cities? A solution that doesn’t involve gun control, and could be entirely funded through existing surplus funds?
It’s not a pipe dream, but a strategy called Operation Ceasefire. It’s real, it works, and last week, I introduced legislation that would begin the process of bringing this proven, life-saving approach to Virginia.
Project Ceasefire and its companion program Project Exit are two sides of the same coin — an approach to ending urban violence. It’s not about arresting our way out of the problem, nor is it about coddling criminals. It’s not about gun control, nor is it about rolling into a neighborhood with lights and sirens.
It is about getting the very small percentage of people who cause these problems to change their behavior. It’s about intervention and prevention, which in turn leads to a transformation, not just of individual lives but entire communities.
Research shows that the vast majority of crime happens in a handful of places and is done by a relatively small number of people. Ceasefire doesn’t cast a wide net that target entire populations. Instead, it and similar programs focus like a laser on the few bad actors driving crime. Once those areas and individuals are identified, law enforcement comes into the neighborhood and uses any and all legal “levers” to send a message — until the shooting stops, business as usual for gangs and other violent individuals is over.
Outstanding warrants are enforced, drug sales are interrupted. Criminal violations from expired registration to driving without a license to illegal gun possession are used to disrupt the day to day activities of those known to be behind most of the violence.
Not long after, some of the bad actors are brought in for a “call-in” with law enforcement, prosecutors, and social organizations.
Call-ins aren’t touchy-feely. They’re matter of fact. Subjects are given a choice: “We know who you are, we know what you’ve been doing. We’re watching you. If you continue on this line, you’re going to prison — far from here — for a long, long time.”
“But you’ve got another choice. You can stop running with your crew. You can get a GED, get job training. We’ll help you remove your gang tattoos.”
“We will help you if we can, but we will stop you if we must. Pick one.”
We know this works. It was done in Boston, and over five years youth homicide dropped by more than 60 percent. Other cities around the country have implemented this program with similar results.
This legislation doesn’t mandate anything. It doesn’t create a massive new expense.
Project Ceasefire and Project Exit, the two grant programs created, will offer $1.5 million in grant funding for law enforcement and nonprofits who want to pursue these proven strategies, removing roadblocks and cutting bureaucratic red tape by putting the resources for these programs in one place.
The solutions to this problem aren’t partisan. They’re common sense. They’ve been tried before, and they worked. Children who live in urban neighborhoods deserve the same safety as those who live in rural counties. We can make their schools and streets safer, and we don’t need any new gun control laws to do it.
We can stop the killing. We can save lives. We can turn neighborhoods where parents are afraid to let their kids play outside into places where parents have to call their kids in for dinner. I hope my Democrat colleagues will join me in supporting this life-saving and life-changing effort.