In 2000, the homicide rate increased to 36 in the city. "What do the papers say?" Stewart asks. "They report 'The miracle is over.' At the same time, we had a change in leadership, followed by a five-year increase in gun-related homicides."
Last year, the homicide stat was up to mid-60s. The bad news, he says, is the number went up. "The good news is that it's still not as bad as it used to be, but it's not as good as it could be."
Stewart's message of success is uncomplicated: KISS — Keep it simple, stupid. "Don't try to be all things to all people. I know what I can do. I'll do that. You do what you do, and then we'll do it together. What are we trying to do? Stop the gun violence."
Spreading the system
The Boston Strategy model has found its way around the country, with similar programs being implemented and getting guns out of the hands of kids.
Now the largest city in Louisiana, Baton Rouge has had and recently been given its share of additional juvenile gun violence since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.
Luckily, a progressive program has been in place for a while. In 1997, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) awarded four grants to implement the Partnerships to Reduce Juvenile Gun Violence Program. In addition to Baton Rouge, Oakland, California; and Syracuse, New York; were recipients.
As in Boston, city police and probation officers ensure the offenders' terms of probation and parole are being followed. Baton Rouge calls its program Operation Eiger. Named for a physical monument, "It's a tough program, but you can reach the peak," says Lt. Roddy Cantu, who supervises the police involvement in the program. Eiger is the highest peak in the Himalayan Mountains, tough to climb, but attainable with extra effort.
The city of Baton Rouge is divided into three regions, and each has an Eiger unit with three officers assigned to it. "We try to keep juveniles from obtaining firearms and bringing them into the schools, but the main problem is the access kids have to getting these weapons off the streets."
Each unit consists of a police officer, and one each juvenile and adult parole officer. The police presence comes from just about every division, including felony theft, major assaults, evidence, auto theft, etc. They all work overtime to help combat this juvenile gun problem, visiting approximately 10 individuals a night, per unit. The program runs five nights a week. "If we keep a closer eye on them, there's a chance they won't repeat a crime," says Cantu.
Wendy Sarner, with the Intensive Supervision Program, a division of the Department of Juvenile Services in Baton Rouge, agrees. "Ultimately, it's a chance to meet with the parents, to find out what's going on in the home, and we're also able to observe what's going on in the community," she says.
The information exchange that occurs on these ride-alongs is just as critical in Boston as in Baton Rouge.
An example given by Cantu shows how this exchange can benefit both police and parole. An officer with the School Drug Task Force of the Baton Rouge PD was dispatched to a school where a student was in possession of a knife.
When the officer arrived, the juvenile had already disappeared. The residence information the school gave the officer was wrong. It was then she turned to Cantu, who she knew was involved with Operation Eiger. It turned out the student was on probation and one checked on during the night visits.
"I was able to give her the address; she went and made the arrest," Cantu says. "This offers the police officers the opportunity to get information on these people."
"If there's anything we learned from the successes of the 90s is that you don't win forever," Stewart says. "You win for today. You've got to come back tomorrow."
He keeps coming back, as does anyone committed to taking guns out of the hands of children. He saves lives, both from guns and from the hopelessness these young people are living in.
For the mother who answers the door at night, Stewart only has to say, "There are two reasons I'm here. First of all, your child is on probation. If he wasn't, I can guarantee I wouldn't be here. Second, I know my son is safe. I would like for you to see your son safe at home too, instead of in jail. But, I would rather see him in jail than in a cemetery."