New York’s secret weapon... the cyber sleuth
NEW York is now the safest city in the US – and one of the crucial weapons in the war on crime there is a sleuth who scours the web for escalating threats.
Teams of police already monitor social media sites, which amplify and accelerate online conflicts so they can spill over into real-life violence. Hundreds of gang members have been charged using evidence from such pages.
Running alongside the police’s efforts is a system of civilian ‘violence interrupters’, developed with the non-profit Citizens Crime Commission of New York. Michael Perry, a 38-year-old father-of-two, is a former drug dealer who runs a programme targeting at-risk youth on Staten Island. He builds relationships with those caught up in gang warfare.
Sleuths such as Mr Perry decipher signs of trouble – between so-called ‘cyber-bangers’ – and counter flare-ups before trouble starts.
He’s a constant presence on the street and one of many extra pairs of eyes that monitor social media and intervene in online fights that could escalate into violence. ‘There’s a lot of peer pressure on young men to be tough guys, to be territorial and hyper-masculine, and when they feel disrespected on social media, they take it to the streets,’ he says.
‘Our job is to intervene – we’ll message them or call them up or go to a meeting place that’s been arranged and try to cool things down. Often it’s not about big things, it might be about a girl – but then it escalates into something bigger.
‘We broker peace agreements and we check that they’re being kept. Our job is to re-tool and re-wire brains because these kids are often confused. We tell them it’s OK to be the cool guy who goes to school and just does his thing – he doesn’t have to be the tough guy.’
In Mr Perry’s neighbourhood, where about a third of the community lives below the poverty level, the programme has paid off. ‘We average seven to eight violence interruptions a month and so far we’ve had 570 days without a homicide,’ he says.
‘In the past, we’d have had six to eight fatal shootings or stabbings every couple of months.’
COOLING THINGS DOWN: Violence interrupter Michael Perry