New York’s se­cret weapon... the cy­ber sleuth

The Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - From Bar­bara McMa­hon IN NEW YORK

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

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