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A Whole New Mind-set on Fighting Crime

By Dr. Stephen R. Covey

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
—Edmund Burke, English statesman and political philosopher (1729–1797)

ardim Ângela is a district on the southwestern edge of São Paulo, Brazil. A sea of tiny shanties and hovels randomly crowded together make up most of the neighborhoods in the area. Murder rates were soaring out of control in the late 1990s and around the turn of the millennium. Jardim Ângela and two other districts, Capão Redondo and Jardim São Luis, were considered by the São Paulo Civil Police to be the “triangle of death.” In 1996, there were 538 people murdered in this area, most of whom were teenagers. The numbers continued to rise steadily each year and peaked in 2001 with a total of 741 homicides in the triangle of death, according to the Seade Foundation. Drug trafficking was rampant. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) tagged the district as one of the most violent in the world, even topping cities that were involved in formal wars.

Residents lived in constant fear. They did not trust criminals, nor did they trust the police. One of the few people they could trust was a man they call Father Jaime. Father Jaime is not Brazilian; he is Irish. Father James Crowe (Jaime being the Portuguese version of James) came to the Santos Mártires Parish in Jardim Ângela in 1987.

After the United Nations issued a statement in 1996 tagging the district as one of the most violent, Father Jaime decided to call a meeting with the district’s leaders. The leaders at the meeting decided on a single hugely important goal—to reduce the violence and murder rate in Jardim Ângela.

Instead of counting fresh graves in the cemetery, community leaders began to focus on unity, programs for teens, physical restoration projects, and providing for basic quality-of-life services for residents. Community leaders, the police, and Father Jaime created the Life Defense Forum (Fórum em Defesa da Vida). Its sole purpose was to generate ideas that would decrease violence and improve the quality of life in Jardim Ângela.

The Forum (which now comprises representatives from 200 institutions) was the catalyst for a laundry list of projects to improve quality of life: CAPS, a psychological counseling center for drugs and alcohol; RAC, a program for reinserting teens back into the community after incarceration; Casa Sofia, providing psychological and social assistance for women who are victims of violence; CEDECA, a center for children and teens who are abandoned or at risk; PROERD, Brazil’s drug awareness and prevention initiative for kids (referred to as D.A.R.E. in the United States); Christmas without Hunger, a program for gathering and distributing food to the needy; a community hospital; multiple health-care clinics; increased street lighting; and improved road conditions. In addition, when the police asked for community support to help them finish the partially completed permanent police station (the agency was operating out of trailers at the time), the response was overwhelming. The district now has a complement of approximately 450 officers.

In another landmark initiative, with the help of the government, an agreement was reached with local bars in the district policed by the Jardim Ranieri Community Police Base. Police knew from statistics that most homicides in the area took place in or around bars; between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; and with the use of a firearm. The police held three large public meetings in which various government and social agencies spoke to bar owners and local community leaders, providing statistics and information. All participants (including bar owners, community members, business owners, and school principals) could give their opinion. Approximately 95 percent of all bar owners attended one of the three meetings. In the end, a pact was created in which bar owners agreed to close their businesses at 10 p.m. According to reports, 77 of the approximately 79 bars in the area (or 97.5 percent) ended up complying and closing their doors at 10 p.m.

Closing bars earlier solved part of the homicide problem. The National Disarmament Campaign, which began in 2004, was another key component. This government-based initiative established several collection centers where people could turn in weapons for money. Their goal was to run the program for six months and collect 80,000 firearms. In the end, the program lasted over a year, and 459,855 firearms were turned in, including registered and unregistered guns.

As the systems in the district were realigned for safety, peace, and community health, criminals began to feel less and less welcome. But it did not happen overnight. By 2000, almost all of the projects mentioned were operational. Yet in 2001, Jardim Ângela hit an all-time high with 309 people murdered, according to the Seade Foundation. They experienced how when trust builds amongst all community groups, residents feel more comfortable reporting crime, and numbers can go up initially. But Father Jamie, the police, and other community leaders stayed the course and waited for the new systems to work.

Finally, in 2002, the district began to see a reduction in homicides that continued to tick down with each passing year: 254 in 2002, 212 in 2003, 172 in 2004, 119 in 2005, and an all-time low of 91 in 2006. According to a case study by Daniela Ompad titled “Community Mobilization against Violence in Brazil,” Jardim Ângela was completely homicide-free for 50 consecutive days in that same year.1 From January to July 2006, the district also saw a reduction of more than 50 percent in reported muggings, assaults, pickpocketing, and car thefts compared with previous years.

Could such a shift really begin with just one person deciding it was time to take a different approach? The results in Jardim Ângela are quite stunning. This story proves that even in the worst conditions, dramatic shifts are possible. The journey of Jardim Ângela from being part of a triangle of death to a community that had taken back its future is a powerful example of how any neighborhood, community, town, or city can eliminate or significantly reduce crime in a targeted area. Of course, gains such as those in Jardim Ângela are sustainable only by constant partnership and vigilance. Dynamics change, leaders come and go, and efforts can experience setbacks, so the community must adapt and innovate. More to the point, though, such transformations do not happen overnight, and they certainly do not happen by doing more of the same. To be sure, ending targeted crime requires a completely different paradigm or mind-set.

Readers may be asking about now, what would a business leader know about fighting crime? As I began to learn about and study a growing number of transformed communities, such as Jardim Ângela, I realized that the models that work to solve business problems are actually the same models that work to solve social problems, such as disorder, chaos, and violence. In business, new challenges require a new mind-set or paradigm to get to an effective solution. In a community, new social problems also require a new mind-set to reach a resolution.

The Old Way of Thinking about Crime

The story of Jardim Ângela aptly depicts the critical mind-set shift that must take place to make communities safer. Old paradigms simply will not work.

Many of the methods that once produced results are failing now, not because of any one person’s inadequacies or incompetence but simply because the problems themselves have changed. Historian Arnold Toynbee once said, “Nothing fails like success.” So it is with fighting crime and violence. The Center for Social-Profit Leadership said, “A raft of overwhelming social issues: drugs, violence, welfare, and homelessness besiege our communities, which collectively affect everyone’s prosperity. Since 1965, [the United States] has spent well over a trillion dollars providing services into our communities to address these issues that have all failed—the issues continue and grow in scale. Doing more of the same is obviously not the answer. A new approach is required if we are to have any impact on the social issues plaguing our communities.”2

The current ways of addressing the problems of crime are incomplete. The conventional mind-set is based mostly on postincident correction. Too often we react to crime instead of taking the initiative to prevent it. Ward Clapham, a retired superintendent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, and current chief officer of the Metro Vancouver Transit Police, said, “We work harder and harder doing the wrong things. Reacting to crime and putting on band-aids is not working and will not work. The problem is that the systems and structures are aligned for this post-incident, corrective, adversarial model. It is a model of repair, not prepare.”

The bottom line is that crime is “in your face.” It is a stunning, raw reality that reaches people on a deep, emotional level seldom experienced before. The impact of these tumultuous acts is very tangible, personal, and real and is known all too well by police leaders. The following recent statistics reflect the sobering and oppressive scene:

  • Worldwide, an estimated 1.6 million people lost their lives to violence in 2000. About half were suicides, one-third were homicides, and one-fifth were casualties of armed conflict.3

  • In Latin America, violence is now among the five main causes of death. It is the principal cause of death in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and El Salvador. Homicide rates in Latin America are among the highest of any region in the world.4

  • In 2006, worldwide terrorist incidents increased 25 percent to 14,000; deaths caused by acts of terror increased 40 percent to 20,000 persons.5

  • According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, an estimated 1,417,745 violent crimes were reported nationwide in 2006, and an estimated 9,983,568 property crimes were reported, excluding arson.6

  • The 2007 World Drug Report from the United Nations states that 4.8 percent (200 million) of the world’s population between 15 and 64 years of age are drug users (using drugs at least once a year), with 2.6 percent (110 million people) using monthly.7

  • Cybercrime has become a $105 billion business that now surpasses the value of the illegal drug trade worldwide.8

  • The net burden of crime in the United States exceeds $1 trillion per year.9

The Paradigm Shift—a New Mind-set for Fighting Crime

The police are the public and the public are the police and the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

Expressing the essence of the needed paradigm shift in the world, this quote is from Sir Robert Peel, considered by many to be the father of the modern concept of urban policing—and he said it over 150 years ago. Thus what we will call the “new” mind-set is not really new. The new mind-set is about partnering for a sustainable civil society, representing a paradigm shift toward a community justice system—for victims, for offenders, for the police, for judges, and for society at large. In such a model, everyone is responsible for bringing about justice. Solutions come from various pockets of the community, not just from those whose formal role is to provide protection. This move requires a quantum leap by both individuals and communities. Communities must leave behind reactive systems and initiate proactive systems. Command-and-control models must be discarded in favor of empowering individuals.

The new paradigm or mind-set is made up of three powerful ideas: initiative, partnership, and prevention. Imagine these three components as the critical threads that must be woven through the fabric of society.

Initiative: Taking initiative is about being proactive and using individuals’ innate power of self-choice. Individuals have the ability to choose for themselves how they will respond to any given stimulus. Neighborhoods, communities, and cities also have this ability. No one has to succumb to the “victim” mentality. Giving up communities to violence is giving up on our own ability to adapt and change. People can choose peace; likewise, they can choose to reduce crime significantly. And once the choice is made, a whole series of activities can come about to turn that choice into reality.

Every transformed community in my research has taken some great proactive initiative: an individual or group decided to make a change—sometimes subtle, sometimes bold—toward a safer, more civil society. The common thread of these stories is that people took the initiative, meaning they created a plan and then got to work.

Partnership: The next thread is forming partnerships. Many social problems that lead to crime are not one-dimensional. They are multifaceted, with myriad angles and inputs. As such, solutions to such problems must also be multidimensional. One person or one agency generally cannot provide a broad enough service to truly address the root of the problem. That is where partnerships come in. In the best-case scenario, specific agencies and services already exist that, if harnessed together for an important goal, can achieve great success. In less than ideal circumstances, it might be necessary to grab a friend, a coworker—anyone who is willing to help and go to work. Such a counterpart may not have the perfect skill set at the time, but the results that a partnership of two or more can produce will trump those of a single individual’s efforts 9 times out of 10.

Superintendent Clapham said, “We all must own the problem and deal with it. Why? No involvement, no ownership. No ownership, no sustainability. No sustainability, we fall back into the reactive past of post-incident correction only. One day, I see the criminal justice system moving to a community justice system.” In other words, it is necessary to partner together for a sustainable civil society.

Every transformed community in my research serves as an illustration of powerful partnering. The world is too complex, and the enemy too cunning, to take on single-handedly.

Prevention: The final common thread is prevention. Today’s postincident corrective model is perfectly aligned to kick into high gear after the crime or problem has happened. This reactive model is simply not working. The ancillary must now become the primary—prevention must move to the forefront, indeed, to the leading edge of safety efforts if communities are to make themselves more civil and peaceful.

Embodied in prevention are the first two threads of initiative and partnerships. Prevention is possible up and down the crime continuum. Proactive prevention simply means focusing on this question: “What can I do in advance to prevent crime and violence from happening or from happening again?” The question is simple. The answers are numerous—sometimes simple, sometimes complex. Prevention can take place at the upstream, midstream, or downstream points along the crime continuum. Proactive prevention does not mean abandoning efforts to catch and incarcerate hardened criminals; it just means being more proactive in those efforts and focusing on what can be done to make sure it does not happen again. Even after a crime has been committed, downstream prevention measures can be implemented to help some offenders become safe, contributing members of society again.

Four Imperatives of Leadership: A Road Map

When it comes to fighting crime, it seems that society as a whole has been working in the wrong jungle—the reactive, adversarial jungle, where it is the job of the law enforcement community to handle safety issues. Communities need to embrace a proactive, problem-solving approach that focuses on prevention, where it is everyone’s job to promote safety. To help make that switch requires a road map that I call the four imperatives of leadership. These imperatives apply to any individual, group, or organization ready to fight violence and chaos. I call them imperatives because that is what they are. These are not good things to do, or nice things to do—they are absolutely essential:

  • Inspire trust

  • Clarify purpose

  • Align systems

  • Unleash talent

Running around each of the four imperatives are the three threads already discussed: initiative, partnership, and prevention.

Who can apply these four imperatives to build safer communities? Absolutely anyone. Cases in my research, like Jardim Ângela, Brazil, abound—illustrating a wide range of leaders who applied these imperatives to create a more sustainable, civil society. The private business sector, religious groups, law enforcement agencies, and everyday citizens all act as the impetus for change.

Firm Resolve

Communities must make a conscious moral choice to end crime, but that choice can be very difficult. As writer Maurice Maeterlinck said, “At every crossroads on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past.” Letting go of crime-fighting methods that are not working can be difficult and sticky. Individuals and organizations that attempt it must be prepared to face harsh criticism from those who are bonded to the old ways.

Yet any real chance communities have to eliminate violence in their neighborhoods requires a new mind-set—it requires initiative, partnership, and prevention. Reactive problem intervention and traditional law enforcement methods are not discarded, but they are rounded out with a greater emphasis on more proactive methods, which have taken somewhat of a backseat in the past. Places that have successfully implemented this new mind-set are seeing not only the beginning of an end to crime, but an actual end. This local end can then spread to a regional, a national, and a global end to disorder, chaos, and violence.

We all fight our own battles in our own communities. In fact, some are more real and personal than we would care to have them be. It can be a dark and dangerous business—yet can we afford to stand by and do nothing? As Winston Churchill said in a wartime radio address, “We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools and we will finish the job.” ■

A featured presenter at the 2008 Annual IACP Conference, Stephen R. Covey is an internationally respected leadership authority, family expert, teacher, organizational consultant, and cofounder and vice chairman of the FranklinCovey Company. He has been recognized as one of Time magazine’s 25 most influential Americans. His bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, was chosen by readers of Chief Executive magazine as the number one most influential business book of the 20th century and by Forbes magazine as one of the top 10 most influential management books ever. It has sold more than 20 million copies in 38 languages throughout the world. His forthcoming book, The End of Crime, will be released in 2009. For more information, visit


1Daniela Ompad, “Community Mobilization against Violence in Brazil Country; Brazil City: Jardim Angela, São Paulo,” case study 3-A4 in Our Cities, Our Health, Our Future: Acting on Social Determinants for Health Equity in Urban Settings, Report to the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health from the Knowledge Network on Urban Settings Hub: WHO Kobe Centre, Kobe, Japan, by Tord Kjellstrom et al., July 2007, (accessed November 17, 2008).
3Etienne G. Krug et al., eds., World Report on Violence and Health (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2002), (accessed November 17, 2008).
4“Viva Rio: Innovative Approaches against Urban Crime,” World Bank, June 28, 2004, (accessed October 31, 2008).
5National Counterterrorism Center, Report on Terrorist Incidents, 2006, April 30, 2007, (accessed October 31, 2008), 2.
6U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States, 2006, September 2007, table 1, (accessed November 3, 2008).
7United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2007 World Drug Report, (accessed October 31, 2008), 9.
8Richard Martin, “Cyberthreats Outpace Security Measures, Says McAfee CEO,” Information Week, September 18, 2007, (accessed November 3, 2008).
9David A. Anderson, “The Aggregate Burden of Crime,” Journal of Law and Economics 42, no. 2 (October 1999): 611–642.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 12, December 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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