You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Can Social Tech Help Stop the New Haven Murders?

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, April 14 2010

A string of muders in the neighborhoods of Dixwell and Newhalville in New Haven have the city scared, and local social entreprenuers looking for ways to help. Ben Berkowitz helps run SeeClickFix. That's the social software platform, built on Google Maps, that empowers communities to report and fix (and cajole politicians into fixing) local problems. We've written about how one Bronx councilmember has started using SeeClickFix in his district, for example. Ben has put up a post with an open question: is there a role for social technology to play in addressing the terrible violence in New Haven? Here's Ben:

One might suggest that acting on the broken windows theory with tools like SeeClickFix might curb long term violence and crime. (This also happens to be the neighborhood where 40 street lights were out for two years)

That's one solution but clearly not the ultimate one. (SeeClickFix has existed for two years in New Haven and we still have urban violence). I am curious if anyone has thoughts or suggestions as to new solutions that might resolve this persistent problem. It might seem wildly idealist that I believe that there is a technical solution, but to not question its existence would be irresponsible as social entrepreneurs.

Police in New Haven seem to be attributing the spike in violence to personal beefs between residents, conflicts that might be connected to the fact that some of those involved in the killings have spent time in prison. That suggests, and logic tells us, that some deep-rooted causes are at play here. But it's worth keeping in mind that our expectations for social technologies should be in line with our expectations for other programs and approaches. Social tech doesn't have to solve all of society's problems to be part of the solution.

Ben is calling for folks to help brainstorm, a call that's been answered on the blog with plans for in-person meetings, among other things. The questions Ben's raising are important not only in New Haven, but for the future of the social technology field. How do we apply what we know about crowdsourcing to addressing community violence? What about shaping the media narrative? Is crowdsourcing a key tactic? The same questions being asked in New Haven are simliar to those that are being asked about everything from crowdsourced election monitoring to the State Department's initiative to use mobile phone reporting to combat drug violence in Juarez, Mexico.

It looks like the New Haven Police Department could use the assistance. Their online crime stats, for one thing, haven't been updated since 2006.

And the people of New Haven certainly could use the help, or means to help themselves. Since Ben posted on Monday morning, there's been at least two more murders.