Partnerships: Ingredients for Success

By Jack Calhoun, Senior Consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice and National League of Cities; Founding President of the National Crime Prevention Council; Former Commissioner of the U.S. Administration for Children, Youth, and Families; Author of Hope Matters, and Policy Walking: Lighting Paths to Safer Communities, Stronger Families, and Thriving Youth.

photo Jack Calhoun.jpg

Much has been written about partnerships, the information swap, regularly scheduled meetings, MOU’s, and more. But the key ingredient that makes partnerships vital is usually omitted.

Most partnerships are a bit like a marriage on autopilot, namely all doing what they’ve always done, but this time with others. And yet, given the dynamic nature of crime and violence, the shifts and composition of families and communities, its economic and demographic situation constantly in flux, the best of partnerships require flexibility and a willingness to do business in a different way.

To get there one needs a jointly-shaped and shared vision; leadership by a mayor, school superintendent or county commissioner; and a readiness on the part of all partners to alter, if only in part, what they’ve always done.

In 2007 I helped to start the California Cities Violence Prevention Network. CCVPN was based on the notion that nothing would change unless all key actors, civic and governmental, pledged to specific actions along a prevention, intervention, enforcement, and re-entry axis. Policy changed. Attorney General Eric Holder cloned it as the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, and Canada did the same via the “Canadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention.” And practice changed. The most successful cities saw changes in how business was traditionally done: Police added a minority (faith) voice to its academy training in Long Beach, CA; the Boston Police Department stationed social workers in its precincts; police tutored elementary school kids in Santa Rosa, CA; school systems altered suspension policies; Oakland’s Public Health Department opened hospitals to Violence Interrupters (or Peace Keepers) in efforts to stop retaliation; mayors established citywide task forces, e.g. the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP) in Salinas, CA, and the Mayor’s Violence Prevention Task Force in San Jose.

It is important to note where such partnerships didn’t work and why. Three reasons: Leadership interest waned; task force meetings where all parties were held accountable slowed; all reverted to business as usual, i.e. silos. And in those cities, crime rose.

It can be done, but it takes work: A committed leader who will convene; a shared vision; specific commitments on the part of each sector; an entity, such as CASP, that holds agencies accountable for their commitments (peer pressure goes a long way). And it takes openness and even guts for a silo leader to be open to doing business in a different way.

But to repeat: Dynamic partnerships are essential if crime is to be reduced, and community life vitalized. It can be done, and those in such partnerships find it exciting and rewarding.