Treating violence as a contagious disease

Speaker: Gary Slutkin

Length: 14:09

Rating 4 / 5

Summary

Violence can be modelled as a contagious disease, since typically people exposed to violence are more likely to be violent themselves. It can therefore be treated as an infectious disease, by using ‘case workers’ to  work with the angry people likely to instigate violence, and those directly affected by it.

The intent was to change the norms associated with violence, or to stop the future spread of the “disease”. His method was trialled in the West Garfield neighbourhood of Chicago and saw a 67% drop in shootings, and has since spread to other areas.

Critique

This is one of the best types of TED talks – where a technique from one field (in this case infectious diseases) is used to successfully treat a different problem (gang violence). The results speak for themselves, with each area it is rolled out showing approximately 50% drop in violence.

I think the main difference between this and the normal criminal counselling is that he is pro-actively going into neighbourhoods to look for ‘patient zeros’ – rather than waiting for them to commit the crime. I’d be interested to hear more about how he selects the people to counsel, and the counsellors themselves. If the talk has a flaw it is that it talks a lot about the theory and results without much about the implementation.

I’m also concerned that if the program is funded by governments, a primary health or crime prevention program is often the first thing to be cut around budget time.

Despite these flaws, a worthwhile talk. The need for his solutions is only confirmed reading through the youtube comments defending violence and racism – Maybe he should roll his program out to the internet next 🙂

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