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McKinstry: Taking steps to make communities safer

Former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton,

Former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, right, speaks with the media during a school safety symposium, "Safer Communities," which took place at SUNY Purchase. Bratton was the keynote speaker. (Feb. 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Rory Glaeseman

For far too many of us paying attention to the national debate on violence and guns in America, there's a feeling that nothing's working -- not our laws, debates or institutions. And especially not our congressional leaders.

Something seems broken in this country.

But there are hundreds of people in Westchester County who are taking aim at senseless violence: They're talking. Not just the usual chatter, banter and yelling from the rafters, but having an honest dialogue and sharing resources.

"We're so disjointed," said John Thompson, a program manager for the Yonkers Family YMCA, which runs a gun violence prevention program that, as he put it, actually goes out in the middle of the night and "talks to the people holding the guns."

Thompson's sentiment was a common one at the latest Safer Communities Initiative, held Tuesday at Westchester County Center in White Plains. An all-too-frequent phrase uttered there was "breaking down silos," since so many organizations -- including those in government, education, law enforcement and mental health -- just can't to see beyond their fiefdoms.

If we've learned anything from the massacre at Newtown, Conn., where 20 schoolchildren and six educators were murdered, it's that we're all vulnerable.

We're all affected.

And instead of having a polarizing gun-control debate, we're better off working together.

That's why Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino spearheaded these forums. The premise was simple: In the absence of piles of cash, a lot of resources are already available at our schools, police departments, churches, and even our prisons. Each has expertise, insights and programs that can help.

At Tuesday's event -- a follow-up to a February summit featuring William Bratton, former head of the New York City and Los Angeles police departments -- there were teachers, jailers, counselors and police chiefs. There were doctors, reverends, judges and lawmakers. And there were plenty of fathers and mothers from different backgrounds. Most shared a goal of wanting to do something to curb gun violence, bullying and other circumstances that can lead to tragedies.

The experts, including Howard Spivak, director of the Division of Violence Prevention at the national Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in Atlanta, focused on prevention and the importance of mental health services. Other professionals addressed the need for family involvement and safe schools.

There was a lot to absorb, but it was a clear reminder of the complexity of our problems.

The goal of the forums isn't to find a "perfect solution," but rather a "good one," Astorino told me. "If those who require a perfect solution aren't willing to compromise on a good one, then we're not going to get anywhere."

There may be no simple answer, but those involved in our Safer Communities have their sights set on the right target.

Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.