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Community-led Public Safety Strategies

10.15.2020

Introduction

Gun homicides and assaults occur at high rates within cities, posing notable risks to public safety. In cities, gun violence also disproportionately impacts historically underfunded neighborhoods, which reflects and amplifies this country’s long-standing systemic and structural inequities. For decades, community-based organizations have successfully reduced violence by implementing alternative public safety measures that are locally driven, informed by data, and don’t require police involvement. Often referred to as violence intervention programs, these strategies have expanded greatly over the years and include street outreach, group violence intervention, crime prevention through environmental design, hospital-based violence intervention programs, safe passage programs, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Strategies

Street outreach programs employ a public health approach to violence intervention, beginning with the premise that gun violence is like a contagious disease, the spread of which can be interrupted.1Jeffrey A. Butts et al., “Cure Violence: A Public Health Model to Reduce Gun Violence,” Annual Review of Public Health 36, no. 1 (2015): 39–53, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031914-122509. To do so, street outreach organizations provide both immediate crisis response services and long-term stabilization support to individuals and communities affected by gun violence. Street outreach programs deploy violence interrupters who help prevent shootings by identifying and immediately mediating conflicts in a community and working with individuals most at risk. Often these interrupters are former members of street groups who have credibility when speaking to at-risk individuals. These street outreach programs have been successful in reducing gun violence. A 2017 evaluation of a street outreach model known as Cure Violence implemented in the South Bronx found that its street outreach efforts were associated with a 37 percent decline in gun injuries and a 63 percent decline in shooting victimizations, while a similar neighborhood without such a program did not experience the same rates of reduction.2Sheyla A. Delgado et al., “The Effects of Cure Violence in the South Bronx and East New York, Brooklyn,” in Denormalizing Violence (New York: John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Research and Evaluation Center, 2017), https://johnjayrec.nyc/2017/10/02/cvinsobronxeastny/.

Group violence intervention (GVI) programs—also known as focused deterrence programs—center on the belief that violence can be prevented if individuals believe the costs associated with the violence outweigh any potential benefits.3Anthony A. Braga and David L. Weisburd, “The Effects of ‘Pulling Levers’ Focused Deterrence Strategies on Crime,” Campbell Systematic Reviews 8, no. 1 (2012): 1–90, https://doi.org/10.4073/csr.2012.6. These programs target chronic violent offenders—individuals who have been identified by law enforcement, criminal justice data, and community members—and include three sets of intervening actors: law enforcement, community representatives, and social service providers. In essence, high-risk offenders are presented with strict consequences for continued violent behavior, coupled with access to social services and ongoing support from community members, should they choose a different path. A 2019 study of Oakland’s GVI program, for example, found a 23 percent reduction in quarterly shooting victimizations amongst gangs that received the programming compared to those that did not.4Anthony A. Braga et al., “Street Gangs, Gun Violence, and Focused Deterrence: Comparing Place-Based and Group-Based Evaluation Methods to Estimate Direct and Spillover Deterrent Effects,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 56, no. 4 (July 1, 2019): 524–62, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022427818821716. 

Community-driven crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) is a long-term gun violence reduction strategy centered on a multi-disciplinary approach of crime prevention that uses urban and architectural design and the management of built and natural environments.5Paul Michael Cozens, Greg Saville, and David Hillier, “Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED): A Review and Modern Bibliography,” Property Management 23, no. 5 (January 1, 2005): 328–56, https://doi.org/10.1108/02637470510631483. By investing in a community’s physical environment and creating spaces in which community members feel safe, cities can discourage and reduce gun violence. A rigorous 2018 study found that gun assaults in Philadelphia and its surrounding areas declined by 29.1 percent following the treatment of vacant lots in Philadelphia—especially those in neighborhoods below the poverty line.6Charles C. Branas et al., “Citywide Cluster Randomized Trial to Restore Blighted Vacant Land and Its Effects on Violence, Crime, and Fear,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 115, no. 12 (2018): 2946–51. Multiple studies demonstrate similar and sustained impacts of CPTED on public safety as a whole and, specifically, on gun violence.7Charles C. Branas et al., “A Difference-in-Differences Analysis of Health, Safety, and Greening Vacant Urban Space,” American Journal of Epidemiology 174, no. 11 (December 1, 2011): 1296–1306, https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwr273; Michelle Kondo et al., “Effects of Greening and Community Reuse of Vacant Lots on Crime,” Urban Studies (Edinburgh, Scotland) 53, no. 15 (November 2016): 3279–95, https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098015608058.

Hospital-Based Violence Intervention programs (HVIPs) are based on the premise that there is a unique window of opportunity to engage victims of violence and prevent retaliation in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic injury.8The Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, “What Is a Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program (HVIP)?,” accessed September 14, 2020, https://www.thehavi.org/what-is-an-hvip. As such, HVIPs are typically located in trauma centers and emergency departments, where service providers partner with patients and families immediately after and during the months that follow the injury to ensure that they have the support and resources necessary to heal and remain safe. In Baltimore, a study found that individuals who did not participate in an HVIP program were 6 times more likely to be re-hospitalized for a violent injury and 4 times more likely to be convicted of a violent crime than individuals who received the intervention. Individuals who received the intervention also saw their employment rate increase from 39 percent to 82 percent, while employment fell for those not in the program.9Carnell Cooper, Dawn M. Eslinger, and Paul D. Stolley, “Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Programs Work,” Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 61, no. 3 (September 2006): 534–540, https://doi.org/10.1097/01.ta.0000236576.81860.8c.

Safe Passage programs provide safe routes to and from schools to reduce student exposure to gun violence.10Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “The Impact of Gun Violence on Children and Teens,” May 29, 2019, https://everytownresearch.org/report/the-impact-of-gun-violence-on-children-and-teens/. To achieve this goal, schools, law enforcement, and communities collaboratively establish protocols and procedures that are both community- and resource-informed, tailored to popular modes of travel as well as student arrival and dismissal times. In Chicago, safe passage protocols and procedures have been in effect since 2009 and have had substantial effects. Incidences of crime along these routes have experienced an average reduction of 28 percent for simple assault and battery and a 32 percent reduction for aggravated assault and battery. Furthermore, overall weekday criminal incidents on school grounds have decreased by 39 percent.11Viviane Sanfelice, “Are Safe Routes Effective? Assessing the Effects of Chicago’s Safe Passage Program on Local Crimes,” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 164 (August 2019): 357–73, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2019.06.013.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic approach through which service providers work with individuals and/or groups to change behaviors by shifting current ways of thinking and perceiving situations. CBT is a longstanding, evidence-based strategy for reducing criminal behaviors across multiple populations (e.g., young, old, community-based, and incarcerated) and in a variety of settings (e.g., therapists’ offices, schools, and street corners).12David Weisburd, David P. Farrington, and Charlotte Gill, eds., What Works in Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation: Lessons from Systematic Reviews, Springer Series on Evidence-Based Crime Policy (New York: Springer-Verlag, 2016), https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4939-3477-5. For this reason, CBT is present in many gun violence intervention programs. One prominent example is Advance Peace, an emerging program that offers individuals at high risk for gun violence with community-based CBT, mentorship, case management, substance abuse treatment, internships, travel, and stipends.13Angie M. Wolf et al., “Saving Lives: Alternative Approaches to Reducing Gun Violence,” International Journal of Social, Behavioral, Educational, Economic, Business, and Industrial Engineering 9, no. 6 (2015): 2175–83. A 2019 study of Advance Peace found that the program was associated with a 55 percent reduction in firearm homicides and a 43 percent reduction in firearm assaults.14Ellicott C. Matthay et al., “Firearm and Nonfirearm Violence After Operation Peacemaker Fellowship in Richmond, California, 1996–2016,” American Journal of Public Health 109, no. 11 (2019): 1605–11, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2019.305288.

Conclusion

Common sense gun laws like background checks for all gun sales play a critical role in ensuring public safety across the country by systematically keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. But communities facing imminent gun violence crises require immediate and locally driven interventions in addition to larger scale policy reform. Research on violence intervention programs is still emerging as implementation and evaluation resources continue to expand, but already each of the six strategies described above stand out as both community- and evidence-informed. These programs are being sought out by those who are disproportionately impacted and at highest risk of gun violence—and they’re working. 

Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund (Everytown) is committed to expanding awareness of and access to these community-led violence intervention strategies. Everytown’s City Gun Violence Reduction Insight Portal (CityGRIP), for example, is one tool cities can use to understand which violence intervention strategies might be most appropriate for their own communities’ needs and resources. CityGRIP also allows cities to explore implementation case studies. Since 2019, Everytown has also awarded over $3 million in grants to support 26 community-based gun violence intervention organizations operating in cities across the country. To learn more about these strategies, how they work, and Everytown’s investment in community gun violence reduction, email Michael-Sean Spence, director of community safety initiatives, at [email protected].

Community-based gun violence intervention organizations supported by Everytown via the community gun violence grant program:

  1. 414Life, Milwaukee, WI
  2. Advance Peace, Richmond, Stockton & Sacramento, CA
  3. Alliance for Concerned Men,Washington, DC
  4. California Partnership for Safe Communities, Oakland, CA
  5. Center For Family Services – Cure4Camden, Camden, NJ
  6. CHRIS 180, Atlanta, GA
  7. Faith in Action Alabama, Birmingham, AL
  8. Gideon’s Army, Nashville, TN
  9. Growing Kings, Birmingham, AL
  10. Inner City Innovators, West Palm Beach, FL
  11. Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, Chicago, IL
  12. Kansas City Mothers in Charge, Kansas City, MO
  13. Life Camp, Inc., New York, NY
  14. Metropolitan Peace Initiatives , Chicago, IL
  15. Mothers In ChargePhiladelphia, PA
  16. New Orleans Cure Violence, New Orleans, LA
  17. No More Red Dots, Louisville, KY
  18. Philadelphia CeaseFire, Philadelphia, PA
  19. Project L.I.F.E., Minneapolis, MN
  20. Project Longevity, New Haven, Hartford, & Bridgeport, CT
  21. ROCA – Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
  22. South Pittsburgh Coalition for Peace, Pittsburgh, PA
  23. TraRon Center, Washington, DC
  24. Urban Peace Institute, Los Angeles, CA and national
  25. YouthAlive!, Oakland, CA (multiple cities)
  26. YouTurn Omaha, Omaha, NE

Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.

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