Proven Strategies Exist
What many don’t know is that there are proven, evidence-based gun violence reduction strategies that are simply not funded or supported at scale. These strategies typically reduce shootings and homicides by 30-60% (without increasing incarceration), but often go ignored.
LIVE FREE works to promote the implementation of community-based violence intervention by educating directly impacted communities about the strategies; connecting communities to technical assistance providers who can help with planning and implementation; and helping build the community power necessary to ensure the strategies are fully funded and effectively implemented over the long term.
A central principle underlying this work is that, in any given city, it is only a small fraction of the population that is driving the majority of shootings. In Oakland, for example, researchers found that, despite a high proportion of residents with criminal records, only about 400 of the over 400,000 residents were involved in the majority of homicides. This is important because city and law enforcement officials typically overestimate the numbers of individuals involved in gun violence and attempt sweeping measures (like flooding neighborhoods with police) which are ineffective and often create greater tension with the community. Even well-intentioned initiatives like after-school programs, job training, or mental health programs that are not narrowly targeted to those at highest risk for shooting will not significantly impact gun violence in the short term.
Street Outreach: Participants are identified and engaged by outreach workers, credible messengers with strong ties to the community who typically have similar lived experiences as program participants. Outreach workers maintain ongoing contact with participants, serve as mentors and life coaches, and provide conflict mediation. There is also a case management component to this work (sometimes carried out by the outreach workers themselves) in order to track participant progress. A common misconception is that the “outreach” can be conducted on an informal basis—either by clergy, community members, or other well-intentioned individuals—without extensive training and support. Street outreach workers should be well compensated, receive health and other benefits, and receive ongoing professional development.
Hospital-Based Engagement: Victims of interpersonal violence are engaged at the hospital—a time when they and those close to them are considering retaliatory violence. Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Programs (HVIPs) link victims to community-based services, mentoring, home visits, follow-up assistance, and long-term case management. These interventions are often also linked to street outreach programs as well as a whole range of community-based wraparound services.
Call-Ins & Custom Notifications: Law enforcement agencies identify influential members of those involved in group-based street violence and, with members of the community, engage in face-to-face meetings with them. Law enforcement puts participants on notice about the consequences of further group-involved violence while various community service providers along with community members with moral credibility make offers of support for those looking for a way out of future violence. These methods must be carried out with great care since the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) strategy is easily misused and wielded as a traditional police suppression tactic.
Whichever means of engagement is used (and many initiatives use multiple approaches), successful efforts require a robust set of wraparound services for program participants. Services include a range of individually tailored supports that participants will need to help them on their journey toward a nonviolent lifestyle. For many participants, violent behavior has been fueled by personal traumas in their own lives, often including being shot or shot at themselves as well as a whole range of other personal tragedies. These individuals rarely if ever receive trauma-informed therapy and addiction or routine drug use often become ways of dealing with the emotional and psychological strains of their lives. Similarly, many participants will not have the skills, habits, or educational backgrounds necessary for lucrative legal employment and will need significant support in creating a legitimate economic pathway for themselves. Wraparound services often include the following:
- Culturally responsive cognitive behavioral therapy
- Grief and trauma therapy
- Individual and group mentoring
- Education and internships
- Job training and placement
One of the reasons that effective violence reduction models have had limited success in some of the cities that have tried it, is that city and law enforcement officials have not effectively engaged the community as full partners in its implementation. Community leaders and, in particular, those most directly impacted by the violence, must be central in shaping the program’s implementation in order for it to have credibility on the streets and to ensure that needed adjustments and course corrections are made along the way. Key elements of the community engagement process include the following:
Community Night Walks: Typically led by clergy, groups of community members walk some of the area’s most dangerous streets at night in order to promote greater engagement with the individuals and networks who are responsible for the violence as well as to promote a wider awareness of the issues. The ultimate goal of the walks is to help build a base of advocates who can influence funding and implementation of effective community violence intervention in the city.
Rapid Response: Clergy and community leaders mobilize in order to attend to victims of gun violence and their families right after a shooting. In addition to providing needed support to those facing tragedy, this helps community leaders develop closer relationships with those directly impacted by violence and, as is the case with the night walks, can build greater awareness and sharper advocacy for violence intervention efforts.
Community Steering Committee: A community-based committee comprised of all the key local partners who are working in partnership to plan and implement the strategy. Typically, this includes county or city officials, directly impacted individuals, and representatives from various agencies that are providing services to the targeted individuals. This group meets regularly to review updated shooting and homicide data, reviews the progress of the individuals who are receiving services, makes adjustments in terms of community messaging, and generally monitors the progress of the work.
Community Organizing: It is a full-time effort to keep the various community partners—city/county officials, community leaders, street outreach workers, and community service providers—aligned and working in effective partnership. Community organizers help disenfranchised communities build sufficient power to hold city and other officials accountable for supporting policies and investments that keep them alive and free.
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