EPISODE 30: A Proven Way to Reduce Violence in Cities

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No, it’s not more police. From Oakland to Newark, community violence intervention programs get results, and one researcher says they could be even more effective if fully supported. 

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Transcript


Straw media. Some of the motivation
for the workers, the professionals, is

that they want to give back to
the communities that they previously ricked have again

and caused harm in. But it's
also a recognition that the individuals who produced

violence and the individuals who are victims
are loved ones, their brothers, their

sisters, their fathers, their daughters, their best friends, you know,

and so it's it's really recognizing that
these are people on both sides of the

weapon and people who were harmed and
people who deserve love and support and resources

in order to ultimately save lives.
This is Lucas grantly from next city show

about change makers and their stories.
The truth is there are solutions to the

problems of pressing people in cities.
If you're listening, I hope it's because

you want to spread good ideas from
one city to the next city. On

the show today how to prevent gun
crimes before they happen. No, I'm

not talking about more police. Instead, we're talking about all the ways that

specially trained members of any community can
first identify the people who are most likely

to get wrapped up in gun violence
and then offer them help. Here is

next city. Correspondent Emily Nanco.
So, violence interrupters are one kind of

community violence intervention. There are multiple
kinds. So can you explain what they're

doing in Chicago? Sure. So
I was surprised in my reporting to learn

that violence intervention has been around since
the nineteen hundreds. It has a really

long history, but a really deep
history in Chicago and has been picking up

a lot of mainstream traction there.
Violence interrupters, they're also known as violence

intervention workers, are full from communities
that have been impacted by police violence,

gang violence, under investment, marginalization, and they are doing de escalation and

mediation work. UH, and they're
different from the police and that they're not

using guns. Uh, they intimately
know these folks and they're trying to prevent

violence sort of on the ground through
this these deep intimate relationships they have with

their community. Yeah, they're not
using guns, using relationships, and then

they offer services sometimes. Well,
the violence intervention worker I spoke to really

stress that this work cannot stand on
its own. It has to connect to

wrap around services. So what was
the Chicago Violence Intervention Worker study created defined?

That's what your story had centered on. So, while this is often

brought up as an alternative to the
police. Even President Biden has talked about

this as an alternative of it's not
really studied, it's not resourced, it's

not funded. I was shocked by
the sort of lack of information around this

work and a confusion around its impact
as well, just because I don't think

it's gotten enough sort of resourcing and
funding. So these academics have been in

this space for a long time,
they've recognized this for a while and they've

been wanting to do this survey for
a decade and they finally pulled together the

support, the funding, the relationships
uh to survey basically all of Chicago's violence

intervention workforce to understand what is the
work and what are your needs to do

this work? And it's the first
of its kind study in the country.

Amazingly, it's been around and has
roots for a long, long time and

this is the first study just to
ask workers what it's like doing their work.

That's hard to believe. Yeah,
it really is, and you know,

I do think it reflects that we
haven't meaningfully invested in community alternatives to

policing and incarcerations. So there's sort
of this narrative that comes up of how

could we get rid of police,
how could we get rid of prisons?

But the reality is we have not
meaningfully invested in the alternatives or studied them,

and so there really needs to be
a shift in how we lay the

groundwork for alternatives, and then that
should inform how we talk about it.

So what did the study find?
What were its big takeaway is one thing

I read that stuck with me was
that of the violent intervention workers arrived at

the scene of violence happening before first
responders. Yes, so people are in

their communities, they're responsive to the
communities in more ways often than kind of

the quote Unquote Official Response Units Um, and as you might expect, they

have high exposure to violence. Um. There's a lot of trauma and a

lot of of Um just sort of
tricky managing that has to be done on

this job. One person I interviewed
referred it to as sort of you have

one foot in and one foot out. You're in your community but you're also

looking at it from the outside as
a De escalator, mediator. Not only

are violence intervention workers sometimes arriving at
the scene before authorities, of the workers

in the study said they had witnessed
a shooting attempt had seen someone get shot.

They're also in the line of fire. Of Workers said they'd been shot

at while at work, with two
injured. Being a violence disruptor in Chicago

can be a dangerous job. After
the break we will hear why President Biden

has called for five billion dollars to
invest in community violence prevention programs like these.

Welcome back to next city. Before
the break, we heard that violence

intervention has a long history, but
the first study about the profession only just

happened in Chicago. There are many
kinds of violence intervention. Hospitals that assigned

case workers to follow victims of gun
violence and offer help, guardians assigned to

helping children in school where violence is
common. I spoke with Dr Shawnee Biggs,

the assistant professor with the Violence Prevention
Research Program at the University of California

Davis, to learn more. She
says that, no matter what it might

seem like, gun violence does not
flare up randomly. It concentrates in very

small social networks within discrete geographical areas. In America, over at least a

generation, the burden of interpersonal firearm
violence has largely been one low income communities

of color. Firearm violence has been
the number one killer for black boys and

young men for over two decades and
we saw that the firearm violence increase that

we've experienced since two thousand and twenty
has largely been concentrated among black boys and

young men. So, while the
burden was already incredibly and disturbingly high,

we saw an increase of nearly of
gun violence homicides for black boys and young

men since. Would it be safe
to say you're may be frustrated by the

fact that there's been government in action
for so long when this has been the

number one killer of black men for
two decades, and that there hasn't been

funding for research and even what to
do? Yes, it's it has been

frustrating, Um, and it's it's
maddening to think about the fact that we

have known this information for as long
as that the information has been available and

yet there has has been such little
effort until very recently at the federal level

to really address gun violence and thinking
about it as a public health crisis as

it is. Um. I mentioned
the concentration of gun violence among young black

boys and men of color. Um, but gun violence has been the number

one killer for Black Girls Fifteen twenty
four. For just as long it has

been the number two killer for Latino
Um and Latin x voice and young men

of so. So this has been
an issue for a while and the federal

line action from both the research and
the policy side has been frustrating. We've

also known for a long time that
this model of community violence intervention that you

champion seems to work. So I
wonder if you could explain to people what

is community violence intervention? I've noticed
that people define it differently, so I'll

I appreciate the question so I can
have the opportunity day to explain what what

I mean when I'm talking about community
violence intervention. Community violence intervention is an

approach to addressing violence in a person
centered, in harm reduction way. It

is identifying the individuals who are the
highest risk of violence involvement, and I

say highest risk of violence involvement because
what we know is that there is great

overlap between those who produce violence,
those who may commit violence and those who

may become victims of violence, and
so it's identifying those individuals and engaging those

individuals in a way that produces authentic
and and genuine relationships and connections in order

to then help individuals address their complex
needs and ultimately to help shift decision making

and life trajectories so that violence is
reduced. Here's what we know. Dr

Bugs points out that just being a
part of a social network where a gun

homicide has occurred makes a young person
more likely to be the victim of gun

violence. Being exposed to gun violence
as a victim or as a witness doubles

the likelihood that you will commit an
act of violence in the next two years.

That is why it is so important
to know that community violence intervention programs

are staffed by the people who have
themselves experienced trauma and violence. They can

say I know what you're going through. The workforce for community violence intervention is

primarily individuals who are indigenous to the
communities that they serve and they're very familiar

with the community's needs. They're familiar
with the lifestyles that the individuals they are

hoping to engage live and have respect
incredibility in the community and among these individuals

who they're trying to reach, and
so it's about Um the community helping the

community. Essentially, it's about individuals
who really want to help stop violence,

engaging with those who are at highest
risk violence involvement and and providing everything from

case management, mentoring, peer support, in some cases cognitive behavioral therapy from

from trained professionals. All of the
workers are trained professionals who are doing this

and the strategies can be different with
community violence intervention. That's why I say

it's an approach, because the approaches
is is broad and it includes various different

strategies underneath it, but ultimately it
is about the community supporting the community.

Often, violent intervention workers connect people
with existing services, like a case worker

would. They might help up with
an individual's immediate needs or even help their

families. What community violence intervention professionals
provide is that link, Um, back

to some of this, some of
the assistants and supports that they do exist.

Um, I will argue that there
are not enough of them, um,

but the systems that are there and
the supports and resources, as you

said, housing, health, Um, that they are. They are still

inadequate, but they but they do
exist, and so what the professionals do

is help to build the trusting relationship
with the individuals so that they can then

be the bridge to the supports and
resources and services that are available, and

that is really important because what we
know from public health and a broad number

of interventions is that just providing the
education, just saying here's a number to

call Um, without providing that that
you know person who is walking alongside who

was helping to provide the connection,
without that. The education can be there,

even the access can be there,
but utilization is not where we want

it to be, and so one
of the roles of the professionals is really

to be that bridge. These are
people who have shared lived experience with the

communities that are trying to serve.
So that I imagine if you're to ask

them what is the thing that motivates
you to keep doing this, it's got

to be some deep level of understanding
of what's going on in the life of

the person they're trying to help.
Absolutely, absolutely. They recognize that violence

is complex. They recognize that violence
is rooted in trauma and rooted in deprivation

Um and that is not to minimize
the harm that is caused when violence occurs,

but it is acknowledging the realities and
recognizing that, approaching violence from that

perspective and and realizing that love and
healing is required in order to effectively reduce

violent risk, then that's that's their
approach. And often these individuals have been

involved in the similar lifestyle. So
some of the motivation for the workers,

the professionals, is that they want
to give back to the communities that they

previously racked have again and caused harm
in. But it's also a recognition that

the individuals who produce violence and the
individuals who are victims are loved ones,

their brothers, their sisters, their
fathers, their daughters, their best friends,

you know, and so it's it's
really recognizing that these are people on

both sides of the weapon and people
who were harmed and people who deserve love

and support and resources in order to
ultimately save lives. I just think it's

so important that the people who or
part of the harm are now part of

the solution going forward. Yes,
they're. They're the people who understand violence

better than any of us can from
the outside. There are people who both

have experienced violence, who have produced
violence, who have dealt with the guilt

and the shame and the embarrassment.
Often these are individuals who are formally incarcerated,

so they've seen all of the sides, all of the ways that violence

plays out, and so I'm a
believer that those who are closest to their

problem are those who really need to
be leading the solutions, and the individuals

who have helped to produce violence in
the past, um are really important players

in US understanding how we solve this
problem. These programs are proven to work.

Oakland, California, implemented a violence
prevention program and reduced gun homicides.

Like Oakland is an important example.
But in order for other communities to replicate

their success, Dr Bugs says they
have to take a comprehensive approach. One

program is not enough. So Oakland's
approach is not very common. Um and

I think Oakland is an important example
of how community violence intervention can be effective.

But it is that there is not
just one program that is going to

solve violence in any community. So
the story of Oakland and Um. I

am providing this story based on conversations
from people with people in Oakland and from

reading various reports about what happens in
Oakland. But Oakland story is one that

includes consistent funding for community violence intervention
and prevention, which is not common in

most cities. Oakland past a sales
tax to support violence prevention and that tax

has been funding community violence intervention and
prevention efforts at the city level for multiple

years now. Um Oakland has blended
various different community violence invention strategies. So

it is it has life coaching,
it has case management, it has cognitive

behavioral therapy, it has restorative justice, it has violence interrupters, it has

hospital based violence intervention programs. So
these are all different strategies that fall under

the community violence intervention umbrella and they've
they've linked all of those together. They

haven't said we're only going to do
one or we're only going to do two,

but they've said we really need a
comprehensive approach. They have an office

of violence prevention at the city level, which is also not common. It's

increasing in different cities, but that's
really important to have aessential place that is

part of the mayor's cabinet that is
devoted to violence prevention. And then Oakland

has really done a lot of work
with their police department at the city level,

at least prior to the pandemic,
to really focus violence intervention and and

violence deterrence efforts on those who are
at highest risk for violence involvement so one

of the frustrations from communities across the
country is that communities with high rates of

violence involvement get criminalized because of living
in a place where there's high rates of

violence involvement. But what we know
about violence concentration is that a very small

percentage of the population in any community
is responsible for an outsized proportion of the

violence, and so it's really important
to focus efforts and community violence intervention focuses

those efforts on those who were at
highest risk for violence involvement. And so

what Oakland was able to do is, with continued, persistent community demand,

is to push the Oakland Police Department
to Focus Violence deterrence efforts on those who

were at high risk for violence involvement. So they had Um, and I

say had because the pandemic through such
a wrench in so many different cities.

Um, the pandemic, the killing
of George Floyd and uprisings after and all

of the complications that have come over
the last couple of years really through a

wrench into a lot of cities violence
intervention and prevention efforts. But that reduction

that you're talking about was accomplished by
also having the police department really focus its

efforts, so having a unit devoted
to those who were at highest risk for

violence involvement and engaging the community in
an authentic way, talking to the community,

talking to the other city agencies about
the police strategy around that focus,

around that narrow attention to those at
highest risk. After the break we will

hear about another success story. We'll
learn why Newark, New Jersey is a

model for community based violence reduction.
Welcome back to next city. Before the

break we learned that violence intervention programs
are succeeding in Chicago and Oakland. Now

we're headed to Newark, New Jersey. In Newark, New Jersey was listed

as the most dangerous city in the
United States at the time. Newark's crime

rate was six times the national average. In Mayor Ros Baraka founded the Newark

Community Street team. By en the
street team reported zero murders within its catchment

area. Here now is the program's
director, a Keila Cherrell's, and a

presentation he gave the next city,
Dot Org. In we worked through the

frame that violence is a public health
issue and that, Um, you know,

for years people who have known new
work as being a violent city.

Um, a lot of the violence
has been concentrated in the in the south

and the West Ward, but understanding
trauma and understanding violence has a public health

issue. We've come to understand that
one of the reasons why there's been so

much violence in the south and the
West Ward. Um, it's not because

black folks are predisposed to violence or
anything, but it's because there's been literally

a neglect of investment in people and
an infrastructure in this community for the past

fifty years since the city said and
rebellion. It was the mayor's vision to

build out the newer community street team
as a compliment to law enforcement. Um,

I know that. You know,
we hear all the time, you

know, when people say public safety, people say police. But we understand

that you can't have public safety without
the public right and and that means that

you have to have a trained sit
insurre Um that understands public safety policy and

in public safety practices to engage the
public safety process. Um, we utilize

the relationship based strategy to stand in
the gaps and mediate complex two pieceful outcome.

The newer community street team is not
just one thing. They host the

Public Safety Roundtable twice a month with
leaders and law enforcement to identify policies that

need changing. They launched the city's
First Hospital based violence intervention program. Intervention

workers are embedded in the hospital and
can help mediate whatever conflict it was that

sent a patient there. But the
core of the street team's work is its

three pronged approach. Our first piece, I would say, is our high

risk in invention work. We are
high risk in invention team is comprised of

around two or three individuals. We
intervene an individual and group conflicts, whether

they be new ones or historical ones. We try to utilize our relationships,

step into situations, mediate them to
a peaceful outcome and then follow them up

and and and we also document everything
that we do as well our forward facing

the initiative. Our second prone is
our safe passage work. So essentially,

every morning from seven thirty to nine
and then from two thirty to four in

the afternoon, you'll find one of
these outreach workers m posted at twelve schools

at the key exit and entries,
you know, the bodetas. We make

sure that our kids go to school
safely and they come home safely. In

addition, we, you know,
address kind of black emergency needs to folks

need haircuts, if they need shoes, if they need uniforms, we provide

all of those types of things.
Eight of our outreach workers who are doing

safe passages are also case managers,
so we also provide case management to that

same population, ages fourteen to thirty. We provide them with promoting legal services,

we help them get firth certificates,
I. D. Social Security Numbers,

we connect them to to wellness services, Justin a holistic approach to helping

people to achieve black kind of short
term goals that they might you know,

I'm established for themselves and and,
you know, becoming a productive member,

you know, of the community.
Our state passage initiative. It is truly

about also changing the perception of our
non traditional leaders Um. As you can

see, most of the folks that
we employ our ex game members, ex

convicts, ex blood dealers. They're
credible messengers in this neighborhood. We invest

a lot of time and resource and
training our folks to make sure that they

understand Um, you know, our
standard operating procedures and protocols so that we

are literally comparable, you know,
to law enforcement in terms of our understanding

of public safety policy and strategy.
Yeah, so that's all forward facing peace.

Our third prong Um, which I
would say is probably central to our

work and it's a part of our
theory of changes, our victims services piece.

Our belief is that if we better
serve victims in our community, then

we would prevent those individuals from becoming
perpetrators. So victims, as the barbers,

a violace and body crime, have
to be at the center of our

public safety policy and strategy or it
literally doesn't work right. If you want

to hear more from the Newark Community
Street team, you can find the full

presentation in our library by visiting next
city dot Org Slash Webinar. We hope

you enjoyed this episode of next city, a show about changemakers and their stories.

Together we can spread good ideas from
one city to the next city.

Thank you for listening this week.
Thank you to reporter Emily Nanco. Thank

you to our guests, Dr Shawnny
bugs from UC Davis. Our audio producer

is Savannah Alcohola, our script right
is Francesca Mamlin. Our executive producers are

Tyler Nielsen and Ryan Tillotson, and
I'm Lucas Gridley, executive director of next

city. By the way. Next
city is a news organization with a nonprofit

model. If you like what we're
doing here, please consider pitching in to

support our work. visit next city
dot org slash membership to make a donation.

We would love to hear any feedback
from our listeners. Please feel free

to email us at Info at next
city dot Org and, if you haven't

already, subscribe to the show on
Apple, spotify, good pods or anywhere

you listen to your podcasts.
Next City
Join Lucas Grindley, executive director at Next City, where we believe journalists have the power to amplify solutions and spread workable ideas. Each week Lucas will... View More

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