Creating Safer Communities: Lessons on Violence Prevention

Posted August 27, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog creatingsafercommunities 2015

The Foun­da­tion recent­ly host­ed a work­shop for res­i­dents of Neigh­bor­hood Plan­ning Unit V to share var­i­ous approach­es to increas­ing com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty and to explore mul­ti­ple vio­lence-pre­ven­tion and inter­ven­tion efforts. This work­shop was part of ongo­ing efforts to improve com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty in NPU‑V, where Casey seeks to improve oppor­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren and fam­i­lies.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from vio­lence-pre­ven­tion orga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try shared how they pro­mote safe­ty in their com­mu­ni­ties. Three things we learned from their stories:

Vio­lence is a pub­lic health issue.

Frank Perez, the nation­al direc­tor of Cure Vio­lence, described vio­lence as an epi­dem­ic plagu­ing com­mu­ni­ties. Sim­i­lar to dis­ease, he said, vio­lence tends to be con­cen­trat­ed in spe­cif­ic geo­graph­ic areas and dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly affects par­tic­u­lar racial and socioe­co­nom­ic groups. The first step to erad­i­cat­ing vio­lence, he added, is to inter­rupt its trans­mis­sion. His orga­ni­za­tion does that through such strate­gies as hav­ing trained street work­ers to medi­ate con­flicts and inter­vene imme­di­ate­ly to pre­vent retal­i­a­tion when vio­lence does occur.

In addi­tion, trau­ma-informed health and human ser­vices are key. Cather­ine Fine, direc­tor of the Boston Pub­lic Health Com­mis­sion’s Divi­sion of Vio­lence Pre­ven­tion, described how Boston clin­i­cians who work with vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors of vio­lence are trained to ask ques­tions that fac­tor in pos­si­ble adverse expe­ri­ences they may have had, such as domes­tic vio­lence or child abuse, to avoid trau­ma­tiz­ing them again. Trau­ma response teams have been placed in eight health cen­ters around the city to pro­vide spe­cial­ized care for peo­ple who expe­ri­ence trau­mat­ic violence.

Com­mu­ni­ties and fam­i­lies need ample sup­port in the imme­di­ate after­math of violence.

Vio­lence-pre­ven­tion groups Youth Alive! and Oak­land Unite aim to be first respon­ders when vio­lence occurs, con­nect­ing fam­i­lies with crit­i­cal ser­vices to help them with such activ­i­ties as mak­ing funer­al arrange­ments or to access food or hous­ing assis­tance, among oth­er resources. They also do hos­pi­tal bed­side vis­its and pro­vide guardian­ship resources for impact­ed chil­dren. In Oak­land, Calif., cre­at­ing a cri­sis response net­work this expan­sive took two years.

Beyond imme­di­ate sup­port efforts, Oak­land Unite focus­es on turn­ing city parks known for gang vio­lence into safe places for youth by engag­ing young peo­ple in sum­mer events, such as bar­be­cues in a local park. Youth ambas­sadors encour­age res­i­dents to par­tic­i­pate in these events, which have seen grow­ing atten­dance and led to drop­ping crime rates in those areas — and res­i­dents’ increas­ing com­fort with using the parks.

Bal­anc­ing civ­il lib­er­ties and pub­lic safe­ty is pos­si­ble — but it requires reimag­in­ing the role of police.

Police offi­cers are gen­er­al­ly trained and equipped to be war­riors, not guardians, said Lt. Dan Wag­n­er of the Cam­bridge (Mass.) Police Depart­ment. This means the tools they are giv­en — guns and hand­cuffs — are not enough to cre­ate safer com­mu­ni­ties: They need the right tools and train­ing to act as neigh­bor­hood guardians as well as warriors.

The Cam­bridge Police Depart­ment has tak­en sev­er­al steps in that direc­tion. For exam­ple, the depart­ment involves com­mu­ni­ty res­i­dents in reach­ing out to per­pe­tra­tors of vio­lence and sup­ports indi­vid­u­als who have com­mit­ted crimes in chang­ing their behav­ior, assign­ing detec­tives and social work­ers to act as case man­agers and con­nect them with resources.

In addi­tion to these lessons, the pre­sen­ters chal­lenged local res­i­dents to think about what ser­vices and resources are need­ed to help indi­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties affect­ed by vio­lence — specif­i­cal­ly in NPU‑V and Atlanta.

We hope this work­shop con­tin­ues to spark con­ver­sa­tion around this top­ic and ulti­mate­ly inspires res­i­dents and oth­ers to apply these lessons to their own efforts to trans­form their com­mu­ni­ties into safer places for them­selves and their families.

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