New Research Explores Intersection of Community Safety and Health

Posted November 1, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Alfred Garner with an Atlanta resident

Alfred Garner II, with Chris 180, an Atlanta nonprofit, hugs a community member | Chiaki Kawajiri for the Casey Foundation

A spe­cial edi­tion of Health Affairs — the nation’s lead­ing health-pol­i­cy jour­nal — shines a light on issues at the inter­sec­tion of com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty and health, with arti­cles that under­score the need for com­mu­ni­ty-based strate­gies that curb vio­lent crime.

It’s time for the nation to begin view­ing vio­lence for what it is: a health cri­sis that must be solved through com­pre­hen­sive com­mu­ni­ty and envi­ron­men­tal inven­tions,” says Amoret­ta Mor­ris, direc­tor of nation­al com­mu­ni­ty strate­gies with the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, which helped to fund the edition.

The col­lec­tion of arti­cles, enti­tled Vio­lence & Health, spans a vari­ety of top­ics, such as:

Vio­lence and Hypervigilance

Indi­vid­u­als who had expe­ri­enced vio­lent crimes, wit­nessed vio­lence or knew vic­tims of vio­lence tend­ed to express high lev­els of hyper­vig­i­lance, accord­ing to in-per­son sur­veys of 504 Chica­go res­i­dents.

Hyper­vig­i­lance — a height­ened sense of aware­ness and watch­ful­ness — is asso­ci­at­ed with var­i­ous cog­ni­tive and behav­ioral issues, includ­ing dif­fi­cul­ties with emo­tion­al reg­u­la­tion and memory.

Vic­tims of police vio­lence were near­ly twice as like­ly to report traits asso­ci­at­ed with hyper­vig­i­lance than were vic­tims of peer vio­lence. This was espe­cial­ly true for res­i­dents who expe­ri­enced police stops that they viewed as threat­en­ing or traumatic.

Reforms to polic­ing should be empha­sized along with efforts to stem vio­lence between res­i­dents, accord­ing to the study. The data also high­light the need for and impor­tance of expand­ing trau­ma-informed prac­tices by law-enforce­ment agen­cies and health-care institutions.

Vio­lence and Social Isolation

Indi­vid­u­als exposed to vio­lence report­ed few­er inter­ac­tions with acquain­tances, greater feel­ings of lone­li­ness and low­er lev­els of sup­port from friends com­pared to those who had not expe­ri­enced vio­lence, accord­ing to an analy­sis of the same sur­vey data involv­ing Chica­go residents.

Pol­i­cy lead­ers con­cerned about social iso­la­tion should con­sid­er tar­get­ing inter­ven­tions at those exposed to vio­lence, who are at high­er risk, the study’s authors suggest.

Vio­lence and Blight

An analy­sis of efforts to remove or upgrade vacant prop­er­ties and vacant land in four cities — Flint, Michi­gan; New Orleans; Philadel­phia; and Youngstown, Ohio — revealed that vio­lent crimes in these areas also dropped.

Accord­ing­ly, place-based improve­ments unre­lat­ed to crime pre­ven­tion may indi­rect­ly curb vio­lent crimes, includ­ing assaults, bur­glar­ies and robberies.

Vio­lence and Youth Well-Being

In Kansas City, Mis­souri, police and school offi­cials gar­nered low con­fi­dence and trust among African Amer­i­can youth par­tic­i­pat­ing in focus groups. These offi­cials often engaged in dis­crim­i­na­tion and pro­fil­ing, the youth report­ed, and their respec­tive agen­cies failed to ade­quate­ly respond to violence.

Par­tic­i­pants also rec­om­mend­ed sev­er­al ways to pro­mote youth well-being, including:

  • expand­ing access to men­tal health care for young people;
  • enhanc­ing how schools respond to bul­ly­ing and violence;
  • cre­at­ing mech­a­nisms to hold law enforce­ment account­able for improp­er actions; and
  • reduc­ing racist atti­tudes in pub­lic and pri­vate institutions.

In addi­tion to sup­port­ing the col­lec­tion, the Casey Foun­da­tion has fund­ed efforts to study and imple­ment mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies that engage com­mu­ni­ties and treat vio­lence as a pub­lic-health con­cern — not just a crim­i­nal jus­tice and law enforce­ment issue.

We hope that this edi­tion of Health Affairs pro­vides use­ful data for prac­ti­tion­ers, com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers and gov­ern­ment offi­cials,” says Mor­ris, and that it helps to advance dis­cus­sions on the pro­found role that vio­lence plays in hin­der­ing the devel­op­ment of healthy communities.”

Learn about a pro­posed effort to reduce gun vio­lence in Atlanta

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