Can the ‘Emerging Science of Violence Prevention’ Build Safer Communities?

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Photo by Bart Ever via Flickr

It takes more than law enforcement to reduce violence in troubled neighborhoods, a conference on the “emerging science of violence prevention” was told June 18.

A combination of community outreach, peer support, and the involvement of civilian professionals from other disciplines can help isolate the individuals responsible for violence in America’s most at-risk neighborhoods, said David Kennedy, director of the National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC).

Inaugurating the NNSC’s fifth biennial summit at John Jay College, Kennedy said such combined multi-faceted efforts were critical.

David Kennedy

David Kennedy

“The homicide and gun violence that fundamentally affects the fabric of communities is acted out by a very, very small number of high-risk people,” Kennedy said. “We can tell who they are and we can give them a special kind of care and attention.”

The NNSC’s work over the past ten years has helped establish the potential for the “science” of violence prevention techniques to make a major impact on communities’ ability to reduce violent crime, he said.

In his keynote speech, Kennedy cited the dramatic decline of violence in cities such as Oakland, Ca., and New York City, as examples of the successful application of intervention techniques.

“This is work we now know how to do,” said Kennedy. “I consider that an incredible victory.”

In subsequent panels, representatives of different disciplines provided illustrations.

Fatimah Muhammad, executive director of the National Network of Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Programs (NNHVIP), explained her organization’s approach, which views “violence as a public health issue,” and uses hospitals as entry points to connect with victims of violence, and continues to work with them once they return to their communities.

“The idea is we need an opportunity to intervene as soon as possible… as people are beginning to think about their lives, and say ‘how can we wrap around them services of support?’” said Muhammad.

After describing their respective models for violence reduction, the panelists all reiterated the theme from the keynote speech that an investment in community engagement is key to the reduction of violent crimes.

In New York, the Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence, provides grants to influential figures in communities that suffer from gun violence, allowing them the resources to become leaders with the ability decide how to address the issue.

“We can recognize the power that’s in community, equip them with the skill set, take a step back, continue to supply them with data, and let community actually thrive,” said executive director Eric L. Cumberbatch.

DeVone Boggan, Founder and CEO of Advance Peace in Richmond, Ca., said that while working as neighborhood safety director for the city government, he successfully hired four formerly incarcerated people involved in gun violence to work for him.

“It’s also about involving those who are at the center of the issue that we’re trying to address—empowering those young people or young adults to become a part of the solution equation. They have to be there,” said Boggan.

Following the panel and concluding the morning session of the conference’s first day was a speech entitled “The Oakland Story,” given by Reygan Cunningham, senior partner in the California Partnership for Safe Communities (CPSC).

Cunningham gave an overview of the city of Oakland and its long history with violent crime all the way back to when the Black Panthers fought to protect themselves against the Oakland Police Department.

She also outlined her own history with the city, having grown up there and working in violent crime prevention for the city before joining CPSC.

Cunningham said that around the time when she started this work, Oakland was the third most violent city in the US and the most violent city in California. Since then, and in the past five years particularly, this has significantly changed for the better.

While Cunningham acted as the project manager for Operation Ceasefire, credited with Oakland’s drop in violent crime, her speech also focused on the community involvement aspect of the operation’s effectiveness.

“It was the community that brought the strategy to Oakland and it was the community that kept it there,” said Cunningham.

Attributing the project’s success to the city’s community, Cunningham went on to apply Oakland’s success to other cities attempting to reduce their rate of violent crimes.

“I just suggest to all cities, that whatever violence intervention you all decide to embark on… is to not enter into that space without the support and engagement—and real engagement—of the community,” said Cunningham.

“Because it won’t work (otherwise).”

Yotam Ponte is a TCR News Intern.

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