Turning an emergency room visit into a “teachable moment” and helping young people manage their emotions and think twice before resorting to violence are among the most promising forms of community interventions, says a task force of psychologists, academics and activists.
A review of four of the most commonly used violence-reduction strategies made clear that no single response was sufficient to curb the rising toll of deaths and injuries in neighborhoods considered “at-risk.”
But each of the strategies―cognitive behavioral therapy, hospital-based intervention, the use of street outreach workers, and “environmental crime prevention”― have produced positive results in the cities where they’ve been used.
Their success depends on the use of properly trained individuals, a focus on achievable results and, not surprisingly, sufficient funding and technical assistance to see the project through.
“While the homicide spike has drawn significant media coverage, less attention has been paid to what can and should be done about it,” said a statement accompanying the review by the Violent Crime Working Group, a task force convened by the Council on Criminal Justice.
The review “highlights a critical, poorly understood dimension of the crime story unfolding in 2021,” the statement said.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches people to manage emotions, address conflicts constructively, and think carefully before taking action, appears to have the “strongest track record of success” for programs that do not involve law enforcement, the review said.
A systematic review of 58 CBT studies found that such programs reduced criminal recidivism by 25 percent. In Chicago for example, one CBT program reduced arrests for violent crimes among youth by half.
But while the strategy helped individuals cope with anger management, anxiety and depression, its impact on reducing criminal violent behavior still needed more study, the task force concluded.
Similarly using “street outreach” to work with at-risk youth showed similar promise, but results were “mixed,” according to the working group. Programs like “violence interrupters” and Los Angeles’ Urban Peace Academy and have experienced significant reductions.
And new variation of the street outreach approach, Advance Peace, pioneered in Richmond, CA has worked well, they added.
“Nevertheless, despite more than 30 years in existence, the field of street outreach can feel like it is still in the ‘startup’ stage of development,” the review said, citing the comments of one member of the Working Group.
Adding to the hurdles, “a chronic lack of consistent funding has slowed the professional development of the field, limiting its impact,” said the report.
In its list of recommendations, the working group advised cities to “avoid placing all the burden of street outreach on a single provider” and fund multiple organizations that can be administered centrally in [partnership with local governments.
Hospital-based interventions focus on young people brought to emergency rooms for treatment after an injury—usually a shooting—and use it as a “teachable moment” tobring other resources to bear, such as substance use counseling, psychosocial services and therapy.
One of the most successful programs, in Baltimore, works with repeat victims on probation or parole. An evaluation of the program found that participants who received such treatment were three times less likely to be re-arrested for a violent crime and four times less likely to be convicted of a violent crime.
But such programs work best when they were focused on those individuals who were at ”highest risk” for repeat injury, the review said.
Finally, the working group examined what were called “place-based” interventions that focused on improving the immediate environments—the neighborhood or even individual blocks—where violent incidents occurred.
Such “environmental” or “green” strategies, ranging from picking up trash and installing street lightings to planting trees in vacant lots, were associated with a 17 percent increase in violent crime and a nine percent decrease in overall crime in a Philadelphia program.
But programs focused on the highest-risk locations, such as the blocks surrounding a housing project, had the greatest chance of success, the report said.
Place-based interventions also work best in combination with other anti-violence strategies including those cited above, and in close partnership with local community groups, the reviewers said, citing the example of Community Safety Advisory Councils established by police in Los Angeles.
Members of the working group and analysts who participated in the study included: DeVone Boggan, Founder and Executive Director of Advance Peace; Paul Carrillo, Community Violence Initiative Director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; and Jens Ludwig, Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy and Director of the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago.
Other participants who submitted presentations in an earlier session studying community interventions included: Michelle Kondo, Research Social Scientist with the USDA-Forest Service; Fernando Rejón, Executive Director of the Urban Peace Institute; and Daniel Webster, Bloomberg Professor of American Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Director of the Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy.
The complete report prepared by the Violence Working Group can be downloaded here.