Violence Prevention Proposal

Violence Interrupters, INC Chicago Citywide
Submitted by Tio Hardiman, MA
Program Summary

Violence Interrupters, INC is a data-driven, violence reduction, research-based initiative. The Violence Interrupters Model relies on five components that work together to anticipate and interrupt the transmission of high risk events and change the social norms and behaviors that perpetuate violence. These components include street outreach and conflict mediation to the highest risk individuals, community mobilization, public education, faith leader involvement, and law enforcement participation.

The funding will allow our staff the ability to mediate conflicts on the south, west, east, and north side of Chicago to help save more lives in Chicago and reduce acts of gun and gang violence in the targeted areas by 25%-50%.

Acts of gang and gun violence in the city of Chicago can be reduced by 50% with the Violence Interrupter Model. Dealing with the warring factions in the area would take a lot of work and our highly trained staff will work hard everyday to establish a meaningful relationship with the different groups and individuals from the targeted areas which will ultimately lead to a significant reduction in violence in Chicago.

Violence Interrupters, INC is requesting $3 million to hire and train over 60 full-time Anti-Violence Advocates and support staff to address this epidemic of violence in Chicago.

Violence in Chicago

Homicide in Chicago is the #1 public health issue facing African American males between the ages of 0 – 34 years, and is the leading cause of death for all males between the ages of 15 – 24 years of age according to the 2005 Health Status Index Series, Vol. XVII. For these young victims, violence has reached epidemic proportions. Eighty-one percent of the 425 murders committed in Chicago in 2014 were the result of gun violence and the victims were overwhelmingly poor, young, black or Latino males. Current homicide rates in Chicago are at 18 per 100,000 residents, a dramatic contrast to the national figure ~5.4 per 100,000 residents.

Violence limits community investment, causes stress disorders among children and adults, creates a large prison population, and incurs an enormous cost to taxpayers and to society while leaving thousands of broken families, lost opportunities, tremendous untapped potential and lost lives. Shootings and killings are disproportionately concentrated in impoverished communities characterized by high unemployment rates, with a dearth of business opportunity and social service resources. Seventy-eight percent of homicides in 2008 took place in just 11 of Chicago’s 25 police districts. In most of these districts, killings were concentrated in two to six police beats with homicide rates ranging as high as 112 per 100,000.

For many people living in these communities the sound of gunfire, the loss of life, and the residual effects have become so pervasive they are regarded as normal and unchangeable. In these disadvantaged areas, violence triggers a downward economic spiral that acts as a barrier to economic vitality and community revitalization and spans generations preventing development and resisting investments. Businesses are likely to keep shorter hours and close early in communities impacted by violence (Hamermesh, 1999). High crime rates deter business investment, specifically the creation and growth of service-sector establishments, grossly limiting access to employment for lower-skilled workers and placing goods and services out-of-reach for residents (Greenbaum and Tita, 2004).

While gun violence inordinately affects the poor living in disadvantaged neighborhoods, costs are incurred by the entire city in terms of higher taxes, diminished property value, and increased health costs. Estimates for the social cost of gun violence (excluding medical and healthcare costs) on Chicago over the past ten years range as high as $2.5 billion each year—about $2,500 per Chicago household (Cook and Ludwig, 2009).

Preventing Violence

Since the late 1980s the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has defined violence as a public health issue. As such, violence is understood as a preventable behavior, not an inevitable response to conflict. Violence Interrupters, NFP is a research-based approach to reducing violence, these studies have been crucial to informing the model:

  • The fragmented nature of community-based services for high-risk youth has resulted in a lack of public accountability for youth, which in turn has contributed to the unacceptably high levels of serious and violent juvenile crime. Researchers endorsed an integration of juvenile justice, mental health, public health, and intervention-based approaches that reach out to youth prior to violent activity and to offer alternatives to these behaviors. The results of this study indicated that the prevalence of violent activity is decreased if there is significant intervention with education, employment training and job linkages, and other alternatives (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1993).
  • Homicide data collected between 2005 and 2012 showed gangs to be a “causative factor” in 38.5 – 44% of Chicago homicides, with an additional 20% of homicides resulting from “altercations”, meaning that at a minimum an estimated 64% of homicides were the result of street violence that could’ve been prevented in these three years.
  • Violence is predominately a learned behavior reinforced by social pressure and community norms (Akers, 1985; Rosenberg, 1987). As with other behaviors, it is acquired or learned through modeling, observing, imitating or copying (Bandura, 1977). These behaviors become unconsciously “regulated” not by family or friends, but by peers through social “norms.” Further research indicates that the ritualization of violence as a social control is a sign of the replacement or supplement of formal law and social rules with street codes and values (Anderson, 1999; Black 1993).
  • In some urban communities, even youth not personally inclined toward physical aggression, respond to conflict with violence as a means of adapting to social insecurity. In a climate of chronic community violence, it becomes the accepted, “normal” response to conflict. This response applies not only to gang-motivated violence, but also – perhaps more commonly – to small disputes, perceived slights, or insults. Street codes emphasize toughness and quick, violent retribution for transgressions against one’s sense of self or insults to one’s reputation. Failure to respond is a sign of weakness and the ensuing loss of status predisposes the individual to further victimization (Wilkinson, 2006).
  • Gang codes call for a swift retribution when one gang commits an assault against the person or honor of another gang; often assigning collective liability, which holds all gang members accountable for the actions of one. Howell found that youth gang members are about 60 times more likely to be killed than the rest of the population (1998).
  • The Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN) neighborhood study that found that neighborhood social processes had significant impact on homicide and violence in the community (Sampson et al, 1997). Homicide and victimization rates were found to be lower in neighborhoods where residents shared values, had common expectations that neighbors would intervene in problem behavior, and trusted each other (Sampson, 2004). Researchers called this combination of shared values, trust and expectations for social intervention “collective efficacy” to control crime and deviance. The level of collective efficacy was strongly influenced by neighborhood conditions such as the lack of residential poverty and lack of residential stability. Therefore, collective efficacy appears to be a mediating link between neighborhood conditions and crime and violence.

Approaches to violence, viewed through a moralistic instead of a scientific lens, often skew toward intense punitive measures (stiffer penalties, harsher sentencing, super max prisons, and militant police presence) or seek to address social issues surrounding the problem (poverty, family, schools, community). For this reason, community groups themselves have limited experience in tackling the violence problem in a behavioral way. Further, reducing violence and changing norms is both an immediate and urgent humanitarian need, and a necessary and persistent long term pursuit, in which further innovations, changes in emphasis, and responses to data will cause continued modifications.

The Goals of the Violence Interrupter Model:
  1. To reduce the number of killings and shootings in Chicago to a level at or under the national average.
  2. To change the perceptions of urban violence as an intractable problem to considering it as something that can be halted or reversed with the right intervention.
  3. Identify the highest risk youth in the area and establish strong relationships with over 1000 high risk youth.
  4. Work to prevent shootings on the front end before the shots are fired by emergency mediation efforts.
  5. Change the thinking of the most high risk youth in the targeted area.
  6. Link participants to job training and jobs.
  7. Reduce violence in the targeted areas by 25%-50%.
  8. Intervene in all potential conflicts.
  9. Organize several Peace Summits in the targeted area to promote non-violent ways to resolve conflict.

To achieve these goals, Anti-Violence Advocates work in self-managed sites and with community-based organizations to develop and implement strategies to reduce and prevent violence, particularly shootings and killings. Efforts are concentrated in those areas of the city that are experiencing the highest levels of violence, where intervention will make a maximum-level impact on the city’s overall homicide rate. Anti-Violence Advocates work closely with the residents of affected areas, as well as, community and faith leaders and key stakeholders to develop and implement a broad-based approach that includes formal and informal actions to make violence in any form unacceptable. Residents are galvanized around the issue of violence, engaged in the program, and empowered with the tools and voice needed to guide the future of their community. Anti-Violence Advocates’ successful approach to street violence focuses directly on those young people who are at the highest risk for initiating violence or being a victim of it, intervenes in conflicts likely to result in violence, and promotes non-violent alternatives.

Anti-Violence Advocates & Conflict Mediation

Violence Interrupters, INC hires street-savvy individuals as Anti-Violence Advocates who understand violence and have had life experiences that qualify them as uniquely “credible messengers” for change. These individuals, who have often experienced first hand the negative consequences that can result from violence (prison, destruction and loss), serve as effective models for non-violent behaviors and illustrate that such transformation is possible.

Anti-Violence Advocates are charged with stopping a conflict on the front-end by providing an immediate response to a shooting to discourage retaliation. Using their relationships and influence with street organization leadership, Anti-Violence Advocates intervene on and mediate conflicts likely to result in one or more shootings. They explore alternatives to violence focused on reaching a more constructive solution.

The Anti-Violence Advocates, are comprised largely of individuals who have served time and had, at one time, close ties to Chicago’s street organizations, meet weekly to share information about conflicts that have taken place, might be emerging and possible acts of retaliation that they can stop. Rather than building individual client relationships, they leverage their connections and knowledge of the streets to diffuse tensions, mediate conflicts and maintain peace.

Each Anti-Violence Advocate, while also playing a role in conflict mediations, carries a minimum caseload of 15 high-risk clients—a population of individuals often regarded as “difficult to reach” and identified as beyond the scope of most traditional social service networks. The Anti-Violence Advocates’ primary focus is to reduce their client’s risk for violence by motivating them onto a more positive path. Their methods are client-directed helping them to conduct on-the-spot problem solving and explore non-violent means to address problems, while simultaneously connecting them to applicable resources (legitimate avenues for employment, continued education, social service, mental health or substance abuse resources, etc.) that help to reduce their overall risk of violence.

Community Mobilization

In contrast to law enforcement-based, focused deterrence initiatives, Anti-Violence Advocates puts community involvement at the forefront of its efforts. The purpose of community mobilization in Violence Interruption is to build and energize a base of support that involves a variety of efforts to both stop shootings and killings in the near term and to change the underlying conditions that give rise to shootings and killings in the long term for each partner community. Community mobilization focuses on residents, businesses and organizations that provide services or support to residents, and members of the faith community; each has a role to play in interrupting the cycle of violence and the participation of each results in a safer and more viable community.

Faith-Based Leader Involvement

Faith leaders preach peace and send the message to “stop the killing” in sermons, at funerals, and while visiting survivors of shootings. They lead and urge congregants to participate in responses to shootings, promote activities that connect community residents with one another, open gymnasiums at night and on weekends so young people have a safe place to congregate, and link those who are at risk to the Anti-Violence Advocates.

Faith community leaders are in a unique position to influence the thinking and behavior of community members and those who are at risk of involvement in shootings and killings. At the crisis point of personal transformation, as an individual seeks to resolve their ambivalence to change, they often turn toward their church, mosque, or synagogue for comfort, strength, and guidance. The faith community can play a critical role in influencing decisions and providing positive direction.

Law Enforcement Participation

Law enforcement provides aggregate data that allows identification of “hot spots,” areas where shootings and killings are concentrated, as well as developing criteria that suggest who is most likely to be involved in a shooting or killing. They also help prevent shootings and killings by informing outreach staff when a shooting occurs so the workers may prevent an act of retaliation.

Public Education

In its truest form, a public education campaign employs community mobilization in conjunction with pervasive, targeted messaging strategies to promote individual behavior change and to transform the social norms that support the behavior. Drawing on social marketing techniques, which use private-sector marketing strategies for public health behavior change initiatives, Anti-Violence Advocates are engaged in a widespread “massive messaging” campaign that saturates the neighborhoods with simple, straightforward communications to deter violence and reinforce positive community behavior and norm change delivered through multiple media channels.

Moreover, public education efforts inform community residents, particularly those who are at low-risk or medium-risk, how to be involved in solutions to end violence. These efforts can help engage other community organizations, corporations and elected officials in supporting the efforts to end violence. By building a non-violence movement, informing a broad audience about the Violence Interruption model, its philosophical underpinnings and impact.

Documentation and Reporting

Violence Interrupters, INC maintains a small evaluation unit that cleans and analyzes data reported by the Anti-Violence Advocates, and prepares detailed reports for Project staff, and community partners. Reports document the number of mediations conducted by community, the number of individuals met, the number of new individuals contacted, the number of groups met, the amount of public education materials distributed, and the number of clients served. Data is critical to guiding the Violence Interrupter Model and intervention efforts; consistent assessment and review help to redirect efforts on a community-by-community basis, if necessary. It also helps to determine if adjustments need to be made in administering a specific component (i.e., increasing the number of Anti-Violence Advocates in a community) and demonstrates where corrective action needs to take place. They also look at hours of operation to make certain that outreach is conducted during periods when the highest number of shootings occur and spot-check workers in the field to ensure a consistent presence in the community.

The Evaluation Unit obtains and analyzes official data released by the Chicago Police Department, and maintains close working relationships with Department staff in the Research and Development and the Detective Divisions. Project Hood staff compiles, clean and analyze data reported by the Anti-Violence Advocates. Evaluation staff prepares detailed reports for Project staff, community partners, funders and external audiences interested in the model, its effectiveness, and the results of the evaluation conducted on the project.

Training

Violence Interrupters, NFP provides training in Violence Interruption, Street Outreach, Outreach Supervision and Community Mobilization, in addition to providing significant ongoing violence prevention program support.

All staff will participate in 40-hour training along with the community partners. Anti-Violence Advocates benefit substantially from practical hands-on training that emphasizes the knowledge and skills needed to be successful at reducing violence, while also preparing them for other service positions in the future.

Conclusion

Violence Interrupters, INC is committed to reducing gun violence in Chicago. Additionally, the organization will ultimately help improve the quality of life in some of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods by changing mindsets and behaviors associate with violence amongst the highest risk youth.

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