Street by Street: Chapter 1

Introduction

logo_ojjdp_newstreetmap_icon2In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) issued a pair of grant solicitations under the Community-Based Violence Prevention (CBVP) program to support several cities in new initiatives to reduce youth violence at the community-level. The solicitations offered program demonstration grants for community applicants as well as a separate grant for an evaluator to monitor and assess the demonstrations. The community grants provided funding to improve federal, state, and local resource coordination that enabled cities to replicate evidence-based strategies to reduce violence. Two of those strategies were Cure Violence (previously known as Chicago CeaseFire) and the Boston Gun Project (also known as Boston Ceasefire and later Group Violence Intervention, which is sponsored by the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College).

The CBVP demonstration grant asked recipient cities to target selected intervention strategies on youth and young adults who engage in high-risk activities and who are most likely to be involved in violence in the immediate future, either as victims and/or as perpetrators. The Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice received the CBVP evaluation grant and focused its research efforts on the first five CBVP grantees: Brooklyn, NY; Denver, CO; Newark, NJ; Oakland, CA; and Washington, DC.

Legislative History

The Department of Justice (DOJ) requested $25 million in appropriations from the 111th Congress in 2009 (FY 2010) to support community-based violence prevention initiatives using a public health approach (Office of Management and Budget 2009). The Administration justified the request on the growing body of research establishing the success of strategies to reduce violence in communities without an exclusive reliance on law enforcement. Specifically referencing the Boston Gun Project and Chicago CeaseFire (or Cure Violence), the request outlined general best practices used by successful violence reduction programs in multiple (anonymous) cities across the United States.

As described in the FY2010 budget request, best practices included “street-level outreach, conflict mediation, and the changing of community norms to reduce violence, particularly shootings.” These practices were assumed to contribute to decreased gun violence and retaliatory murders, fewer shooting hot spots, more direct assistance for high-risk youth, and improved neighborhood safety. The Department of Justice asserted that the public health approach was fundamentally different from other violence reduction programs although it did not elaborate on the differences. The President’s Budget paralleled DOJ’s justifications for community-based violence prevention initiatives, broadly referencing prior successes in violence reduction when those efforts incorporate a public health approach.

Although sub-committee budget hearings held by the Senate Appropriations Committee did not include detailed discussions about community-based violence prevention initiatives, then-Attorney General Holder mentioned the grant program in a written response following the hearing (Department of Commerce 2009). Responding to questions about crime prevention, the Attorney General reiterated the justifications for funding community-based violence prevention. The Senate Appropriations Committee declined to recommend a specific amount of funding to community-based violence prevention initiatives, but a Committee budget report listed community-based violence prevention as a funding category under the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention (Congressional Record 2009).

In the same year, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations released a budget report containing an $18 million allocation to community-based violence prevention and recommended its consideration by the entire House (House of Representatives 2009). The Committee report described community-based violence prevention initiatives as strategies with a “focus on street-level outreach, conflict mediation, and the changing of community norms to reduce violence.” The report language reflected the best practices described in the Department of Justice budget request.

Following these initial budget reports, the Senate and House budgets were consolidated to fund community-based violence prevention initiatives under the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies division of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010. The discrepancy between the $18 million allocation by the House of Representatives and the lack of explicit allocation by the Senate resulted in a $10 million allocation for community-based violence prevention initiatives. Approved by the House and the Senate, followed by the President’s signature, the 111th Congress appropriated $10 million from the federal budget for community-based violence prevention initiatives. As stated in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, the 2010 federal budget included the $10 million in alignment with the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act, which authorizes the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to provide funds through discretionary grants (Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act 2002). At final passage, the budget failed to include any of the previous language about the “public health model” or even any other specific guidance about intervention approaches.

The appropriation process for community-based violence prevention in fiscal year 2011 included less discussion on Congress’ expectations than the 2010 process. For fiscal year 2011, the Department of Justice and the White House requested $25 million in funding for community-based violence prevention, based on the same general justifications in the 2010 request. The request for $25 million was the same amount requested for fiscal year 2010 and reflected an increase of $15 million above the 2010 appropriation. Based on the President’s Budget, the Senate Appropriations Committee allocated $20 million for community-based violence prevention, but Congressional debate resulted in passage of continuing resolutions and acts to fund government activities in 2011 at levels similar to 2010. The final appropriation of $10 million for community-based violence prevention initiatives was based on the 2010 appropriation (Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act 2011).

CBVP Solicitations

In 2010 and 2011, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention released a series of solicitations for applications to fund community-based violence prevention initiatives. One solicitation (the demonstration solicitation) was for programs seeking funds to implement community-based violence prevention strategies. The other solicitation (the evaluation solicitation) was for an evaluation partner who would assess the successfulness of the CBVP programs in the funded cities. The demonstration solicitation was issued in early 2010 and again in early 2011 to add more cities to the program, while the evaluation solicitation was only issued once in early 2010.

The solicitations identified the broad goals of the CBVP appropriation and elaborated on the purpose, objectives, and expected deliverables (e.g., reports, publications) from the applicants. The demonstration solicitations sought applicants to reduce gun violence in specific communities through the replication of evidence-based programs. The OJJDP named Cure Violence, the Boston Gun Project, and the Richmond Comprehensive Homicide Initiative as examples of evidence-based programs with demonstrated effectiveness in reducing gun violence. The Richmond Homicide Initiative appeared as an example of a public health model to decrease violence for the first time in the 2010 solicitation. It was not included as an example during the formal budget allocation process. Applicants were encouraged to select from among these or other strategies that could be described as evidence-based, as long as they believed a specific approach would work well in their community.

Applicants were not restricted to replications of specific models and the solicitation did not require projects to be backed by a specific type of evidence. The key components of violence reduction named in the CBVP solicitations naturally became the preferred strategies for demonstration applicants—i.e. changing community norms surrounding violence, providing non-violent conflict resolution alternatives to violence, and increasing public awareness of the harms of violence. The agency directed applicants to identify geographic areas at high risk for gun violence and to propose strategies that would engage the efforts of outreach workers, clergy, and community leaders. Applicants were also encouraged to include law enforcement partnerships and community education campaigns. The solicitations emphasized that the CBVP program intended to support and enhance existing anti-violence strategies within applicant communities. Thus, every grantee received federal funding to expand programs that were already under way with pre-existing methods and partnerships.

The application process required projects to provide data about current levels of violence in their communities and to supply information about the disproportionate involvement of groups, either as the perpetrators or victims of violence. Small groups (e.g., gangs, cliques, and crews) could be named as the target population for a CBVP demonstration. Applicants were asked to provide documentation (ideally in the form of a map) identifying the size, scope, and effects of violence involving any targeted groups. Specifically, the demonstration solicitations asked applicants to incorporate crime and violence data on killings and shootings for a period of 3 or more years to indicate a significant violence problem affecting the community. Applicants had to show support from local government and to demonstrate the compatibility of their CBVP strategies with the existing efforts of local government.

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Grantees and the Evaluation Plan

From the 2010 CBVP funding, more than $8 Million was awarded to grantees in Brooklyn, Denver, Oakland, and Washington, DC. The evaluation grant was awarded to John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, NY and its Research and Evaluation Center via the Research Foundation of the City University of New York, and included a subcontract to Temple University. The project required a combination of process, outcome, and impact evaluations. In 2011, a second group of demonstration grants of more than $6 Million went to Baltimore, Boston, and Newark, NJ. Of the three new cities, only Newark was added to the John Jay evaluation. Each of the five evaluation sites agreed to implement projects drawing on the principles and practices of evidence-based models to prevent youth violence, focusing on changing the attitudes, community conditions, and individual behaviors associated with youth violence. The evaluation team at John Jay College and the subcontractor at Temple University designed varying process, outcome and impact evaluations in the five evaluation cities.

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The process component of the evaluation was conducted in all five cities and documented how each community implemented and evolved its CBVP strategy over the course of the grant period. The evaluation team documented each site’s approach, how that approach resembled the initial plan, and what challenges and/or modifications occurred throughout the course of the study. The evaluation team conducted multiple site visits and stakeholder interviews with agency staff, law enforcement partners, judges, community leaders, neighborhood volunteers, advocates and other program partners. Individual interviews provided an understanding of each person’s involvement in the CBVP process, as well as his or her opinions about violence reduction efforts in their community and the challenges or potential improvements in implementation.

The outcome component of the evaluation largely depended on each grantee’s ability to provide the evaluation team with detailed data about client contacts (dosage), program performance, and violent crime trends. The study team attempted to measure program activities with administrative data whenever possible, including number of contacts or hours/days of service. As a backup strategy, the team collected data from short, self-administered questionnaires of youth participants in the CBVP programs to gauge their perceptions, beliefs and attitudes regarding crime, violence, and neighborhood safety. The evaluation team tracked changes in crime and violence as measured by administrative data from the local criminal justice system. The team worked with local agencies to assemble and analyze any available criminal justice data —specifically homicide and gun violence data— for each CBVP site and any comparison areas identified within each city. As available, data about gun violence incidents and arrests were compared using a quasi-experimental, matched community design. Finally, the evaluation also measured changing community norms with repeated surveys of probability-based household samples in two CBVP cities–Brooklyn and Denver. Household surveys were administered by the Institute for Survey Research at Temple University in 2012 and again in 2014, both in a CBVP program area and a non-program comparison area in each city. This allowed the research team to estimate what changes in community norms may have occurred in the absence of CBVP.

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As required by OJJDP, each site had begun violence-prevention efforts prior to receiving CBVP funding, but the timing and intensity of these efforts varied. This presented serious challenges for the evaluation team. It was not possible for the study to gather pre-program or baseline measurements. The study could rely only on historical analyses of administrative data. In addition, each site implemented its own intervention plan, using varying (and evolving) combinations of strategies. This heterogeneity prevented the evaluation from comparing outcomes between sites. Denver, for example, used its CBVP funds to bolster existing programs and to enhance a broad network of agencies with the capacity to carry on violence-prevention work after the grant expired. This meant that CBVP-funds enhanced varied sources of ongoing support, which made it difficult to attribute any changes to a single funding source. In Brooklyn, CBVP funds were used to implement new activities in one program site. But, without precise baseline measures, it was not possible to isolate any effects of the new activities apart from those of the pre-existing program. Both approaches were entirely consistent with the intent of CBVP funding, but they created many challenges and prevented the study team from designing a rigorous, comparative evaluation. Finally, each of the cities had its own administrative data sources of varying strength and accessibility. The study team made the most of all available data, but none of the cities was able to provide enough relevant data to construct an accurate assessment of outcomes.

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Summary

The CBVP demonstration presented serious obstacles to evaluation. Each CBVP site had the flexibility to choose whatever program or strategy it preferred. Each of the five sites implemented a unique intervention plan, designed its own logic model, and carried out its own program activities. While all sites shared the same overall goal —to reduce youth violence— it was not possible for the evaluation to ascertain the effect of CBVP as a whole. This five-city evaluation of CBVP is essentially five distinct stories. Of course, the five sites have common elements. Each city intended to: (1) reduce violence in specified geographic areas; (2) change community norms toward violence; (3) enhance inter-agency collaboration; and (4) increase awareness among young people about the consequences of their involvement in violence and other high-risk behaviors. This report describes the planning and execution of CBVP-inspired violence-reduction interventions in all five cities. It assesses the likely outcomes of these efforts, and it examines any possible conclusions and policy implications that may be derived from the demonstration project.

Recommended Citation

Tomberg, Kathleen A. and Jeffrey A. Butts (2016). Street by Street: Cross-Site Evaluation of the OJJDP Community-Based Violence Prevention Demonstration Program. New York, NY: Research and Evaluation Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.