Newark considers itself to be a “small big city.” It is the largest city in New Jersey, with a population of nearly 300,000. In its application to OJJDP for funding under the CBVP demonstration, City officials proposed an initiative that would combine the focused deterrence model with a community outreach approach based on Cure Violence, along with a “hotspot” model that deployed police resources according to continuous analyses of crime data.
Key entities for the project included the police and the City’s Office of Reentry. The proposal also described an extensive role for social services, employment services, youth groups, and the faith-based community. Capacity for data collection, mapping, and analysis were essential components of both the hotspot component (for which the Newark police GIS section was primarily responsible) and for the focused deterrence strategy, which involved ongoing analysis of gang activity.
Even with the addition of federal funding, the CBVP effort was not the only program operating in Newark. Several other police-led programs were already operating during the same period, including a reentry initiative for specific populations (Juvenile Justice Reentry Initiative) and a city-wide program for serious and violent offenders.
Before the launch of CBVP, the Newark Police Division (NPD) had been working to strengthen its Crime Analytics Unit to provide data analysis for the CompStat system. The analytics unit allowed police decision-makers to allocate resources using the most recent and complete data on crime incidents. In combination with information from prosecutors and the FBI, the NPD used these data to develop a list of Newark residents thought to be at a “high risk for violence,” whether as perpetrators or victims.
The NPD had also previously implemented a Gun Violence Reduction Strategy inspired by the focused deterrence approach. Standard policing tactics were being targeted more consistently and thoroughly on groups (cliques, crews, and gangs) known to be involved with gun violence. Newark’s strategy was developed in consultation with David Kennedy from John Jay College and Anthony Braga from Rutgers University using tactics from the original Boston gun project that inspired the focused deterrence model. Officials believed the strategy was already helping to control violent crime in Newark because the city’s West Ward had experienced a drop in homicides from 2006 to 2009. Without a formal evaluation, however, any reductions observed in the West Ward could not be attributed to any specific program. Homicides had also been falling in the North Ward during those years and they been had growing in the South Ward.
CBVP IN NEWARK
In its application for CBVP funding, the City of Newark proposed to combine focused deterrence (i.e. the Boston model) with a version of hotspot (or problem-oriented) policing and some components of Cure Violence (e.g. outreach workers maintaining social distance from police). The City would pursue objectives that fit with each program: transformation of community norms, offering known offenders an alternative to violence, and increasing the risks and costs of violence for those who persisted. The idea was that the hotspot data collection, analysis, and police mobilization would bolster the community- and norm-changing efforts of the Cure Violence approach while the City provided data to track the outcomes of the entire initiative.
OJJDP approved Newark’s proposal in 2011 and provided a $2.2 million grant for programming that started in 2012/2013 due partly to a change in the City administration following the election of a new Mayor. Funds were to be managed by Newark’s Office of Reentry. The program was initially called “Hotspot,” but the name was later changed to Newark United Against Violence (NUAV). The program’s target zone had distinct boundaries that remained the same throughout the grant period. The leaders of NUAV told researchers that they considered shifting target areas, but chose not to do so out of concern that moving away from the original focus area would cause a relapse in shootings.
Newark’s Office of Reentry and the Newark police both committed to implementing the program as proposed to OJJDP. They coordinated with other city agencies and initiatives (including provisions for managing sensitive information between outreach workers and police officers). There was also a plan for the Office of Reentry to seek additional funds for longer-term sustainability. Even before the CBVB grant, the Office of Reentry had an annual budget of more than $10 million and was pursuing other grants and contributions from the public and private sectors.
The Office of Reentry attached six key staff to the initiative: a program manager, senior advisor, outreach worker coordinator, and three outreach workers. Previously located in the Department of Economic Development and Housing, the Office of Reentry had been moved under the Workforce Investment Board which had a strong focus on job development. For CBVP activities, two additional partner agencies played key roles—the Greater Newark Conservancy and Newark Community Solutions (NCS). The Greater Newark Conservancy managed the Clean and Green transitional employment program, which focused on environmentally-oriented jobs, such as urban farms. The NCS program was overseen by the Office of Reentry and provided therapy and other types of counseling, as well as assistance with the legal system.
The overall goal of the CBVP-funded NUAV program was to reduce homicides and shootings in Newark, particularly in the target geographic area and among the target population. The City of Newark’s original grant proposal established several ambitious goals: 50 percent reduction in shootings and homicides in the target area; 125 active participants; and 85 percent of participants receiving comprehensive program services (mentorship, employment for 13 weeks, and attendance at call-ins). The program expected the re-arrest rate among participants to drop to 10 percent within three years of intervention and that two-thirds of the participants would find employment at minimum wage or above with each job lasting for at least three months.
The NUAV program required participants to be between 18 and 30 years of age and to be at high risk of involvement in violence (either as victim or perpetrator). Gang involvement placed a person automatically in the “high risk” category but not all program participants had known gang affiliations. Outreach workers and service providers did not always require youth to disclose their affiliations. The ambiguity of the “high risk” designation allowed staff to apply it as they chose and the program did not simply turn away young people who requested services. Youth under age 18 were referred to other city departments.
The target geographic area for the program included Newark’s south and central wards due to the high number of shootings and murders in those neighborhoods. To be eligible for the program, participants had to reside in the catchment area. The program design anticipated a high number of referrals from the Newark police. According to program staff, however, police referrals were relatively rare. Most referrals came through the local youth court and from other agencies involved in court proceedings. Program staff and outreach workers also recruited participants directly.
Like other CBVP grantees, the NUAV program drew upon several established programs to reduce violence: focused deterrence, Cure Violence, and hotspot policing. The City hoped to blend these strategies and to fashion a hybrid approach suitable for the specific context of Newark. In the end, however, this lack of clarity appeared to hinder the program. While the inclusive approach enabled a broad set of partners to become involved, it may have created inconsistency and confusion among project staff and partner agencies.
OUTREACH AND SERVICES
The NUAV program hoped to establish a strong presence in the neighborhood via Newark Community Solutions (NCS). NCS had six key staff: an outreach coordinator, three part-time outreach workers, one case manager (with the ability to provide cognitive behavioral therapy), and one volunteer. Recruitment of outreach workers focused on “credible messengers,” or individuals from the community who could hold the respect of the youth afflicted by violence and who would be able to deliver messages about the need to end the violence based on their own experiences. The program adopted the concept of “violence interrupters” from the Cure Violence model, but NUAV utilized outreach workers in this role.
Ensuring a consistent presence in the neighborhood was more difficult than anticipated. At least two staff members were needed in the program office from 9 am to 5 pm to handle administrative work as well as to receive walk-in inquiries. This limited the number of staff available to work in the community. The outreach workers attempted to connect each individual youth with the most appropriate services and programs, but the program leaders acknowledged that they frequently fell short.
Outreach workers tried to reach participants through different channels—walking or driving through the area, talking to family members at the scene of a shooting, etc. Police or community members often called the Outreach Coordinator after a shooting and the outreach team would go to the location of the shooting or to the hospital to provide mediation and prevent retaliation. Information about shootings reached outreach workers directly, through social media and local news sources, and through informal social networks.
Some outreach workers focused on shooters based on information from acquaintances or through their knowledge of gang leadership. Program staff told researchers that by contacting shooters directly, they hoped to change their mentality and to give them a different direction in life. Outreach workers were known to have experienced similar events in their lives and they had the respect of young people from the neighborhood. Thus, they could engage youth in conversations about alternatives and direct them toward non-violent activities.
Outreach workers believed they provided a crucial link between participants and services. They talked to youth in the neighborhood, at community events, and at the courthouse when they knew a participant had a scheduled court appearance. Attorneys and judges from the criminal court sometimes referred eligible youth directly to outreach workers. Once the program became well-known, some participants appeared as walk-in clients. Outreach workers did not ask participants about gang activity or gang affiliations, and they made it clear that such information would not affect their ability to get help from the program. Individuals from rival gangs even spent time together in the NCS office due to the safe, non-judgmental environment fostered by staff.
Outreach workers relied on a case management approach to determine which services would be most appropriate for each participant. Services ranged from job training and subsidized job placements to individual advocacy, therapy, and mentoring. Part of the CBVP funding went to stipends for young people, including those in counseling and therapy, as an incentive for regular and active participation. The relatively modest resources allocated to services limited their impact, however, and staff pointed to this as one of the main limitations of the program.
Outreach workers tried to address the basic challenges faced by program participants and help them to find resources to cover rent, bus tickets, and other basics. These efforts helped staff to connect with participants and to build trust, which could eventually lead to their involvement in more structured programs and violence prevention efforts.
Staff provided courtroom advocacy for participants as requested. Young people referred to the program often had open court cases for a variety of (mostly misdemeanor) offenses. Outreach workers would advocate for participants in court, seeking a reduction of charges based on the young person’s participation in the program. Outreach workers tried to persuade the court that the issues leading to participants’ involvement in petty crimes were often the very issues the program was working to resolve (unemployment, housing, etc.). Unfortunately, this component of the program was terminated after the City administration changed in 2104. Officials feared that outreach workers could be sharing sensitive legal information with current gang members.
The Clean and Green program was one of the central service options for program participants. Run by the Greater Newark Conservancy, Clean and Green was a 13 week program to help participants manage life change and to prepare for future employment opportunities. The Conservancy trained participants for environmental sector jobs and provided them with eight months of employment at an hourly wage of $8.75. NUAV staff believed that combining employment with case management supports would help participants to succeed. At the beginning of the project, a job developer worked with NUAV and Clean and Green to help participants find and secure jobs after the subsidized work period was over. Unfortunately, the job developer position was not funded for the full duration of the NUAV program.
The policing component of the NUAV strategy focused on the areas of Newark with the highest rates of gun violence. The idea was to patrol differently by applying data-driven and problem-oriented solutions (a “hot spot” approach), with officers working to prevent violent confrontations and retaliations rather than responding with arrests after violence. The increased presence in high-crime areas required additional officers. The grant provided funding for several officer salaries (approximately $70,000 per year including benefits) in addition to what was already covered in the regular NPD operational budget.
In addition to the hotspot approach, the police were asked to implement a general “community policing” strategy as part of NUAV. The goal was to increase positive interactions between officers and residents and to draw the City’s attention to quality of life concerns in the neighborhoods. Program leaders hoped that closer connections between communities and police would facilitate participation of the community in the NUAV program. Officers also had the option to refer people to NUAV programming rather than making arrests for minor transgressions (e.g., public drunkenness). Everyone believed that NPD officers using this community-oriented approach would be able to identify and refer the young people most at-risk for violence and to intervene more effectively in potentially violent situations.
Of course, the police also had a central role to play in the focused deterrence element of the NUAV program. They were to act as the lead voices in conveying the consequences of continued gun violence to the young people involved in “call-ins.” These were the community meetings at which high-risk young people (mostly males) were directed to appear in lieu of justice processing. Their families and neighbors, along with police and community leaders, would speak at the meetings to reinforce anti-violence, pro-community messages and to clarify the potential (moral and legal) consequences of continued violent behavior. As proposed in the CBVP grant application, the program in Newark included two public call-ins at community colleges in the area. These events would serve as a platform for delivering anti-violence messages with the “moral voice” of the community and to focus deterrence on the young people most involved in violence as well as to recruit participants for NUAV services. For anyone refusing to heed the message, NPD would cooperate with other criminal justice actors to apply and enforce heavy consequences (e.g. arrest, prosecution, and sentencing).
Evolution of the Program
Newark United Against Violence was once called Newark Ceasefire because it was inspired by the focused deterrence approach. Program staff told researchers the name was changed because the community had a negative reaction, associating the word “ceasefire” with international conflict and not community violence. The Newark office tried a variety of other names, including “Hotspot” and “Grow Up and Grow Out” before settling on NUAV, pronounced “New Ave.” Like the name of the program, the strategy behind NUAV evolved over time. For example, the City eventually expanded the purview of the program to include issues other than gang violence. The program found it difficult to specify the exact meaning of gang violence. In addition to conventional gangs, NUAV focused its efforts on groups involved in violence even if those groups were not linked to any named organization. According to City officials, intervening with the most vulnerable and at-risk young men regardless of their group status was never a serious challenge, as they were already known to community agencies and to police.
The program also evolved its hybrid model over time. The idea of blending the focused deterrence approach with the Cure Violence methods of violence interruption and outreach was intended to achieve a balance in the level of police and community involvement. Both the mayor and police chief were interested in demonstrating that police could take on roles of community support and engagement, not just pursuing and arresting the most violence-prone individuals. NUAV’s outreach workers were people who were already involved in local violence prevention activism. It seemed natural for them to take on a more visible role in the program.
Still, there were continuous debates about the appropriate balance between the program models that formed the hybrid design of NUAV. One staff member told researchers that he viewed the services and supports as the most important elements of NUAV, arguing that the project sometimes placed too much emphasis on police power. Yet, the services side of the model was also the most difficult to manage. Bureaucratic obstacles to obtaining services were always present, such as agencies demanding proper identification documents from people who did not have government IDs. Another staff person described the enforcement-oriented part of the model as “ambulance chasing,” since it focused on responding to violent incidents after they occurred.
Staff also acknowledged that the Cure Violence model had its own limitations. To establish close, confidential relationships with known members of violent groups, program workers needed to limit their cooperation with police—at least in public. This could have reinforced community perceptions of police as untrustworthy. In some neighborhoods, any person interacting with the police could be labeled as a “snitch,” which brought both stigma and personal risk. The Newark outreach team sought to achieve a middle ground, wherein at least some interaction with police could be viewed neutrally, particularly when helping police to prevent violent incidents.
Program staff attempted to navigate the delicate dynamic of police-community relations by meeting with police behind closed doors, out of the public eye. Outreach workers generally did not visit the precinct at all. Staff also attempted to convince neighborhood residents to take a different view of police, reminding them that information sharing could sometimes lead to improved outcomes and that police can be a positive resource.
Law enforcement played a key role in NUAV as the lead entity for hotspot data collection and deployment efforts. The police were responsible for the offender call-ins and other elements of the focused deterrence approach. The program’s partnership with police was not without its tensions due to funding limits and the amount of the grant claimed by NPD. One issue that bothered the program staff in particular was the use of grant funds for officer salaries. In theory, the NPD was responsible for the model’s focus on hotspot policing and community policing, and this required some material support. To the neighborhood-based staff, however, these efforts prevented the program from having enough staff to deliver other important parts of the model, especially the outreach component. According to staff members, the NPD officers on the grant were rarely seen in the neighborhood.
Another source of tension in the partnership with the NPD related to information-sharing. In general, the NPD respected outreach workers and their ability to maintain the trust and confidentiality of participants who often told them about potential violent incidents. At times, however, the outreach staff members’ access to information could prove problematic. The program manager attempted to act as an intermediary between outreach workers and police officers in order to share the most critical information without any details that could jeopardize the trust between the program and the community. Outreach workers were also careful to avoid asking participants about individual acts of crime or violence and instead focused on the community context and possible means of de-escalating violence. Police officers, however, worried that the program staff did not always consider the larger interests of the community as they protected the strength of their personal relationships with participants.
The program worked to build a strong relationship with the police. The Office of Reentry and Newark Community Solutions held regular meetings with the four officers paid through the grant. The officers worked to become more acquainted with community resources and to connect residents with needed services. In addition, the NUAV-affiliated officers received training in community work along with the outreach officers at NCS. Program staff tried to cooperate with the police while not creating an impression in the community that NUAV was a “police program.”
Newark Community Solutions
Successful implementation of the program depended on the outreach efforts and thoroughness of services provided by the Office of Reentry’s contractual partner, NCS. One of the services it offered to program participants was cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The amount of CBT provided to participants varied, and the service was offered in both group and individual sessions. Participants initially enrolled in both individual and group CBT. The program usually worked with participants for a period of six months. Some NCS staff felt this time period was not enough to make lasting change and would have liked to work with participants for up to a year. Staff noted that when participants stayed in the program longer, more people in the community could see that they were serious about turning their lives around and could appreciate that effort.
Greater Newark Conservancy
The Greater Newark Conservancy operated a number of environmental awareness and improvement programs, included cleaning, landscaping, community gardening, urban farms, and city beautification. Through the Clean and Green program, the Conservancy was able to help improve the quality of life in the local communities while paying the participants for the work they completed.
NUAV staff noted that initial implementation of the CBVP grant was slow and in the words of one staff member, “chaotic.” During the first year, only the grant writers were involved in implementation. It took another year to execute a contract with an organization capable of providing outreach, training, and planning. Even after new staff members joined the program, the size of the team was generally insufficient for full implementation. Staff complained to researchers that resources were split in too many ways. Outreach workers, for example, could only work part-time due to budget restrictions.
After the change in City administration in 2014, the challenges became even worse. When the OJJDP grant was awarded, Samuel DeMaio was police director and Cory Booker was the Mayor of Newark. During the grant’s first year, Mayor Booker resigned to become a U.S. Senator and DeMaio retired, leaving Newark’s initiative in the hands of interim leadership. The changes made it difficult to maintain inter-agency coordination. NUAV’s work continued to receive support from the Mayor’s office even after the transition, but funding for the Clean and Green transitional jobs program was terminated. This caused an abrupt end to the subsidized work experience for enrolled participants. NUAV found it especially difficult to keep qualified (i.e. credible) outreach workers employed due to budget constraints. Staff reported that the program’s ability to form close connections with street-involved participants was damaged, and in some cases lost, due to insufficient pay for outreach workers.
Some core components endured. For example, the program managed to strengthen its professionalized services when a new partner organization, Newark Community Solutions (affiliated with the Center for Court Innovation), joined as a service provider. In most areas of the program, however, staff members identified deficiencies. As support for the Clean and Green program ended, NUAV could no longer provide participants with tangible supports such as income and transportation. The staff tried to refer participants to other service providers, but when a client needed immediate and urgent help, staff often paid out of their own pockets for bus tickets, etc. The program also ran out of funds to help participants obtain government IDs. Even the program’s office space suffered and staff argued that a more appealing presence in the neighborhood would have increased their effectiveness by attracting the participants to spend more time there.
Other elements proposed in the OJJDP grant application, including data collection for evaluation, neighborhood improvements, and a community policing project, never materialized during the program period. Some staff members contended that these components failed to occur due to the City’s changes in strategy and not due to a lack of capacity within the program. As proposed, however, the NUAV program was complex and involved multiple partners. Inconsistent communication and coordination with partners, City leaders, and federal officials presented significant obstacles.
Another important set of challenges derived from the program’s interactions with the police in Newark. While it was somewhat inevitable that the program would have a difficult relationship with the police given the history of policing in Newark and the need for programmatic distance from law enforcement, the program staff believed that some of the tensions should have been avoidable. Staff members told researchers that it was difficult for them to feel like partners with the police when police officers received their regular salaries from the grant and outreach workers made barely more than minimum wage and could only work part-time due to funding limits. Outreach workers argued that their work was demanding, often emotionally intense, and involved unpredictable hours, which they believed justified a higher pay scale. Program leaders agreed that the conditions led to problems with rapid burnout among the outreach team.
Ideally, outreach workers would have provided a bridge between the police and the community. According to staff, however, the police were sometimes reluctant to trust outreach workers with previous gang involvement. Over time, and due to the efforts of the various partners, this dynamic improved somewhat. Officers assigned to the program, however, were not always with the program. Because assigned officers remained under police command, they were often deployed to duties unrelated to the NUAV mission. This exacerbated tensions.
Some staff suggested the project would have been more coherent if officers had been dedicated to NUAV or if some of the funds used to support police salaries had been used to hire additional outreach workers. Even when the officers worked in the NUAV target neighborhoods, residents were usually unaware the officers were connected to NUAV. Staff agreed the program missed an important opportunity to shift the tone of police-community relations.
Possible Effects on Crime
Due to the limited amount of crime information available from the City of Newark, it was not possible for the research team to ascertain whether the efforts of NUAV had a demonstrable effect on violence in areas targeted by the program compared with other areas of Newark. Judging from data available at the city level, however, the study did not find a distinct pattern that would indicate large-scale changes in Newark relative to two of the next largest cities in New Jersey: Paterson and Jersey City.
According to data reported to the FBI, the total number of violent crimes in Newark increased from 2,800 to 3,500 between 2005 and 2013, and then declined to an estimated 2,700 in 2015. Viewed in isolation, this might suggest that implementation of NUAV had an effect on violent crime. In the next two largest New Jersey cities, however, violent crime also declined between 2013 and 2015.
It was not possible for the evaluation to estimate whether violence in Newark decreased more than it would have without NUAV or if it simply followed the pattern common to large cities in New Jersey. Violent crime in Newark fell 23 percent between 2013 and 2015, but violent crime dropped nearly the same amount in the other large cities between 2013 and 2015—25 percent lower in Jersey City and 26 percent down in Paterson.
On the other hand, the violent crime decline in Newark might be described as a greater departure from previous years. The 2013-2015 drop in violence was preceded in Newark by six years of steep increases, whereas the other cities had experienced relatively steady decreases (Jersey City) or were largely unchanged between 2013 and 2015 (Paterson).
Program staff from NUAV reported to researchers that police in Newark claimed to have data showing that murder dropped 50 percent in the NUAV target zone relative to other zones in the city, but that information was not made available to the research team. The crime figures reported to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, however, show similar patterns in Newark and other cities. Murder in Newark fell citywide between 2013 and 2015, but murders also fell in Jersey City and Paterson. Without geographically specific data, it was not possible for the study to identify a specific effect of NUAV on homicide.
There were elements of job development and community support in the NUAV approach that were still growing and being strengthened at the end of the evaluation period. The program was working to build relationships with community organizations and to build additional partnerships where collaboration would be fruitful. By including clergy members in their violence reduction work, NUAV hoped to use religious spaces in the community as “safe havens” to host informational sessions and to invite clergy members to attend shooting responses with outreach workers.
NUAV continued to see a role for hospitals and treatment centers in providing social and health services to community members that the program itself could not provide. In addition to not-for-profit entities, NUAV hoped to establish closer ties with small businesses in the target zone. It would be easier, staff admitted, for the program to develop stronger neighborhood collaborations once its full mission was more clearly defined and articulated.
The actual effects of Newark United Against Violence were difficult to specify. By its own estimate, the program successfully incorporated the community and hotspot policing efforts of police into its broader strategy. It affiliated with strong service partners, including the Greater Newark Conservancy and Newark Community Solutions (although the former was discontinued due to funding limits). The program deployed credible messengers to intervene in neighborhood incidents of violence, but limitations in resources hampered that strategy. By the end of the study period, the program was still in a developmental stage and it was too soon to judge the overall effectiveness of NUAV. Many of its key components suffered from inconsistent implementation. Some were launched only recently; others ceased operating early in the initiative. The city-wide drop in violence, however, may warrant a closer look and could be justification for the program to continue operating long enough for rigorous evaluation.
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.