Toledo Blade — Violence Interrupters: How to Measure Success in Toledo and Beyond

Trevor Hubert
The Blade
January 14, 2022

Not only are Toledoans wondering whether Toledo’s “violence interruption” program is having an impact on the murder rate in Toledo, the question is still open in other cities around the country where programs like this have been tried.

Toledo posted its second straight record number of homicides for the year 2021, many of those murders occurring months after the city’s Save Our Community effort, with its team of “violence interrupters” underway.

The jury is still out on whether or not community anti-violence programs bring a lasting long-term effect, here or nationally.

But Charles Ransford, senior director of science and policy at Cure Violence Global, which launched in Chicago from 2000 to 2008 and now has programs going around the world, said the focus is ensuring that programs are set up well for success. 

What do they do?

The job description of a violence interrupter is more than just intervening when they spot a potential conflict. They must also build relationships within the neighborhood, especially with high-risk individuals, in order to keep track of ongoing situations that could potentially escalate. They operate separately from the police department and working too closely with them could risk a loss of credibility in the neighborhoods that they serve.

“They should not operate in hostility to law enforcement…but they need to operate almost autonomously,” said Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “If the neighborhood starts to think that these programs are in cahoots with law enforcement, the young people in the neighborhood will stop talking to the workers.”

National commitment and local comparison

Mr. Butts has researched the effectiveness of anti-violence programs across the United States. A study he was involved in in 2020 laid out strategies and practices to make such programs as effective as possible. “If someone’s being simplistic and they say ‘Does this work? Is it evidence-based?’ We’re not there yet,” he said. “There’s a lot more work to do, and there’s a reason why it’s harder to evaluate this model than it is either policing or social services.”

He said the Cure Violence model, on which Toledo’s program is based, is designed to change social norms and context at a neighborhood and community level, not an individual level. … “It’s harder to develop a statistical output that will show a difference because you need multiple sites, and you need to control all the characteristics at those sites,” he said.

[ read the Toledo Blade article ]