Research Brief 2015-04

Perceptions of Violence in Harlem

button_downloadpfby Sheyla A. Delgado, Jeffrey A. Butts, and Marissa Mandala
Research & Evaluation Center
June 2015

Funding support for this research brief was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the New York City Council. The authors are grateful for the cooperation and support of the hundreds of New York City residents who participated in the surveys on which this research brief is based. Points of view or opinions contained within this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of John Jay College, the City University of New York, or the organizations that fund their research projects.


Sample (click to enlarge)

The Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice is assessing New York City’s violence reduction efforts. One element in the project involves in-person surveys with young men (ages 18-30) in various neighborhoods implementing the Cure Violence strategy. The survey relies on Respondent-Driven Sampling (RDS) methods (2014, N=182; 2015, N=195).

This research brief presents results from one of the first neighborhoods to be involved in the study. The results depict the respondents’ personal attitudes toward violence and their experiences with violence, as well as their awareness of local violence prevention efforts and their confidence in police and local agencies.

Additional surveys will be conducted in 2016 in multiple neighborhoods around New York City in an effort to detect changes throughout the study period. See the Research and Evaluation Center’s website for additional information.


This study’s main goal was to measure changes in violent norms and attitudes in specific areas of New York City. The survey measured each respondent’s willingness to use violence in 17 hypothetical confrontation scenarios that ranged from minor to severe provocations. An index (or a composite score) was created from all 17 scenarios.

The possible responses in each scenario were assigned a value from one to five, ranked in order of severity. An “ignore” response received the lowest score while “react verbally” or “react physically” received higher scores. The most violent responses, “pull a weapon” and “use a weapon” received the highest scores overall.

Survey respondents ranked the scenarios involving the need for protection (e.g., being physically attacked at a party or witnessing a friend being physically attacked) as warranting the most violent reactions. The five provocations eliciting the most severe responses all involved an element of past or present physical threat.

After the scenarios presenting physical threats, respondents ranked the most serious provocations as those involving property disputes, disrespect, and competition over intimate partners, in that order.


Young men in Harlem report somewhat greater confidence in law enforcement to help with neighborhood violence (43% in 2015 versus 37% in 2014), but they are no more willing to contact police in the event of violence (53% vs. 55%). Exposure to gun violence decreased slightly between 2014 and 2015, with fewer respondents having seen guns in their neighborhood (36% vs. 41%), but more than 80 percent of young men in both 2014 and 2015 reported hearing gunfire in their neighborhood.

Awareness of the public messaging efforts of Cure Violence in Harlem remained high (more than 80% in both years), but recognition of Cure Violence staff members fell sharply (from 53% to 17%). This was likely because the 2014 survey included five photographs of staff members, but researchers in 2015 could only obtain two staff photographs from the Harlem program.

When respondents in Harlem were asked a series of questions designed to measure their support for interpersonal violence in confrontational situations, they were slightly but consistently less likely to see violence as an appropriate response to conflict. None of the indices, however, fell more than 5 percent between 2014 and 2015.