National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention: Report 1

A) Site Profiles

Initiated by the White House and announced in 2010, the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention draws upon the leadership and resources of the federal government to help designated cities combat violence among juveniles and other young people. The National Forum brings together several departments of the federal government, including Justice, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The efforts of these federal agencies support the development and implementation of youth violence prevention initiatives in selected U.S. communities. Currently, the National Forum is supporting efforts in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Memphis, as well as Salinas and San Jose, California.

Boston, Massachusetts

The City of Boston came to the National Forum with a national reputation for community collaborations that reduce youth violence. City officials saw participation in the Forum as an opportunity to enhance their approaches for sharing information, recording data about threats to public safety, and analyzing measurable outcomes to improve safety. The planning team in Boston included a number of institutions, including the Office of the Mayor, the Boston Police Department (BPD), the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), Boston Public Schools (BPS), the Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF), and members of the city’s faith community.

Other key assets for planning new approaches included the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), a centralized data and communications system managed by BPD that informs partner agencies throughout Boston about critical incidents and emerging crime trends, and Boston About Results (BAR), a centralized performance measurement system that produces regular information about outcomes of various programs to improve safety and reduce violence.

Boston’s history of pursuing and implementing initiatives to reduce violence helped bring the city to the attention of the Forum. For example, Boston Community Centers (BCC) arose out of a movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s to push the local government to create space for a wide range of community activities. In 1996, Boston launched one of its most publicized efforts, the Boston Gun Project also known as Operation Ceasefire. That initiative was a collaborative effort between city officials, law enforcement, and members of the community to reduce the volume of shootings around Boston.

In 2001, Mayor Menino merged the Office of Community Partnership, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and BCC to create BCYF. The city extended the initiative to include the BCYF Streetworker program in 1990 as a violence prevention program that employs street outreach work, community engagement and inter-agency collaboration to meet its goals. The city government houses and funds the program to target at-risk youth and their families.

Prior to the city’s participation in the National Forum, Boston had already implemented several inter-organizational collaborations. The city administration worked to foster relationships between multiple law enforcement agencies, community members, the school system, and various legal, faith-based, and non-profit groups to achieve the city’s goal of preventing youth and gang violence. According to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, the collaborations resulted in aggressive enforcement strategies that targeted the most violent offenders (Partnerships Advancing Communities Together), the establishment of reintegration services for the highest risk offenders (Boston Reentry Initiative), a school-based strategy for enhancing student achievement (Circle of Promise), after school programming for youth (Community Learning Initiative), and a multi-disciplinary data-driven approach to target gang-related youth gun violence in known hot spots (Shannon Grant Community Safety Initiative).

As of 2011, Boston was one of several cites in the federal Defending Childhood Initiative, which seeks to harness federal resources to develop knowledge and raise awareness about youth violence, prevent children’s exposure to violence, and mitigate the negative impacts of youth exposure to violence. The BPHC was coordinating the initiative in Boston and working with the National Forum efforts, especially as they relate to trauma and the cycle of violence.

The National Forum motivated Boston to build on its prior achievements. City officials created goals for enhancing communication and information sharing, promoting community-wide participation in the efforts to reduce youth violence, and expanding evidence-based and data-driven efforts. Through the city’s partnerships in the National Forum, Boston officials shared the inner workings of these violence prevention strategies with other sites.

Boston’s involvement in the National Forum had the most noticeable impact on participant morale. Stakeholders and city officials assert that the Forum created a new energy and brought hope to the youth violence situation in the community. According to Boston’s Comprehensive Plan, the Forum enhanced the city’s collaborative capacity and brought together professional resources and natural support systems that are crucial to reversing a young person’s involvement in gang and violent activity. As of 2012, the city was planning to implement a number of additional strategies including greater opportunities for youth, risk assessments, marketing campaigns, and enhanced community policing networks.

Chicago, Illinois

Violent crime in Chicago is at a nearly 30-year low, yet the city’s rate of violence is still staggering. In 2011, 433 people in Chicago were murdered. Violence is particularly devastating for Chicago’s youth. In 2010, 1,109 school-aged youth were shot, and 216 of those were killed. Nearly half of Chicago’s homicide victims are young people between the ages of 10 and 25.

Chicago’s communities and public officials are working to reduce violence using multi-disciplinary approaches. In 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle initiated a cross-agency, cross-sector effort to address violence throughout the Chicago region. The partnership includes 50 leaders from government, the faith community, business, media, foundations, research, and the broader community including neighborhood leadership. The partnership addresses the factors underlying youth violence through the range of methods promulgated by the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention (prevention, intervention, enforcement, and reentry). The immediate objective is to stop violent offenders, but the long-term strategy is to prevent violence through community building.

The Chicago partnership has resulted in a number of initiatives that seek to reduce youth and gang violence. In four police districts, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) is administering a version of the gun violence reduction program implemented in Boston in the 1990s (i.e., Operation Ceasefire) in which law enforcement and communities work together to build community cohesion and to persuade potentially violent offenders that the violence must stop or they will face targeted enforcement and swift penalties. This approach is supported by the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and it has been found to be effective in recent evaluation research.

The city is also launching a Youth Shooting Review project, based on a Milwaukee model that brings together government and non-profit personnel to analyze the factors that contribute to specific youth shootings. The review panel uses the findings to recommend interventions to prevent retaliation shootings.

Chicago is implementing several other intervention strategies designed to enhance the efforts of law enforcement. One Summer Chicago connects youth with summer activities and seasonal employment to keep them out of trouble. Using the concepts of Social Emotional Learning, the city is supporting an initiative to help youth to learn how to manage their emotions and enhance their interpersonal skills. A Safe Passage project is providing volunteer “community watchers” to offer protection for young students on their way to and from school. Chicago Public Schools currently oversees Safe Passage projects in 35 high schools in high-crime areas.

City officials have also instituted programs for adolescents in Chicago to reduce the risk of involvement in violent behavior. The Gang School Safety Team is a group of police officers who respond to incidents of violence in the community or schools by speaking with all the youth who may be affiliated with the incident. The intervention intends to reduce retaliations, and according to one officer, there has been no retaliatory violence following a Gang School Safety Team intervention. CPD launched SAFE Communities to build collaborative networks among community stakeholders and enhance public order in neighborhoods plagued by gang activity, drug dealing, and street violence. The Office of Violence Prevention, housed within the Chicago Department of Public Health, leads Chicago Safe Start, a program that seeks to reduce the negative impact of violence on youth. Chicago Safe Start helps to raise awareness of and education about youth exposure to violence, as well as expanding services for youth and families.

Chicago’s reentry initiatives consist of Jail Alternatives and Diversion and Aftercare services. Cook County utilizes jail alternatives to keep youth from committing future crimes. Youth awaiting trial or serving probation have the option of reporting to a center for participation in high school education courses and other structured activities rather than serving jail time. The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice oversees aftercare implementation in Cook County and collaborates with families and other community members involved in the well-being of the youth to create a plan for service. Aftercare targets youth leaving Illinois Youth Centers and returning to their communities as well as youth in need of mental health or substance abuse treatment.

Detroit, Michigan

The City of Detroit faces a number of daunting challenges in addition to youth violence, including high levels of poverty and unemployment, low youth educational achievement, and a shrinking city population that is hollowing out communities. Through its participation in the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, Detroit is increasing its coordination of available resources to take on these serious challenges.

Beginning in 2008, Detroit officials began implementation of the city’s Action Plan, which consisted of the Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative and the Comprehensive Violence Reduction Program in areas with above average youth violence. The intent was to mobilize each community’s existing assets to instigate a change that could create a positive, domino-like effect on surrounding neighborhoods.

When the city became a participant in the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention in 2010, the Detroit Mayor’s Office initiated a collaboration to bolster youth violence prevention efforts.  The collaborating agencies and individuals included the Detroit Police Department, the Health and Wellness Promotion DepartmentCommunity Access Centers, community leaders and non-profit organizations, advocacy groups, juvenile justice system representatives, and adults and youth from the communities most affected by violence.

Through the development its expanded violence reduction strategies, Detroit seeks to create a multi-dimensional, integrated, and coordinated approach to reducing youth violence that builds on the strengths of existing programs and improves the overall quality of life for Detroit families and neighborhoods.

Saul A. Green, former deputy mayor of Detroit and a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, chairs a steering committee that guides the implementation of Detroit’s Action Plan and includes participation by youth as well as city council members and leaders from law enforcement, workforce development, philanthropy, community-based organizations, public health, faith-based groups, and education.  A team of representatives from the Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, the police department, and the Skillman Foundation work together with Data Driven Detroit, an independent data center that promotes positive community development by tracking neighborhood-level indicators of change, allowing communities access to data, and improving analysis capacity.

Detroit’s Action Plan revolves around the idea that imprisoning large numbers of young offenders will never address the factors that give rise to community violence and incarceration cannot rebuild dilapidated neighborhoods or restore neighborhoods. Several existing initiatives served as a foundation for the city’s new strategies developed under the National Forum. Existing initiatives include comprehensive violence reduction programs, anti-gang initiatives, school improvement and high school dropout reduction plans, long-term city and community development programs, community resident volunteer programs, and funding opportunities for resident-led neighborhood improvements.

The Action Plan has four main components.

(1) The Safe Routes program recruits community volunteers and patrol groups to escort youth to and from school safely.

(2) Operation Safe Passages is a structured and supportive environment for students to complete their suspensions and expulsions in school with access to counseling, restorative programs and health services.

(3) Detroit is also working to incorporate the focused deterrence strategies that evolved from Boston’s Operation Ceasefire and that are now supported by the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and winning the endorsement of rigorous research.

(4) Finally, Detroit’s Summer Strategy program provides summer jobs for youth and could expand to allow for year-round employment opportunities, life skills training, and safe opportunities for youth.

In addition to these four components and the key elements promulgated by the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, Detroit’s Action Plan specifies the development of safe recreational opportunities for youth, expanded access to services and resources, implementation of new anti-gang strategies, and increased restorative practices that repair the harm resulting from crime.  The city is also publicizing its efforts through aggressive marketing strategies. Some short-term objectives for these new strategies include doubling the number of youth served in Summer Youth Employment programs and demolishing vacant homes in dangerous neighborhoods. The long-term goal is to improve the quality of life for all residents of Detroit.

Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis had some of the highest rates of youth and violent crime in the United States through 2006. The excessive crime and violence motivated city leaders to develop a collective, data-driven and evidence-based response to the problem. Elected officials, law enforcement superiors, academics, and business managers organized the initial plan to reduce crime across Memphis and requested input from faith-based leaders, educators, service providers, community-based groups, youth, and parents from the community.

The committee crafted the first incarnation of Operation: Safe Community (OSC) — a 15-point plan that incorporated intervention, enforcement, and reentry strategies — in 2006. This plan was in effect until 2011 when it was revamped and the second incarnation was launched. The new OSC plan focuses on prevention, intervention, enforcement and reentry strategies in a more comprehensive way than the first plan and will span 2012 through 2016. It includes the goal of reducing youth violence by 25 percent, as well as reducing youth crime overall.

In order to achieve this goal, the plan calls for a community-wide commitment to positive youth development, strong families, improved educational achievement and job readiness, fewer teenage pregnancies, and less youth exposure to violence. Working toward these goals collectively will enable Memphis to become a strong community that fosters lifelong success. Because of this work toward violence prevention and the city’s record of strong leadership, the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention asked Memphis to be a participating city.

The prevention component of OSC seeks to address the factors that may be conducive to youth violence, including mental health, prior experiences with violence, poverty, and poor education. Prevention strategies intend to increase the participation of at-risk families in parenting skills programs. Memphis’s plan hopes to strengthen community networks that will enable community-based organizations to offer services such as education and vocational support, mentoring, and after-school activities, as well as programs geared toward the improvement of family relations.

The intervention plan targets the highest risk youth and help them to develop positive behaviors. The plan calls for the expansion and utilization of multi-disciplinary intervention teams that collaborate in serving high risk youth. The city also hopes to augment its system of graduated youth sanctions and combine them with rehabilitation. OSC includes an enforcement component aimed at deterring crime through the utilization of data-driven policing.

In its enforcement plan, Memphis seeks to enable local law enforcement and courts to refer youth to appropriate intervention programs and allow serious and violent youth offenders to serve their sentences in a rehabilitation facility.

Finally, the reentry component aspires to help youth become productive members of their communities by enhancing opportunities for educational growth and employment, offering intensive case management for youth returning to the community, and expanding the network of community-based services for reentering youth.

OSC has demonstrated signs of success, but there is still much work to be done to effectively address the problem of youth and gang violence in Memphis. Between 2006 and 2010, serious crime declined more than 26 percent in Memphis. However, youth remain highly involved in acts of violence as more than half of those arrested for a violent crime in 2009 were 24 years old or younger. Although serious crime has decreased in Memphis, the number of identified gang members increased more than 23 percent.

One factor that often affects youth crime and gang associations is poverty, which is a considerable problem in Memphis. There are close to 160,000 children that live in poverty in the city. The efforts of Memphis have produced indications of positive change, but much work remains as the city continues to implement youth violence prevention and reduction strategies.

Salinas, California

Salinas, which is located on the coast of central California, became involved in the National Forum in part for its gang problems and in part for its response to gang and youth violence. According to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, Salinas has endured gang violence for more than 50 years. Local law enforcement reports indicate that the city is home to approximately 3,000 gang members and associates.

In 2009, government officials, law enforcement officers, educators, and non-profit personnel formed the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP) to respond to gang violence and improve community safety. CASP coordinates the efforts of multiple agencies and is based on best practice research, models from high-risk communities, and input from community stakeholders. Through its Comprehensive Plan, CASP addresses six problem areas: 1) social and economic conditions; 2) engaging and supervising youth; 3) environmental design and urban planning; 4) law enforcement; 5) education and schools; and 6) the impact of drugs and alcohol.

The city’s plan to reduce and prevent youth and gang violence includes four key components. The first component is centralization. There are multiple organizations in Salinas working toward a common goal, and organization is essential to coordinating the city’s efforts and maximizing its resources. In 2010, Salinas and Monterey County created the Interagency Committee to review organizational structures and offer recommendations.

The second component is the use of data and evidence-based strategies to direct the Salinas strategies. City stakeholders conducted listening sessions with community residents, created a logic model to map possible causes and solutions to community violence, and drew on best practice research during the development of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

The third component is adherence to a youth-centered approach. Because youth are the perpetrators or victims in many instances of violence, the Salinas strategies seek to address the unique needs not only of each youth, but of their families and environments as well.

The final component is community involvement. The active participation and engagement of community members is critical to the creation and implementation of the strategies because violence reduction and prevention are community-wide efforts.

City stakeholders saw participation in the National Forum as an opportunity to address the youth and gang violence problem more broadly, to build on its existing violence reduction strategies, and to learn from the best practices of other cities.

In its Comprehensive Plan, Salinas identifies the strategies proposed by the National Forum: prevention, intervention, enforcement, and reentry. These strategies are intended to improve the long-term prospects for integration of at-risk and justice system-involved youth so that they are able to return to their families and communities as productive citizens.

The Comprehensive Plan also indicates that Salinas has enhanced collaboration between city and county organizations, and agencies are sharing resources through the guidance of CASP. Collaboration within city and county agencies and information sharing between participating cities are primary objectives of the National Forum. It appears that organizations and stakeholders in Salinas have made considerable advancements to expand the city’s collaborative approach to violence reduction.

The Comprehensive Plan discusses evaluation procedures and statistical analyses that will assess the impact of prevention, intervention, suppression, and reentry programs. Researchers will document the progress of the Salinas strategies and collect survey data from community members to assess their perceptions of the city’s strategies on violence reduction and the general state of the community. Salinas plans to utilize the results to further improve its violence reduction strategies in an ongoing effort to enhance community safety and well-being.

San Jose, California

San Jose has developed and implemented initiatives to reduce gang and youth violence in and around the city since 1991. In 2008 the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force created Action Collaboration Transformation (ACT), the San Jose community’s plan to prevent and reduce violence. The Mayor’s Office, the San Jose Police Department, Santa Clara County and the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services were a few of the agencies that formulated the ACT Strategic Work Plan along with input from more than 1,200 community members.

The mission of ACT is to ensure a safe environment in which youth can achieve their dreams and succeed in their home, school, and community. ACT calls for a community-wide collaboration of youth and community residents, local and state government representatives, community and faith-based groups, educators and school administrators, and law enforcement. The goals of ACT are to enhance collaboration and partnerships, improve reentry services, increase public awareness about violence and violence prevention, and expand crisis response and service delivery across the city.

Relationships between stakeholders and city agencies have been crucial in sustaining the city’s violence reduction initiatives through two decades, four mayors, and six police chiefs. Agencies inevitably compete for scarce city resources, but stakeholders in San Jose have learned to share and work together for the greater good of the city.

Collaboration has been one of the greatest assets of the San Jose initiatives because it has increased the efficiency of city agencies and eliminated the duplication of resources. Stakeholders in San Jose are involved in a number of youth-oriented endeavors that seek to address the factors underlying gang involvement and youth violence, including their housing situation, physical and mental health, relationships with their families, educational situation, and skill set.

Available programs for youth in San Jose consist of mentoring and role modeling, education, volunteer activities, job training, exercise and wellness programs, substance abuse counseling, art and poetry courses, and other social activities intended to keep youth busy and enhance their lives.

The Gang Prevention Task Force recognizes the importance of community involvement in the lives of troubled youth. Arrest and incarceration can be detrimental to a youth’s future, fail to improve community safety in the long-term, and disproportionately impact lower class and minority youth. ACT seeks to strengthen the tie between youth and the community and establishes opportunities for youth to participate in and contribute to their neighborhoods, schools, and community-based organizations. The faith-based community in San Jose has become a valuable contributor to the city’s initiatives, volunteering time and resources to reach youth in a way that often transcends religion.

San Jose’s strategic plan to reduce gang violence has achieved measurable success. The number of gang-related homicides has decreased each year since the city implemented ACT in 2008. In 2010, the city recorded only six gang-related homicides, the lowest number in a decade. For its persistent and successful efforts toward reducing youth violence, the federal government invited San Jose to participate in the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention in order to learn from and share its efforts with other participating cities.

The city has arranged for an annual evaluation of its programs. The results of the evaluation will offer insight into methods for improving the city’s strategies. Stakeholders in San Jose recognize that the city’s efforts to prevent and reduce youth and gang violence need to be dynamic and require continual revision to meet to the evolving needs of youth residents and the community at-large.

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Surveys of Participants

bluebutton_readThe six cities designated groups of professionals and community residents to answer online surveys about the status of violence prevention activities. Researchers are using the surveys to assess the implementation of the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention.

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