Sheyla Delgado, Laura Negredo, Popy Begum, Michelle Cubellis, Alana Henninger, Douglas Evans, Kathy Tomberg, and Jeffrey Butts
August 1, 2013
A project funded by the New York City Council
In September 2011, the New York City Council created the Task Force to Combat Gun Violence as a response to a series of shootings around New York City. Despite having one of the lowest murder rates among major U.S. cities, gun violence continues to be a serious problem in New York City. More than 1,000 city residents are shot each year and 300 victims of shootings die as a result of these incidents. The Task Force was a central component in New York City’s strategy to reduce gun violence by preventing shootings among the individuals most likely to engage in violent behavior and to reduce the violent escalation that often result from initial acts of violence.
The Task Force to Combat Gun Violence used data on shooting incidents obtained from the New York Police Department (NYPD) as its primary measure of gun violence in the city. Several other measures were considered, including number of homicides, shots fired, and gun arrests, but Task Force members determined that the incidence of shootings was the most specific and reliable measure. A subsequent analysis of shooting data revealed several trends in New York City gun violence. First, the number of fatal and non-fatal shooting incidents remains high despite the celebrated crime decline in New York. Second, shooting incidents tend to be concentrated in a small number of neighborhoods. Out of 76 police precincts in the city, 44 percent of all shooting incidents occur in just 15 precincts and 82 percent of all incidents are confined to 40 precincts. As is typical in all neighborhoods where gun violence is a frequent problem, shootings are concentrated among young men between the ages of 14 and 24 years old. These facts led the Task Force to recommend that New York City’s gun violence reduction effort should focus on selected neighborhoods and population groups rather than pursuing a more generalized city-wide effort. In its December 2012 report, the Task Force recommended the initiation of a multi-agency and multi-disciplinary “crisis management system.”
The Crisis Management System
The new crisis management system is designed to provide an immediate, coordinated response to gun violence that aids in victim and community recovery while preventing future violence. The system was piloted in one neighborhood in each of New York City’s five boroughs – East New York, Brooklyn, South Bronx, South Jamaica, Queens, North Harlem, Manhattan, and North Staten Island, although Staten Island began one year later than the other boroughs. This report addresses the implementation of the initiative in the first four neighborhoods and it describes the planning process underway in Staten Island.
The Task Force recommended that each of the pilot neighborhoods build its efforts around the Cure Violence model of gun violence reduction (formerly known as Chicago CeaseFire). Cure Violence utilizes a public health approach that considers gun violence as analogous to a communicable disease that passes from person to person when left untreated. According to Cure Violence, gun violence is most effectively reduced by changing the behavior of individuals at risk to participate in gun violence and by working to change the community norms that support and perpetuate gun violence.
In a Cure Violence program, staff members recruited for their street credibility (often former offenders and formerly incarcerated persons) work with at-risk youth in the neighborhood to mediate disputes, to prevent the escalating violence that often follows shootings, to connect youth with supportive services and opportunities, and to help youth develop the skills and resilience necessary to avoid violence in the future.
The New York City Council Task Force recommended that neighborhoods supplement the Cure Violence model with additional services and interventions. For example, pilot communities were expected to provide mental health services for youth at risk for violence. Other therapeutic services were to be available for the victims of gun violence and all community members affected by gun violence.
In addition, pilot communities were asked to ensure easy access to legal services for at-risk youth and their families as they navigate governmental services and to encourage people to participate in violence investigations. Legal Aid was invited to provide services that could help youth and their families already entangled in the justice system, but also to assist families in getting connected to government services, including health, childcare, and income support. Families might also need help with housing obstacles, access to schools, and immigration issues.
Legal professionals were asked to educate service providers and community members concerning the criminal consequences of violent behavior and to provide advice as to how to interact with law enforcement. The City hoped that legal services would help individuals with knowledge of shootings to know their rights and to participate in law enforcement investigations even if they had previous criminal justice involvement themselves. The Task Force believed that neighborhood residents might be more willing to speak with law enforcement if they had access to legal support.
The Task Force also suggested that job readiness and job training programs aimed at high-risk youth be created to teach soft job skills (e.g., interviewing, fitting in to workplace culture), as well as provide opportunities in specific skills training and educational placement. The Justice Community Plus Program, for example, was enlisted to provide a full range of workforce services, including an internship with a community project to organize young neighborhood residents who work improve their community and to have the community see them in a positive light.
Finally, the Task Force recommended that the pilot sites implement school-based conflict mediation programs in neighborhood schools that could teach strategies for diffusing conflict and preventing retaliatory violence.
Due to the diversity of services being provided, the City’s strategy required coordination among a range of providers and a flexible structure of agency relationships. The Cure Violence programs served as the central focus, coordinating meetings and facilitating communication among all parties. The Cure Violence program was also responsible for providing referrals to other service providers so that participants would have access to the services needed to avoid violence.
Each of the pilot communities participating in New York City’s gun violence reduction effort followed the general guidelines proposed in the crisis management system, but each community also developed and implemented its own strategy. At least partly for this reason, the City Council funded a research team to follow the implementation of the strategy in each neighborhood and to assess its effectiveness. Researchers from the Research & Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice visited the first four of the boroughs to implement the crisis management system: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. In each community, researchers interviewed program leaders, agency officials, and community partners. The team also reviewed available documents and websites about each pilot site. Finally, the researchers spoke with City officials involved in the design and launch of the crisis management system.
Read about the implementation approach followed by each community as it developed or enhanced its Cure Violence program and as it built out the various components of the New York City crisis management system.