Community-Based Violence Interventions: Proven Strategies To Reduce Violent Crime
Across America, communities are struggling to combat rising gun violence. Although overall crime rates remain low, the sale of firearms and instances of gun homicides have caused violent crime to increase dramatically since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2019 to 2020, homicides increased a staggering 28 percent, and those homicides were largely driven by guns. This violence has especially harmed communities of color, who have been disproportionately affected by not only gun violence but also economic setbacks stemming from the pandemic.
In response to the rising rates of gun violence, many advocates and stakeholders are calling for community-based violence intervention (CVI) programs. These programs have proven successful in reducing gun violence and violent crime more broadly in communities over the past two decades—in some communities by as much as 60 percent. Despite proven effectiveness, CVI programs often do not have sufficient resources, making broader implementation efforts challenging. As interest around CVIs continues to grow, this fact sheet explains how CVI programs can help address gun violence and provide the necessary resources to communities most in need.
What are CVI programs and how are they structured?
CVI programs work to reduce homicides and shootings through trusted partnerships between community stakeholders, individuals most affected by gun violence, and government. These programs connect individuals most at risk of committing or experiencing violence—or both—with community members who have walked a similar path whom they trust or respect. Through trusted partnership with staff rooted in the communities they serve, CVI programs are able to identify the best services and resources to support alternative avenues to conflict resolution. Some of the most common models include:
- Hospital-based violence intervention programs are programs in which experts and community members connect with victims in trauma centers and emergency rooms so that they can engage survivors of violence immediately and prevent retaliation.
- Violence interrupters or street outreach programs are led by interventionists who live in the community and can build trusted relationships with participants due to their lived experience. The programs focus on building relationships, supporting survivors of violence, and implementing justice solutions that bring together those who have perpetrated and been victimized by gun violence to help fix the harms stemming from violent crime. These programs offer immediate crisis responses and also long-term support.
- Group violence intervention involves partnerships between trusted law enforcement, community stakeholders, and service providers. These programs identify those individuals most connected to cycles of violence and rely on law enforcement and credible community messengers to act as a deterrent to future involvement in group violence. The key component of this model is building trust and accountability between law enforcement and the communities they serve while providing support to individuals who are most at risk of violent crime.
- Community-driven crime prevention through environmental design programs are programs in which communities reduce crime and violence by using architecture and urban planning to create or restore public spaces where the community can gather and feel a sense of safety. Restoration of vacant lots and investing in a community’s physical environment has been proven to reduce crime and gun violence. When communities look safe, people feel safe.
CVIs are proven to reduce violent crime and gun violence
In recent years, as gun violence has driven up homicide rates and violent crime more broadly, CVI models have proven to be very effective in combating gun violence in the places they are implemented. Some examples include:
- Homicides and nonfatal shootings have been reduced by as much as 60 percent in areas where group violence intervention models have been implemented.
- Cities such as Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago have each implemented a Cure Violence program and have seen a more than 30 percent reduction in shootings and killings. In Oakland, California, CVI programs helped reduce the city’s gun violence by half over a seven-year period.
- Chicago’s CRED program, which combines street outreach, coaching and counseling, workforce development, and advocacy programs, also saw a 50 percent reduction in gunshot injuries among its participants in only 18 months after implementation.
CVIs address the disproportionate impacts of violence on communities of color and youth
Higher rates of incarceration—along with limited access to stabilizing resources such as housing, employment, education, and health care—have led to a disproportionate impact of gun violence on communities of color and young people:
- From 2016 to 2020, Black people represented 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet suffered 59 percent of gun homicides. Similarly, while young Hispanics represented 4 percent of the population, they accounted for 8 percent of gun homicides.
- Gun violence is now the leading cause of death among youth, and despite representing only 20 percent of the population, young people ages 15 to 29 suffered 48 percent of gun homicides.
- CVI programs address these disparities by focusing resources and support toward communities and individuals most affected by gun violence in order to address the root cause, rather than relying on carceral measures that ultimately exacerbate community safety issues.
- By reducing violence in the communities most affected, CVIs inherently break down these disparities for communities of color and young people.
President Joe Biden has allocated billions for violence prevention; Congress should do the same
As rates of gun violence have increased, so has support for successful community-centered programs. Federal, state, and local governments have been working to increase funding and resources to help implement more CVI programs. Examples include:
- For fiscal year 2023, the Biden administration has allocated $150 million to the U.S. Department of Justice for development, implementation, and evaluation of CVI programs.
- The American Rescue Plan Act includes funding that can be used to support CVI programs, and the administration recently announced that $10 billion of these funds have thus far been applied toward public safety and violence prevention efforts.
- Congress is debating the Break the Cycle of Violence Act, which would allocate $5 billion toward CVI programs over the next 10 years.
States and cities around the nation are implementing CVIs
Several states have also taken actions to support CVI implementation in their regions. For example:
- In 2021 alone, at least 15 states committed $690 million in funding to CVI efforts.
- Illinois and Pennsylvania have reserved $250 million and $24 million, respectively, for state resources to support violence intervention models.
- Chicago has pledged $85 million toward CVI programs over three years as part of their public safety efforts.
Community-based violence intervention programs are essential for combating the rise in gun violence and violent crime. Their models have not only proven to reduce rates of gun violence, but they are powerful resources in addressing the disproportionate impact of gun violence on communities of color and young people. If the United States is truly to address gun violence and violent crime, CVIs have to be part of the solution.
Read CAP's report on the use of CVIs as a tool to combat gun violence
Frequently Asked Questions About Community-Based Violence Intervention Programs
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Director, Criminal Justice Reform