The Center for Court Innovation’s Sarah Picard-Fritsche and Lenore Lebron recently completed an evaluation of Crown Heights “Save Our Streets” program, a gun violence reduction initiative. Aubrey Fox asked them to summarize findings from their research. Additional resources: listen to a podcast interview with the authors; read a press release about the evaluation.)
What are the main findings of the report?
The findings suggest that the community mobilization, outreach and conflict mediation efforts of the Save Our Streets staff contributed to a reduction in gun violence in Crown Heights over a nearly two-year study period. Specifically, we saw a downward trend in shooting incidence in Crown Heights while gun violence was increasing in several similar, adjacent neighborhoods and in Brooklyn as a whole. In short, had gun violence in Crown Heights mirrored trends in similar areas in Brooklyn during the months that the SOS program was active, gun violence in Crown Heights should have been 20 percent higher. Importantly, because we saw a similar increase between the comparison groups and Brooklyn as a whole, we were able to conclude that the different trend in Crown Heights was not the result of the “displacement” of violent crime to neighboring areas. We also found that a high proportion of Crown Heights residents were aware of the SOS program and many had participated in SOS community mobilization efforts including community wide anti-violence marches and targeted protests of specific shootings (known as “shooting responses”). Finally, results of a community-wide survey conducted once during the first three months of the Save Our Streets campaign and again 16 months later, suggests that SOS increased confidence among Crown Heights residents that community mobilization could have a real impact on gun violence.
Are the findings in line with previous evaluations of similar projects, such as the original one in Chicago?
The findings are in line with the 2008 evaluation of the original Chicago Cure Violence project (at the time known as “Chicago Ceasefire”) as well as a recent evaluation of a Cure Violence replication in Baltimore Maryland. Both of these studies employed a similar quasi-experimental research design and found statistically significant reductions in gun violence in neighborhoods targeted by Cure Violence programs.
You write that SOS “adhered closely to the Chicago model.” Why is that important?
One of the most controversial aspects of the Cure Violence approach is whether the program model can be successfully replicated since the patterns and motives for gun violence may vary greatly depending on local context. For example, the role of traditional street gangs in patterns of gun violence is likely different depending on whether you are in Chicago, Baltimore or New York. In order to demonstrate that the model is replicable (and therefore transcends its original context), model fidelity from city to city is crucial. Also, because it involves detailed tracking of program activities, fidelity to the model helps to ensure the sustained accountability of local programs to the central public health goal of reduced violence.
You write a lot about the role of the outreach worker. It seems like a unique position; can you describe how they carry out their work?
Outreach and conflict mediation work are at the heart of the Cure Violence model. According to the model, outreach staff must be able to gain the trust of individuals at high risk for being perpetrators or victims of gun violence and then carry a “credible message” of nonviolence to these individuals. Typically, the most credible messengers are others that participants readily identify with based on similar backgrounds and experiences, and who have turned their lives around and are able to acts as role models. Outreach workers are also trained, and frequently called upon, to act as mediators of spontaneous conflicts that may end in violence. Given the complex and sensitive nature of the work, it can be difficult to evaluate. Luckily, our research team had the opportunity to speak one on one with several outreach workers about their role. The staff emphasized the importance of discussing the very real consequences of violence with participants while also offering them credible alternatives to “the life,” including educational and job opportunities. They also discussed shifting between different roles with participants, at times acting as a friend, confidant, father figure, or mentor.
How did you carry out the study?
To assess the impact of the program on gun violence, we used a quasi-experimental research design in which we compared average monthly rates of gun violence in Crown Heights (77th precinct) with three pre-selected comparison areas, including parts of Bedford Stuyvesant (81st precinct), East Flatbush (67thprecinct), and Brownsville (73rd precinct), as well as the borough of Brooklyn as a whole. The comparison precincts were selected for their geographic proximity to Crown Heights as well as similarities in demographics and violent crime rates. Data for the analysis were derived from NYPD incident reports of fatal and nonfatal shootings in the four precincts. We used an analytical technique known as interrupted time series analysis to examine gun violence trends in each of the selected neighborhoods during the eighteen months prior to SOS implementation and the 21 months following implementation. A second analytical technique was used to detect significant differences in the violence trends between Crown Heights and each of the comparison areas during the post-SOS period. To examine the effect of the community-wide mobilization campaign on the perceptions of Crown Heights’ residents as a whole, a survey was conducted on a representative sample of residents during the first six months of mobilization efforts and again sixteen months later. The survey asked about opinions of street and gun violence as problem for Crown Heights, neighborhood safety, previous exposure to gun violence (i.e., how often do you hear gunshots in the neighborhood?), individual “norms” regarding gun possession and gang membership, and confidence in the capacity of the community to mobilize and prevent future gun violence.
One of the goals of the project is to modify community norms about violence. Why is this important?
Several previous studies have demonstrated that community norms are and important type of informal social control over individual behaviors. In other words, communities with a lower tolerance for violent behavior have lower violent crime rates, regardless of whether the average resident is involved in violent behavior. Violent crime may also be affected by community residents’ confidence that they can mobilize to address shared problems. Research shows that communities with greater confidence in their neighbors to confront violent crime have lower rates of violent crime. In Crown Heights, the community survey asked respondents whether they felt that carrying a gun or joining a gang was acceptable for self-protection. While results suggested that SOS did not have a substantial impact on norms regarding carrying a gun or joining a gang, they did demonstrate an increased confidence in community mobilization as an anti-violence strategy. Thus, the community-level goals of norm change were only partially achieved.
What are some of the questions about SOS that you weren’t able to answer in this report?
One of the most important outstanding questions relates to the outcome of individual conflict mediations conducted by SOS staff. Successful mediation is crucial to the impact of the Cure Violence model since the bulk of gun violence in target areas revolves around interpersonal conflicts between individuals or gangs known to outreach staff. While outreach workers report whether mediation efforts appear to have successfully resolved specific conflicts, it is difficult to confirm these judgments. In a similar vein, questions remain regarding the most powerful aspects of violence mediation and outreach work from the perspective of high-risk participants. Future research involving anonymous surveys with participants and further in-depth qualitative work with outreach workers would be very beneficial.
To download the study, click here.
To listen to a podcast interview with the authors, click here.
To read a press release about the findings, click here.