Authors of new research about gun violence in Brooklyn, New York, Sarah Picard-Fritsche and Lenore Lebron discuss findings on Save Our Streets (SOS) Crown Heights, an approach to gun violence prevention in the Crown Heights neighborhood. The new report, “Testing a Public Health Approach to Gun Violence,” details a comprehensive impact and process evaluation of Save Our Streets, which is based on the Cure Violence model that treats outbreaks of violence like epidemics of disease.
The following is a transcript of the podcast:
SARAH SCHWEIG: Hi, I'm Sarah Schweig of the Center for Court Innovation, and today I'm speaking with Sarah Picard-Fritsche and Lenore Cerniglia, authors of new research about gun violence in Brooklyn, New York, and an approach to preventing it in the Crown Heights neighborhood. The new report, Testing a Public Health Approach to Gun Violence, details a comprehensive impact and process evaluation of Save Our Streets Crown Heights, a program started in 2010. Save Our Streets is based on the Cure Violence model which treats outbreaks of violence like epidemics of disease, taking a public health approach similar to campaigns that have addressed risky behaviors such as smoking or not wearing seat belts. Thanks for speaking with me today and welcome. The Save Our Streets Crown Heights approach to stopping gun violence, known as the Cure Violence model, uses violence interrupters to prevent shootings before they happen. Can you speak a bit about the origins of the model and who these violence interrupters are, what their background is, and what violence interruption actually looks like in practice.
SARAH PICARD-FRITSCHE: The origins of the SOS model, the Save Our Streets model, it comes from Chicago. The first program of this type began in 1999 and it was designed by a public health scholar named Dr. Gary Slutkin, and essentially violence interrupters are just a piece of a multi-part model, but the violence interrupter's job is to go into a community where they are familiar with those folks who are at high risk of becoming perpetrators or victims of gun violence and work directly with those folks to try to come up with—to mediate the conflict and come up with alternatives to gun violence as a solution to the conflict.
SARAH SCHWEIG: Great, and where do they generally come from? How do they have that kind of expertise?
SARAH PICARD-FRITSCHE: Well they're considered, under the model, credible messengers. Essentially because they have a background that is either, they were gang involved or possibly perpetrators or victims of some kind of violence, if not gun violence in the past. Usually they're from the target community but if they're not, they are currently living in or are familiar with the target community. So that means that they, and so they’ve also sort of turned their lives around so they are able to talk with the folks that are currently involved in the violence about how to change. So they go out into the community, they find the folk that they knew before they turned their lives around, start talking to them, find out what the current conflicts are, go find the people that are involved in the conflicts, and try to work with them directly.
SARAH SCHWEIG: because this approach is about prevention, I would imagine that evaluation is kind of tricky in that you're trying to kind of gauge the amount of violence that was prevented by this approach. So what was your methodology like for this research and how did you get the numbers that suggest to you that Save Our Streets Crown Heights is really working?
SARAH PICARD-FRITSCHE: Well it is difficult to evaluate. I'm going to let Lenore speak about the impact evaluation, which is how we measure the reduction in gun violence in Crown Heights.
LENORE CERNIGLIA: So first of all, we used quasi-experimental design where we took the shooting numbers from the NYPD for fatal and non-fatal shootings for the Crown Heights precinct as well as adjacent precincts to Crown Heights that had similar demographics and crime numbers. And we took those numbers in addition to the shooting numbers from Brooklyn as a whole from a period of approximately 17 months prior to the start of SOS as well as 21 months following its implementation, to see if there are any changes as well as the trends that were going on. So our idea was, if we can look at what's going on in beforehand, as well as these similarly matched areas in Brooklyn as a whole, then we can see once Crown Heights has been going on for some times if these changes are also either reflected in these similar areas, or if crime was displaced from Crown Heights into these adjacent precincts.
SARAH SCHWEIG: Testing a Public Health Approach to Gun Violence gives the numbers that the average monthly shooting rates in Crown Heights decreased by 6 percent. In surrounding areas, shooting rates increased by 18-28 percent, and that suggests that gun violence in Crown Heights is about 20 percent lower than it would have been without Save Our Streets. Did the report considers whether violence was forced out of Crown Heights into the surrounding areas like you said, the displacement of violence?
LENORE CERNIGLIA: Yes, and we were able to test that by looking at the shooting numbers from Brooklyn as a whole, from the whole borough, and we found that the whole borough was going up at the same rates as these surroundings precincts as well, so Crown Heights was kind of that jewel that was actually decreasing while surrounding precincts, and the entire borough were increasing at much higher rates.
SARAH SCHWEIG: Right, places far away from Crown Heights. So the report also shows that over 100 potentially deadly conflicts were mediated by violence interrupters since 2010 and that violence interrupters mediated conflicts involving more than 1,300 people. It also showed that Save Our Streets increases residents’ confidence in the power of community to prevent gun violence. Why is the confidence of the residents so important in violence prevention?
SARAH PICARD-FRITSCHE: We have previous research which essentially shows that community level values and community confidence in the ability of their community to solve shared social problems has a very real impact on the actual. So, in the case of violence, the lower the tolerance at the community level for violence, the lower the violence, regardless of whether the average community member is involved in violence themselves. So it's basically a concept of collective efficacy. And what the norms of your community are affect what our individual behavior is gonna be. So in this project we found that there was a change, a statistically significant and substantial change in the way that a representative sample of residents in Crown Heights answered a question, the question being—How likely is it that community mobilization campaign to bring down violence would actually bring down violence? And many more people said that it would after the campaign than before the campaign.
SARAH SCHWEIG: Maybe one of you can talk just briefly about what a shooting response really looks like, and why that is so visible to community members.
SARAH PICARD-FRITSCHE: What they are is a targeted response to an actual shooting even that has happened, and it happens within 72 hours of the event. And typically they bring out folks who were close to the victim and other community members who are angry, upset, saddened about the levels of violence in the community. And they make, basically, a show of themselves. And the message is essentially, we won't tolerate this anymore. It's not just to remember the victim, but to let the folks know out there, that are involved in the violence that the community won't put up with it anymore.
LENORE CERNIGLIA: And they call it a vigil. A shooting vigil.
SARAH SCHWEIG: You know many factors, as I'm sure you guys know, affect violence levels in communities. Was it difficult to attribute decrease of violence in Crown Heights as opposed to other methods like stop and frisk?
LENORE CERNIGLIA: Well initially when we were first trying to figure out what precincts we were going to compare Crown Heights to, we made sure that we didn't pick any precincts that had other specific programs going on. Stop and frisk, and other NYPD policies are city-wide, so we would expect that they would be going on in Crown Heights as well as the surrounding precincts such as Bed-Stuy or East Flatbush. So we also made sure that we took time periods that wouldn't overlap with other prevention programs going on in that area. We did also look at arrest numbers for those precincts as well as for Crown Heights in that time period, to make sure that there weren't large round-ups of people being arrested, which would then possibly also drive down numbers, and we didn't find any significant changes over the time period that we were looking at.
SARAH PICARD-FRITSCHE: Right, so the arrest numbers were steady over the period. If they had done like some huge sting you would expect like a bunch of arrests and then a lower violence rate the next month. We didn't find that.
SARAH SCHWEIG: Why is it important to evaluate interventions like Save Our Streets and what can Save Our Streets, SOS itself take from this report moving forward, do you think?
SARAH PICARD-FRITSCHE: Well, as researchers, we think evaluation is the most important part of any program… <laughter> Um, you know, I think that in particular these programs, because they are multi-component and because they are community oriented, it's not like a laboratory where you can measure one mechanism that produces one result. There's a lot going on. And the folks on the ground in the program don't always know what's going on. So as researchers, we try to get a big picture and the way we build that picture is to do our best to measure every single component. I think the folks in the program can—and I actually went there last week and talked to them and told them they can be very proud of the work that they've done so far. They're actually quite data-oriented down there, so they're already kind of looking at where they can improve in the future. But I do think there are questions regarding the program, that more specific programs that would be great if we could answer. We don't know for sure when someone reports that a conflict is resolved that it actually is resolved.
LENORE CERNIGLIA: And I would just add, I think for Cure Violence as a whole, this shows that the model, when adhered to closely, can be replicated in an inner city with a dense population because it has been tried in Chicago and Baltimore and many other cities. So this just shows that you know, it could reach a different type of population and kind of area.
SARAH PICARD-FRITSCHE: Right. Every city is different so the more positive evaluations we get, the more confidence we have in the model as a whole.
SARAH SCHWEIG: Well it's been great speaking with you today. I'm Sarah Schweig and I've been speaking with researchers Sarah Picard-Fritsche and Lenore Cerniglia about gun violence prevention and the role communities can play in stopping conflict, as well as the importance of evaluating innovations like Save Our Streets. To find out more about the Center for Court Innovation, or to download the new report on Save Our Streets Crown Heights, visit our website at www.courtinnovation.org. Thanks for listening.