Evaluating Community-Level Solutions for Gun Violence

 The Safe Streets team walks past the Freddie Gray Wall at Mount and Presbury Streets in Sandtown.

The Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy (VRS) combines collective accountability and provision of social services to deliver antiviolence messages to street groups at high risk for involvement in shootings. “Credible messengers”—former members of the street groups—collaborate with law enforcement to implore group members to stop the violence and present the severe consequences they will face if they don’t. The goal is to better broadcast community-wide standards against violence, provide services to group members, and use targeted enforcement to deter violence.

Our evaluation found that VRS was associated with a 23 percent reduction in overall shooting patterns and a 32 percent reduction in shooting victimization among participating groups. But surveys and interviews with street group members and criminal justice stakeholders revealed a more complex story: high levels of mutual mistrust between law enforcement and community members.

The Chicago VRS evaluation is one of several Urban Institute projects illustrating solutions that can capably address gun violence, as well as illuminating facilitators and barriers to effectiveness. Others, like the Los Angeles Gang Reduction and Youth Development program, have reinforced the importance of a comprehensive and coordinated approach.

Photo by Andre Chung for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Combining focused deterrence, community moral suasion, and social services provision, the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy (VRS) identified and delivered an antiviolence message to street groups at high risk for both committing and being victims of shootings. VRS was associated with a 23 percent reduction in overall shooting patterns and a 32 percent reduction in shooting victimization for groups treated by VRS, relative to comparison groups matched using a propensity score design. Group members in VRS treatment areas reported improvements in their perceptions of neighborhood safety in surveys, relative to group members in comparison areas. However, high levels of mutual mistrust between law enforcement, community residents, and group members pose a challenge to sustained violence-reduction success.

Put the Guns Down

The Los Angeles Mayor’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) program works to reduce gang violence by providing prevention and intervention services concentrated in 12 zones. The fourth year of the GRYD evaluation examined program dosage, client and family experiences, program impact on youth risk factors for joining a gang, and community-level impacts on gang crime and violence. GRYD engaged youth with serious risk factors in intensive programming, and risk factors for GRYD Prevention clients declined. There was mixed evidence regarding whether the GRYD Zones “outperformed” comparison areas in reducing gang violence and crime.

Evaluation of the Los Angeles Gang Reduction and Youth Development Program: Year 4 Evaluation Report

Gun violence inflicts a devastating toll on communities of color, but the justice system response to this violence frequently destabilizes neighborhoods and damages police-community relations. To develop a better response, the Urban Institute, Joyce Foundation, and Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies convened more than 100 people from communities affected by violence. We learned that violence prevention demands a holistic set of solutions. Limiting access to firearms is part of the solution, but a comprehensive strategy will also require improving police-community relations, investing in community services, and facilitating community leadership in violence prevention efforts.

Related brief:
Federal Actions to Engage Communities in Reducing Gun Violence: Recommendations from the Engaging Communities Report

Engaging Communities in Reducing Gun Violence: A Road Map for Safer Communities