Community Violence Interventions—Not More Police—Are the Future of Public Safety

CVI programs safely and effectively reduce violence without relying on more police.
Nazish Dholakia Senior Writer // Daniela Gilbert Director, Redefining Public Safety
Sep 01, 2021

Gun violence is rising across the country—in big cities and rural communities, in red states and blue ones. Especially hard hit are Black communities and other communities of color that have experienced decades of disinvestment. But more policing isn’t the answer. Our overreliance on the tools of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration has harmed communities—and hasn’t made us safer.

So, what do real solutions look like?

Community violence intervention (CVI) programs focus on reducing homicides and shootings by establishing relationships with people at the center of gun violence in our communities. These programs support people at the highest risk of being victims or perpetrators—or both—of violence. CVI programs acknowledge the capacity of people to make different choices and pursue other avenues for addressing and resolving conflict. And they can save cities millions.

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) includes funding that can be used to invest in these programs, which take many forms:

  • Hospital-based violence interruption programs (HVIPs) reach survivors of violence in the hospital. Case managers and social service providers try to meet victims’ basic needs and support them, while also working to prevent retaliation.

The results: One analysis found that every dollar invested in an HVIP returned between $10.07 and $15.11 worth of benefits through reduced hospitalizations, reinjuries, and convictions.

  • Some programs involve police. Group violence interventions are collaborations among community leaders, social service providers, and law enforcement. With community input, law enforcement identifies those at the highest risk of violence, and partners intervene and provide support. These programs can increase police accountability and build trust between police and communities disproportionately harmed by the criminal legal system. Group violence interventions don’t rely on more police. At their best, they reengineer how police departments operate.

The results: Cities that have invested in group violence intervention strategies, including Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Stockton, California, have experienced declines of more than 30 percent in shootings that result in injuries.

  • Other approaches center community. They employ “violence interrupters” or “neighborhood change agents” who build relationships with people involved in violence and help them address conflict in nonviolent ways, like de-escalation and mediation. Also called peacekeepers, life coaches, or street outreach, they are from the communities where violence is occurring, and this shared lived experience makes them relatable to the people they work with. These leaders may also offer other forms of support, like helping people find housing or connecting them with education and employment opportunities.

The results: Community-based program Cure Violence runs in cities all over the world. Neighborhoods in cities including Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia that have adopted the Cure Violence model have seen shootings and killings decrease by more than 30 percent. Advance Peace has programs in Richmond, Stockton, and Sacramento, California, and will launch one in New York City in fall 2021. In Sacramento, the program reduced homicides and nonfatal injury shootings by 20 percent from January 2018 to December 2019. For every $1 spent on Advance Peace, Sacramento saved between $18 and $41 across emergency response, health care, and law enforcement, as well as other parts of the criminal legal system.

The term “CVI” refers specifically to programs and strategies working to reduce homicides and shootings that occur in our streets. It’s important to note that there are many forms of violence that CVIs don’t focus on—including gender-based violence, sexual violence, child abuse, domestic violence, and police violence. These too demand investment and recognition.

Many cities are using ARP funds to invest in CVI programs. San Jose started a new one, while Austin, Detroit, and Seattle expanded their existing programs. New York City, St. Louis, and Washington, DC, have all committed to expanding ongoing programs and creating new ones.

Still, police department budgets remain at all-time highs. It’s time for cities to invest instead in community-based solutions to gun violence—like CVI programs—that have been proven to work.

Learn more: Community Violence Intervention Programs, Explained