Vera Institute of Justice on Biden-Harris Administration’s Strategy to Ensure Public Safety

Today the Biden-Harris Administration announced a federal strategy to address gun violence and violent crime. The plan features using American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding toward additional police officers at the state, local, territorial, and tribal government levels in addition to supporting Community Violence Intervention (CVI) programs, summer employment opportunities, and other community supports.

The Vera Institute of Justice issued the following response:

"The Biden-Harris administration’s public safety response features a misguided over-reliance on policing as a violence prevention strategy. While the plan rightfully gives guidance to use ARP funding toward CVI programs, the strategy falls short by focusing on increased funding for policing, instead of putting CVI programs front and center in the violence intervention response. In this country, we already spend $364 per capita on policing. Where we have invested in more community-based solutions to crime—like violence interruption and prevention—even an investment of $1-$2 per capita has led to a decline of 16% to 35% in gun violence.

The strategy also fails to recognize the stressors of COVID-19 beyond economic loss. Communities that are already under stress from years of disinvestment and systemic racism face widespread loss of life, debilitating illness, and loss of connections and relationships that keep violence at bay. These disruptions in relationships create deep aftershocks in the health of communities, which makes the current situation different from the economic recession in 2008 when gun violence rates did not increase.

Communities can implement highly individualized and targeted violence reduction strategies that recognize how social norms and peer networks influence behavior. These strategies use outreach, direct communication, and transformative relationships to engage, support, and address those at greatest risk of gun violence. Examples include:

  • A Crown Heights neighborhood in New York City served by Save Our Streets (a Cure Violence affiliate) experienced 20 percent less gun violence than adjacent communities.

  • A study in Chicago found a 31 percent drop in homicides and a 19 percent decline in shootings in two neighborhoods where violence interrupters worked.

  • Richmond, California’s Advance Peace program interrupts gun violence in American urban neighborhoods by providing transformational opportunities to young men involved in lethal firearm offenses and placing them in a high-touch, personalized fellowship—the Peacemaker Fellowship. As a result of these efforts, the city experienced a 66 percent reduction in firearm assaults causing injury or death from 2010 to 2017.

The pandemic laid bare chronic and systemic disinvestment in communities that are now being hit hardest by both the virus and increased violence. We need immediate solutions to address and stem the violence in the short term while also investing in longer-term solutions to build community resilience. That’s why Congress should swiftly approve the 5.2 billion dollars of funding marked for community-based violence strategies in the upcoming American Jobs Plan. Our focus should be on committing to proven, evidence-based solutions to prevent further gun violence."

The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and activists working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

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