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A key Philly gun violence prevention program is struggling to meet basic goals, new report says

A new set of city-commissioned reports say the Community Crisis Intervention Program is failing to properly train and empower staffers and struggling to achieve basic goals.

A Philadelphia Police Crime Scene investigator places evidence markers outside a unit at the West Poplar Apartments along North 13th and Wallace Streets after a male was fatally shot on Monday, September 26, 2022.
A Philadelphia Police Crime Scene investigator places evidence markers outside a unit at the West Poplar Apartments along North 13th and Wallace Streets after a male was fatally shot on Monday, September 26, 2022.Read moreYong Kim / Staff Photographer

One of Philadelphia’s key community-based anti-violence programs is disorganized, failing to properly train and empower staffers, struggling to achieve basic goals, and not ready to be evaluated on whether its efforts are meaningfully reducing the city’s gun violence.

That’s according to a set of new reports commissioned by the city’s Office of Violence Prevention, which funds and oversees the Community Crisis Intervention Program (CCIP), an initiative in which community members known as credible messengers seek to develop positive relationships with people at risk of shooting someone or getting shot. Last year, CCIP received $5.3 million in city funds.

The reports were quietly posted on a city website last month, and are blunt in their assessment of CCIP’s weaknesses. While noting that many staffers are dedicated to doing difficult work in a time of crisis, the reports say CCIP lacks a program director, has a staff that is often demoralized or at odds with one another, has not established connections with important community stakeholders, and has conducted few hospital interventions with gunshot victims or street mediations with gangs or groups believed to be connected to shootings.

It said CCIP’s practices are “inconsistent” and that some of the tasks it considers central to its mission “do not appear to be common in practice.”

» READ MORE: Philly’s gun-violence spending is surging, but many funded programs lack clear goals to show progress

Erica Atwood, the city’s senior director for criminal justice and public safety, acknowledged in an interview that the reports pointed out some fundamental shortcomings. But she said she viewed the assessment as an opportunity to improve CCIP and actually expand it — correcting flaws identified in the reports by adding things like a director, more qualified staff members, and better training for a program she still views as an essential undertaking.

“I read it as: ‘We’ve got to do better. We’ve got to make changes. These are the changes we need to make, and we need to make them ASAP,’ ” Atwood said. “This work is way too important for us to kind of be lagging and dragging.”

The reports were the latest in a series of critical assessments of the city’s efforts to successfully implement community-based anti-violence programming amid a record-setting homicide surge. Such initiatives are typically considered a complement to policing and law enforcement, and although they can vary in specifics, advocates say programs like CCIP tend to have evidentiary support and can have a real impact on community violence.

Former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart — who recently resigned to run for mayor — said in previous analyses that she believed much of the city’s anti-violence programming in recent budgets has been dedicated to a sprawling set of initiatives that will take at least five years to show results.

Some community advocates, meanwhile, have criticized the city’s efforts to distribute funding to grassroots organizations as “the new hustle,” with money being sent to groups haphazardly and without evaluation of what’s effective.

City Council members grew frustrated two years ago when the Office of Violence Prevention stumbled in answering some basic questions during an emergency hearing on the worsening shootings crisis.

And evaluations of anti-violence initiatives beyond CCIP — including programs that give grants to individuals and community groups — have been ongoing for years.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration has defended its approach, pointing to what it’s called nearly $1 billion in public safety spending this fiscal year. Though the vast majority of that is directed toward the Police Department, more than $200 million is earmarked for initiatives including a jobs program, investing in quality-of-life issues such as addressing blight, and sending additional money to the Department of Parks and Recreation to expand recreation center hours.

Atwood said the pending evaluations of other anti-violence initiatives — including a similar strategy known as Group Violence Intervention — were on track to be released in early 2023, and that she is “not as concerned” with what the results might show as she was with CCIP.

She said the CCIP reports are “confirmation of things we knew we needed,” she said.

CCIP is run by the nonprofit Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network, but it received $5.3 million in city funding this fiscal year and is overseen in part by the city’s Office of Violence Prevention. With about 60 staffers, CCIP’s general approach is to identify the small population of people most likely to shoot or be shot, then have the program’s credible messengers engage with them and their communities — offering connections to support and social services, imploring them to put down the guns, and seeking to intervene or mediate if tensions appear on the rise.

The reports assessing CCIP cost $150,000 and were compiled by the American Institutes for Research. It performed a comprehensive review of hundreds of internal documents and conducted interviews, focus groups, and ride-alongs with more than 50 people, including program staffers, Police Department leadership, and officials in the Office of Violence Prevention.

On the positive side, the reports note that CCIP staffers are dedicated and collect comprehensive information about their activities, and the organization’s leaders meet regularly with city officials. There is no indication, though, that the collected information is ever analyzed or used to measure the program’s progress or seek improvement, the reports said. And while the reports complimented management staff’s “extensive experience” in crisis intervention, they said ground-level staff received “very few” trainings on violence prevention best practices, crisis intervention, or violence interruption.

In addition, the reports said many staffers feel underpaid and overwhelmed, while some felt CCIP’s “mandate to reduce violence is unrealistic.” Some staffers do not feel comfortable doing street-based mediations or intelligence gathering because of the volatility of potential shooters and risks to them and their families, the reports said, while others were unclear “what success looks like ... apart from a general belief/hope that what they are doing is making some sort of positive difference in preventing gun violence.”

George D. Mosee Jr., PAAN’s executive director, said in a statement Saturday that the organization was proud to have run CCIP “in the midst of and despite the immense challenges caused by the pandemic that has sparked a rise in violence nationwide.”

He added that violence prevention must be a collective effort involving nonprofit organizations, city officials, and community leaders, saying: “This report has redoubled our commitment to strengthening these partnerships. The entire ecosystem of violence prevention in our city must have the coordination, shared vision and, most importantly, resources needed to improve conditions for the communities most impacted by gun violence.”

Atwood said despite the challenges identified in the reports, the city still intends to partner with the organization on CCIP, as well as two other organizations that will create a similar outreach model for young people: Eddie’s House and the Institute for the Development of African American Youth. The city will bolster its supervision of those groups moving forward while keeping the reports’ findings in mind, she said.

The city also intends to hire a director to serve as CCIP’s point person, she said, add about 20 more staffers between the three participating nonprofits, and invest in providing staff with the necessary training and support, “because we have to have this type of model in our city, because it’s what works.”

“This is something that we can’t just quit and say all right, it didn’t work,” Atwood said. “If we know what the problems are, let’s do it and do it right.”

Staff writer Anna Orso contributed to this article.