‘Tis the season for giving, so before I let my inner Grinch out, I’ll give the city’s Office of Violence Prevention 2.0 a few things.
At a briefing at the Municipal Services Building on Monday to talk about the city’s programs to fight violence, the office offered a bona fide report, complete with a cover page and pie charts and nice use of color, including a soothing blue that might explain why my head didn’t explode when it all started to sound like something I’d heard three months ago, and several more times in the year before that.
Oh, I’ll give them this, too. This review is administrations overdue. Think about it: Before this attempt, the city spent millions on programs without any real accounting of where the money went and whether its investment was having any impact. Which is why I was so hopeful when in 2017, at Mayor Kenney’s direction, the Managing Director’s Office started to catalog anti-violence programs with this very goal in mind. Back then, the office was led by just one guy, Shondell Revell. The 2.0 version has three top people working on the project, to the tune of more than $400,000 in payroll.
Pretty report and all, at this rate we’ll be well into the next administration before we have a working strategy.
Enter the Grinch: “The nerve of these Whos inviting us down here to hear the same thing we’d heard before!”
At the briefing, Vanessa Garrett Harley, deputy managing director for criminal justice and public safety, said that despite initial reports that the city had invested about $60 million in anti-violence programs, the latest review showed that the city invested closer to $13.3 million in fiscal year 2017.
A revelation — if it wasn’t one the office already made last year.
She and Theron Pride, senior director of violence prevention strategies and programs, also pointed out that after careful review, they had identified about 40 community-based violence prevention programs. Except their list looked a lot like a list I got from Revell months ago.
So, what was new? Here were their major findings:
The city needs to invest in more community-based violence prevention programs that serve individuals at the highest risk of violence. Sounds about right.
The city needs to improve coordination among all the departments and agencies and organizations responsible for managing these programs. Sounds like Management 101.
The city needs to develop a clear violence prevention strategy and a common set of metrics to better inform the city’s investment in violence prevention. Sounds like someone forgot that this is exactly what this overdue exercise in accountability was supposed to be all about.
To summarize, they decided — again — that the city needs to figure out a way to assess these programs instead of just throwing money at them and hoping for the best.
Timeline on reaching that key point? Somewhere between don’t-hold-your-breath and move-along-nothing-to-see-here.
The report also highlighted a few programs, including a community crisis intervention program that sounds a lot like other outreach programs that have come and gone, and a jobs initiative program started by the Police Department. Both of which I’m rooting for, but I’m not sure the city should be touting them until it judges their long-term effectiveness.
In the meantime, we’re about 80 days into the mayor’s 100-day deadline for his administration to come up with a new strategy to combat violence.
In that time period, the shootings and killings have continued with no end in sight, with about 260 nonfatal shootings since Sept. 27, and 90 homicides. The mayor routinely sends out tweets that read, “Together, we remember the [insert number here] people lost in Philadelphia due to violence from [insert dates here]. If you or someone you know is the victim of violence, there is help available to support you and your loved ones.” Attached to his tweet is a handful of programs that, as my colleague David Gambacorta and I found, don’t address even the most basic needs of some victims of gun violence.
The plan requested by the mayor is due next month. Happy New Year!
Maybe then we’ll finally move beyond this point. Maybe then we won’t be bogged down in reports and recommendations while in the real world, a generation of mostly young black men is gunned down on our streets.
And what will happen then?
Well, unlike the Grinch, my heart won’t grow three sizes that day, but my faith in this city’s leadership might — a little.