While there is no single answer to gun violence, some in Philadelphia’s academic and political communities have recently — and correctly — pointed out that successful efforts to curb gun violence must rely on data and evidence. We write to assure residents that Mayor Kenney’s administration is implementing data-driven practices to address this crisis.
The city is developing operational plans for Group Violence Intervention (GVI) to launch this spring in West Philadelphia. This strategy has successfully proven to reduce violence in major cities across the United States. GVI involves targeted outreach to high-rate offenders, incentives for compliance, and swift consequences for criminal activity.
We are also expanding the Community Crisis Intervention Program (CCIP), based on the nationally recognized Crisis Intervention Network, which was initiated in Philadelphia in the mid-1970s and believed to have significantly decreased gang-related deaths in the city for over a decade. CCIP, comparable to the evidence-based Cure Violence public health model, uses credible messengers who have deep connections to the most violent neighborhoods.
Outreach workers strive to 1) steer those involved in gun violence to positive alternatives; 2) mediate neighborhood conflicts; and 3) respond rapidly to crises to de-escalate situations. And there’s follow-up: CCIP identifies the people and places most at risk of gun violence and assesses whether its interventions are making an impact.
To support these initiatives and more effectively deploy law enforcement resources, we are investing in additional analytical capacity and technology to expand the Police Department’s “Operation Pinpoint,” a combination of intelligence-led and community-oriented policing. The investments improve the Police Department’s capacity, using real-time data, to “pinpoint” specific communities that are most vulnerable. This information also helps other agencies better direct needed resources to the people and places most at risk of gun violence.
There is significant evidence that shows how removing blight reduces violent crime. So we recently allocated an additional $1.2 million to Licenses and Inspections (L&I) for enforcement action on vacant lots, property violations, and side yards in high-risk neighborhoods. An additional $300,000 will allow the Streets Department to complete lighting upgrades in violence-prone areas. Operation Pinpoint will later analyze these blight removal efforts to assess whether these interventions impact gun violence.
Research also shows that increases in the number of local organizations dedicated to reducing violence can bring down the homicide and violent crime rates. Under the city’s Targeted Community Investment Grants, funding is awarded to community-based organizations that offer support to people and/or neighborhoods most at risk of gun violence, based on the data and analysis provided by Operation Pinpoint, with follow-up assessment of each program.
Also being implemented is a Firearms Injury Review Board that will study gun deaths to determine how city services can intervene and prevent future homicides and accidental gun-related deaths. The review team and policymakers will receive a full picture of a decedent’s life, revealing where city prevention, intervention, and de-escalation services could have been applied — and where they can be applied in the future to save other lives.
Amid this focus on evidence-based programming, we are equally driven by heavy hearts. The mayor and this administration never lose sight of the fact that lives are at stake, and that hundreds of Philadelphia families are grieving because they’ve lost relatives to gun violence. While data may drive our decisions, their pain and the faces of those lost drive our urgency.
Brian Abernathy is managing director of the City of Philadelphia. Vanessa Garrett Harley is deputy managing director for Criminal Justice & Public Safety.