A pilot project in New Haven aimed at reducing group member involved shootings and homicides (GMIs) led to a significant reduction in gang-related violent crime in the city, according to a study by Yale researchers published in the journal Crime and Delinquency.
Project Longevity — a statewide, focused-deterrence gun violence reduction strategy conducted between November 2012 and April 2014 — aimed to leverage group dynamics in order to curb violence on New Haven streets. Law enforcement, social service providers, and community members conducted “call-ins,” meetings with members of violent street groups to deliver a unified message: that the gun violence must stop, that there is help for those who want it, but that those who choose to continue committing acts of violence will meet with swift legal consequences.
Michael Sierra-Arevalo, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology, coauthored the study with Yannick Charrette, postdoctoral associate in sociology, and Andrew Papachristos, associate professor of sociology. The researchers examined data on lethal and non-lethal shootings in the city using a series of models to test whether Project Longevity was related to a significant decrease in GMI shootings and homicides in New Haven. The results suggest that, even accounting for a variety of alternative explanations, the implementation of Project Longevity was associated with a reduction of nearly five GMI shootings and homicides each month.
“The research that was done in New Haven is contributing to a growing body of work across a variety of cities that supports focused-deterrence as a viable way to address public safety concerns,” says Sierra-Arevalo.
Project Longevity was modeled on the group violence intervention model pioneered in the 1990s known as Boston Ceasefire. Representatives from law enforcement agencies spoke to street group members first, making sure to articulate the new rules being implemented and stressing that those who continue to engage in gun violence (and their groups) would meet with increased attention from law enforcement agents. Next, social service providers showed attendees that help is available, including housing assistance, high school diploma or general education development classes, job training, and drug or alcohol recovery programs. Finally, community volunteers known to and respected by the street group members acted as “moral voices,” articulating to attendees the anti-violence message of the program to attendees and drawing on their own unique positions within the community to help attendees connect with the message.
Sierra-Arevalo explains that Project Longevity is moving away from traditional approaches such as broadly applied police sweeps or enforcement of minor offenses. “This kind of strategy is something that cities in a variety of places and a variety of contexts should really consider including in their repertoire for providing for public safety, particularly when it comes to gun violence.”
According to the researchers, New Haven’s Project Longevity is one more instance of how targeting specific offenders — in this case, members of violent street groups — can significantly enhance public safety.
“It is a move away from overly-broad strategies like broken-windows policing. It is about directly addressing very particular problems in very targeted ways and by extension keeping more people out of the criminal justice system,” says Sierra-Arevalo. “We are really trying to focus limited resources on those most likely to be victims and offenders of gun violence.”
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