Public Health Approaches to Violent Crime Can Complement Law Enforcement

According to an article in The New York Times earlier this week, new data from the FBI reveals that in 2012, for the first time in six years, violent crime rates rose in the United States.

Some experts caution that the crime figures from 2012 are an abnormality among rates that have actually dropped over the past years. Others searching for the reason behind this spike in crime, assert that it might have something to do with fewer police resources due to cost cutting measures.

The idea that a reduced police presence could so dramatically affect violent crime rates in the US, however, really shines a spotlight on the need to invest in alternative ideas and approaches to violence prevention that complement law enforcement as they struggle with budget cuts or other challenges.

Los Angeles Chief of Police Charlie Beck modeled his Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GYRD) program after an alternative approach to violence prevention–the Cure Violence approach–and with success.  In a recent testimonial about integrating a public health approach like ours into the law enforcement environment, he said:

“If you are willing to use resources other than traditional law enforcement—whether interrupters, intervention workers, or school-based programs—then you can change a neighborhood. You can make significant change that doesn’t require constant, additional police resources to maintain.”

Similar to the Cure Violence model, Los Angeles provides intervention at the neighborhood level, handled by trained intervention workers, and individuals whose personal experience with gang life gives them credibility in these targeted communities. Working in teams, intervention workers have three primary functions:

(1) violence interruption;

(2) proactive peacemaking – establishing “ceasefire” agreements, quelling rumors that fan the flames of gang violence, mediating conflicts between rival gangs before they escalate; and

(3) outreach with incarcerated gang members immediately before and after their release – to prevent them from returning to gang life during the first 24 hours after reentry, when they are most likely to fall back into activities of gang crime.

We believe that when we work together, law enforcement and public health communities are a strong force that can affect real change in this country. Together we can grow healthier communities where our friends, family, and co-workers live, learn, work and play.