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Does Government Intervention Reduce Community Violence?

Critics say there isn’t enough academic evidence to justify government investment in community violence interruption. The programs are varied and neighborhoods aren’t laboratories, complicating ordinary evaluation. The government at both federal and state is about to invest as much as billions of dollars in community-based violence intervention programs, which focus on strategies like mediation of potentially violent disputes and social support for likely perpetrators of violence. Critics argue that there is not enough rigorous scholarship to support the investment, the Trace reports. In fact, there is evidence for the efficacy of such interventions, but large-scale traditional academic study of this type of work is rare. The complicated nature of violence makes it uniquely challenging to pull apart and the expense of formal public health and sociological studies is immense. For smaller groups, which now must compete for the millions available, the burden is particularly high. The back and forth raises an important question: If gun violence is a key social crisis of our time, why don’t we have more science about how to stop it? 

On its face, the critics' logic seems straightforward. If we spend money on community violence intervention programs and then violence in the city goes up, the programs must not be working. The question actually is infinitely more complex. What began as Operation Ceasefire in Boston in the late 1990s has since been adopted by multiple cities. Resources are targeted toward the neighborhoods where violence is most likely to occur, and an effort is made to communicate with the small percentage of people who are most likely to be involved in it. Varying versions of the program — with different levels of police involvement — have shown results in most of the cities where they’ve been implemented and studied. While in effect in Boston, it reduced youth homicides by 63 percent. The Chicago version reduced homicides by 37 percent.


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