As local governments look for solutions to gun violence, pandemic funding is an "under-tapped resource,” the Brookings Institution says in a new report examining how cities with populations over 250,000 are spending money provided by the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
ARPA includes State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) that can be used for community violence intervention initiatives:
Brookings says that most large local governments (72%) are missing their time-limited window to invest in community violence intervention (CVI) efforts with ARPA funds at the level of investment needed to scale and sustain the impact of programs before the 2024 obligation deadline.
Overall, only 28% of large cities and counties invested in community violence intervention in the first two years of the SLFRF program, despite encouragement from the Biden administration to use the money to fight gun violence.
The largest single investment category in community violence spending involved funding police, prisons, or courts, accounting for 34% of all SLFRF investment in community violence interventions.
Some 69 percent of "root cause" investments not given to criminal justice agencies come from just 5 local governments – the city of Chicago, Cook County, Ill., Washington, D.C., the city of Baltimore, and the consolidated government of Indianapolis (Marion County), Brookings said.
In the view of Brookings researchers, the relative lack of investment into community antiviolence programs (CVI) "indicates that more explicit efforts to scale and sustain CVI may be needed, such as dedicated federal programs that explicitly support root cause safety solutions."
While some regions, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast, "stand out for their adoption of root cause CVI strategies, many have not invested in CVI at all or have relied entirely on carceral approaches," Brookings says. "This indicates that regional political dynamics continue to pose an obstacle for local leaders interested in innovative solutions."
In many places programs aimed at attacking the root causes of crime may fall into the trap of moving from "one short-lived pilot project to another,” the Brookings report says.
The researchers said that "social cohesion and conflict mediation strategies—including those that employ violence interrupters and credible messengers—saw much wider geographic adoption than other root cause approaches" in the federal funding program's first two years.
The report concludes that while there is still time for local governments to scale up programs focusing on crime's root causes "this type of comprehensive strategy-setting will require intentionality and an understanding that the investments made today can lay the groundwork for safe communities in the years to come."
Observers who follow the federal spending program note that many of the categories that received more funds than community violence intervention, such as housing assistance; mental health and substance abuse treatment, and stabilization of social and economic order during the COVID pandemic, should contribute to crime prevention and do not indicate a failure of government agencies to downplay the issue.