The number of U.S. cities and counties that have formed violence-prevention agencies independent of law enforcement will soon top 50, having more than doubled since 2020’s social-justice protests and surge in community gun violence.
A new report by the Vera Institute of Justice takes stock of the trend to form offices of violence prevention and neighborhood safety and recommends ways to make such offices function effectively and insulate them from political blowback.
The Vera report was produced with the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform and with an offshoot of that organization, the National Offices of Violence Prevention Network. That network's founding in 2021 illustrates the growing interest in establishing municipal offices that cut across multiple agencies and include a host of community members as well. The network now counts more than 40 jurisdictions in its membership.
Chicago formed the first office of violence prevention in 1994, followed in 2006-08 by Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon, Milwaukee, and Richmond, Calif., the report states. Richmond is often cited as a trend-setter in offices of violence prevention. Its program was pioneered by the leaders of the national network, David Muhammad and DeVone Boggan.
Another 11 jurisdictions followed in 2017-19, and then came the post-2020 spike, with 28 more and another 10 in the works.
Along with a new White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention and a smattering of state offices, the trend holds “the potential to radically transform governmental approaches to public safety” by not relying exclusively on law enforcement, and by prioritizing interventions and preventive strategies carried out by the people living in the neighborhoods where community violence is concentrated, the report says.
“When given sufficient resources and authority, [offices of violence prevention and neighborhood safety] can coordinate across multiple government agencies and sectors to create a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to safety,” the report states. “In these ways, OVP/ONS can build and lead a local ecosystem of violence reduction, making civilian government and community-based services, rather than law enforcement, the central hub of public safety.”
The report relied on interviews with local officials and advocates from across the country, providing multiple examples of jurisdictions that either follow recommended practices or that have fallen victim to common problems.
The recommended practices include:
Granting violence prevention offices “significant executive and political authority,” on a par with police chiefs and other agency heads;
Encouraging local organizations to provide violence-prevention and intervention services by not only adequately funding them, but by providing them with the help they need to cut through grant program red tape and learn the kinds of data tracking and communication skills they will need to retain and attract more grants;
Helping cities improve their sharing of violent crime data and communicating their programs’ goals so that the public allows the offices the time to make an impact in an arena that can’t be changed overnight.
Done right, violence prevention offices can take up to two years to launch and more time to hit their stride, the report states. While funding levels have varied widely, the report recommends consulting the “CVI Ecosystem” recommendations by the Coalition to Advance Public Safety, which estimated annual budgets for 50 cities with high homicide rates.
“The best solutions spring from a deep understanding of a community’s needs; use data to guide strategies and programs; and provide holistic, trauma-informed interventions with the people who are most at risk of violence while tackling the root causes of violence,” the report concludes. “Vera’s research shows that building centralized OVP/ONS is a promising approach for cities and counties looking to apply these lessons and to implement comprehensive, coordinated, and data-informed strategies to address violence and produce public safety.”
The complete report is available here.