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Gun violence intervention strategies reduce shootings in areas disproportionately impacted by interpersonal and community violence.

Gun homicides and nonfatal shootings in America are disproportionately concentrated in urban areas, particularly in underserved communities of color. For example, black men constitute just 6% of the US population and account for more than 50% of all gun homicides each year. Through community intervention strategies and efforts to stop the violence at its root source, certain cities have been remarkably effective at cutting rates of gun violence and saving lives.


When it comes to gun violence, our focus as a nation is understandably pulled toward appalling, nearly inconceivable mass shootings in public places like schools and government buildings. Reading the national headlines, one would think that mass shootings are responsible for the majority of gun deaths and injuries in this country.

The truth is that interpersonal gun violence in America—a toll of roughly 12,000 deadly shootings and another 80,000-plus nonfatal shootings per year—is driven largely by day-to-day shootings that occur disproportionately in underserved communities of color.1 These incidents often involve young men and teenagers of color shooting other young men and teenagers of color. Consider that in 2012, a total of 90 people were killed in mass shootings, including the horrific assault weapon massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, while that same year, nearly 6,000 black men and teens were murdered in “routine” shootings that rarely made headlines.2 The most violent 70 American cities account for 41% of all murders in the US. To address interpersonal gun violence where it’s most prevalent, we must look to policies focused on our urban centers.

Fortunately, a variety of effective intervention programs have been developed to reduce gun violence in the most impacted communities. While these programs are discussed in detail below, it is important to first have an understanding of the overall picture of urban gun violence in America.

The Disproportionate Impact of Interpersonal Gun Violence

As with homicide in general, gun homicide (which makes up the vast majority of murders in America) tends to cluster disproportionately in dense urban areas, particularly within impoverished communities of color.3 In 2012, America’s average homicide rate was 4.7 per 100,000 people.4 This may not sound high, but is actually much greater than comparable Western nations. In France, for example, the homicide rate in 2010 was just 1.2 per 100,000—about four times lower than the US rate.5

In American urban centers with significant minority populations, like New Orleans, Detroit, and Baltimore, the homicide rate is up to 10 times higher than the national average—between 30 and 40 murders per 100,000 people.6 Large variations are also seen within specific neighborhoods in any given city. One study calculated that young black men living in a high-crime area of Rochester, New York, for example, had a murder rate of 520 per 100,000—over 100 times the national average.7 To put that in context, the average yearly hostile death rate for combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan was 315 deaths per 100,000 soldiers.8

People of color, who disproportionately live in densely populated, underserved urban areas, are particularly vulnerable to gun violence.9 In 2012, black Americans made up more than half of all firearm homicide victims while comprising just 13% of the US population.10 This disparity is even more acute when looking at black men, who make up only 6% of the population, yet still constitute more than half of all gun homicide victims.11 In fact, firearm homicide is the leading cause of death for black males ages 15 to 34.12 For young black men, the murder rate is close to 90 homicides per 100,000 people—nearly 20 times the national average.13

The numbers are not any better with respect to non-fatal shootings—the rate of gun injuries is 10 times higher for black children and teens than it is for white children and teens.14

of Boston’s gun violence occurs in < 3% of the city
Shootings tend to be highly concentrated in small areas of particular neighborhoods—in Boston’s case less than 3% of the city. Other cities see similar patterns of concentration.


Anthony A. Braga, Andrew V. Papachristos, and David M. Hureau, “The Concentration and Stability of Gun Violence at Micro Places in Boston, 1980–2008,” Journal of Quantitative Criminology 26, no. 1 (2010): 33–53.

This high concentration of violence creates a vicious cycle. A study of adolescents participating in an urban violence intervention program showed that 26% of participants had witnessed a person being shot and killed, while half had lost a loved one to gun violence.15 The impact of this is compounded because exposure to firearm violence—being shot, being shot at, or witnessing a shooting—doubles the probability that a young person will commit a violent act within two years.16 In other words, exposure to violence perpetuates further violent behavior, creating a chain of killing and violence that will continue absent an intervention.

In neighborhoods with high levels of gun violence, economic opportunity is suppressed, property values lowered, and general health is heavily impacted as community members become afraid to walk the streets.17 This fear creates a particularly problematic negative feedback loop: Gun violence is often driven by the desperation that comes with lack of economic opportunity, yet shootings scare away potential businesses. Until the violence stops, efforts at economic revival are suppressed, further impoverishing already struggling communities. A recent report by the Law Center shows that, in Minnesota alone, the economic cost of gun violence is more than $764 million per year—and that’s not even counting a variety of other indirect costs, such as pain and suffering.18 In short, the problem of ongoing urban gun violence is a problem America can’t afford to ignore.


We’re in this together. To build a safer America—one where children and parents in every neighborhood can learn, play, work, and worship without fear of gun violence—we need you standing beside us in this fight.

While these troubling statistics paint a bleak picture, the good news is that concrete solutions exist. Several extremely promising strategic intervention programs have been shown to successfully reduce gun violence in the most impacted communities. These programs are outlined below and more details can be found in the Law Center’s report: Healing Communities in Crisis: Lifesaving Solutions to the Urban Gun Violence Epidemic.

Group Violence Intervention

The Group Violence Intervention (GVI) strategy, a form of problem-oriented policing (as opposed to traditional “incident-driven” policing), was first used in the enormously successful Operation Ceasefire in Boston in the mid-1990s, where it was associated with a 61% reduction in youth homicide.19 The program has now been implemented in a wide variety of American cities, with consistently impressive results.

GVI is based on the insight that, in city after city, an incredibly small and readily identifiable segment of a given community is responsible for the vast majority of gun violence.20 These individuals are often affiliated with groups that exist in a constant state of competition and violent rivalry with other groups. Note: the term “gang” is intentionally not used in the context of GVI because it is considered both pejorative and under-inclusive. “Gang” implies a level of organizational sophistication missing from the informal street crews frequently responsible for the majority of a given neighborhood’s violence.

How it Works

The first step of the GVI model is to assemble respected and credible community members, faith leaders, social service providers, researchers, and law enforcement officials into a working partnership. This partnership begins by identifying the individuals in the community most at risk for committing or becoming the victims of gun violence.21

The partnership then conducts a series of in-person meetings, known as “call-ins,” with this small segment of the population. Call-ins are intimate affairs—involving no more than 30 attendees—and their primary purpose is to communicate a strong message that that the shooting must stop. Importantly, this message comes from the moral voice of the community, often represented by clergy members, victims of gun violence, parents of victims, and former perpetrators of violence who have escaped their old way of life.22

Law enforcement representatives then deliver a message, in the most respectful terms possible, that if the community’s plea is ignored, then swift and sure legal action will be taken against any group responsible for a new act of lethal violence. This process is repeated until the intervention population understands that, at the request of the community, future shootings will bring strong law enforcement attention to any responsible groups. This creates a powerful “focused deterrence” effect that has been shown to rapidly reduce violent behavior.23

The GVI strategy also takes into account the fact that urban gun violence tends to arise from conditions of economic desperation and is frequently committed by the most chronically underserved individuals. During call-ins, at-risk individuals are connected with social service providers familiar with the resources needed to bring about meaningful change at the individual level. These services include GED tutoring, transportation assistance, mental health treatment, housing support, and even tattoo removal (to facilitate a break from group or gang identity). A person whose basic needs are being met is far less likely to engage in violent behavior. While law enforcement action provides a stick to discourage further violence, offering access to critical social services acts as a carrot to simultaneously encourage positive change.24

GVI capitalizes on recent research in the field of criminology that suggests people are far more likely to follow laws they perceive as legitimate.25 While law enforcement plays an essential role in GVI, the strategy’s success depends on the dedicated participation of community leaders. When this happens, at-risk individuals are more likely to recognize that police are acting on behalf of the neighborhood, rather than as an occupying, external force.26 In this way, the GVI model not only reduces gun violence, but also has the potential to rebuild strained relationships between law enforcement and residents of high-crime urban neighborhoods.


The GVI model has a remarkably strong track record, featuring a documented association with homicide reductions of 30–60%. Consider these results from a wide array of cities:

  • Chicago (2002): 23% reduction in overall shooting behavior and a 32% reduction in gunshot victimization for targeted groups compared to similar groups that didn’t experience GVI.27
  • Cincinnati (2007): 35% reduction in monthly group-related homicides and a 21% reduction in monthly total shootings.28
  • New Haven (2012): A more than 30% reduction in monthly group-related shootings.29
  • New Orleans (2012): 17% reduction in overall homicides, 32% reduction in group-related homicides, 26% reduction in homicides that involved young black male victims, and a 16% reduction in both lethal and nonlethal firearms violence.30

In 2012, researchers for the Campbell Collaboration, an organization that evaluates the efficacy of social intervention programs, conducted an extensive review of the available data and found “strong empirical evidence for the crime prevention effectiveness” of the GVI strategy. This evaluation identified 10 studies that qualified for analysis based on meeting certain design standards and concluded that “nine out of 10 eligible studies reported strong and statistically significant crime reductions associated with the [GVI] approach.”31

Fewer homicides with GVI
An evaluation of Boston’s gun violence intervention program found a 63% reduction in youth homicides and a 25% decline in monthly gun assaults.


Anthony A. Braga, David M. Kennedy, Elin J. Waring, and Anne Morrison Piehl, “Problem-oriented Policing, Deterrence, and Yotuh Violence: An Evaluation of Boston’s Operation Ceasefire,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 38, no. 3 (2001): 195–225.

Additionally, the Department of Justice has compiled a review of known crime prevention strategies, in which it gives the GVI approach its highest rating, noting the existence of multiple studies confirming GVI’s efficacy.32

Despite these impressive results, GVI is still not receiving sufficient public funding. In 2012, for example, the White House requested $74 million for five grants intended to implement GVI and similar programs in urban areas, but Congress only appropriated $30 million for this purpose. As a result, cities applying for grants to pursue the GVI strategy are being turned away. In early 2012, Indianapolis applied for a Justice Department grant to help implement a new GVI program, and requested just $500,000 a year, for three years, a request that was denied. In fact, just four of more than 60 cities that applied received funding.33

It is possible for the states to step up and fund GVI where federal funding is inadequate. In 2012, Connecticut officially launched “Project Longevity,” a first-of-its-kind statewide initiative to bring GVI to the three cities that together account for 75% of all fatal shootings in the state.34 Since that time, Connecticut has seen an impressive reduction in gun violence.35 In New Haven, for example, between 2011 and 2015 the number of homicides dropped by 56% and the number of police calls regarding shots fired fell by almost 80% (from 426 in 2011 to just 90 in 2015).36 In 2013, more than a year after the launch of Project Longevity, overall murders in Connecticut dropped to a 10-year low.37 To learn more about Project Longevity, visit As Connecticut has demonstrated with Project Longevity, part of the national strategy for reducing gun violence must include adequate financial support for GVI.

In light of its strong performance over time in a wide variety of jurisdictions, GVI has become a leading intervention program for cities plagued by gun violence. Communities considering GVI should begin by visiting the National Network for Safe Communities. Cities in California should also reach out to the California Partnership for Safe Communities. Community and faith leaders interested in learning more about GVI should contact the PICO Network’s Live Free Campaign. State and federal leaders can support these lifesaving efforts to prevent gun violence by increasing the financial resources available for localities looking to implement GVI and other intervention models.

Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Programs

Another promising strategy to reduce gun violence specifically focuses on reaching high-risk individuals who have been recently admitted to a hospital for treatment of a serious violent injury. This strategy, referred to as a Hospital-based Violence Intervention Program (HVIP), is built upon the premise that the strongest risk factor for violent injury is a history of previous violent injury, with the chances of injury recidivism as high as 45% within in the first five years.38 In fact, a previous violent injury makes future death from violent injury nearly twice as likely. Being the victim of violence also significantly increases the chances of a person becoming a perpetrator of violence.39

How it Works

Hospitalization for a serious injury presents a unique “teachable moment” when an individual may be open to positive intervention. Yet, at present, many hospitals generally discharge patients injured from gunshot wounds without any strategy in place to reduce risk of recidivism or retaliation. Leveraging the emotionally critical event of hospitalization is the key to this approach, and there is growing evidence that the cycle of violence can be successfully interrupted by immediate and intensive intervention directly following a violent incident that requires hospitalization.40

The HVIP strategy calls for screening patients based on predetermined criteria to identify those individuals most at risk for re-injury and then connecting qualifying candidates with trained, culturally competent case managers. These case managers provide clients with intense oversight and assistance both in the hospital and in the crucial months following the patient’s release.41 During this time, case managers help connect high-risk individuals to a variety of community-based organizations in order to give them access to critical resources such as mental health services, tattoo removal, GED programs, employment, court advocacy, and housing. Trained case managers also help address a major deficiency in health-related communications with underserved populations: the documented lack of cultural competency.42 In other words, HVIP case managers come from similar backgrounds as their clients and know how to communicate and connect with them on a personal level.

The HVIP strategy was pioneered by YouthAlive!, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, CA. With its Caught in the Crossfire program, YouthAlive! seeks to reach young people recovering from violent injuries through the use of trained Intervention Specialists that offer long-term case management, connection to community services, home-based mentoring, and follow-up assistance. Evaluations of Caught in the Crossfire found that it reduced recidivism rates, with clients 70% less likely to be arrested and 60% less likely to have any criminal involvement compared to a control group.43 Moreover, the program was found to be cost-effective, especially compared to the cost of juvenile detention and hospitalization, and researchers estimated a total annual cost reduction—in terms of savings in incarceration costs and medical expenses—of $750,000 to $1.5 million per year.44


As HVIPs are implemented in more areas, a growing body of evidence confirms that the HVIP strategy significantly reduces injury recidivism rates and corresponding medical costs, such that these programs may actually save the medical system money. This outcome is not surprising when one considers that the average cost of hospital treatment for non-fatally injured patients is $24,350 with an additional $57,029 for lost productivity.45 In fact, one investigation estimates that the expenses associated with gun violence cost the American people $229 billion per year.46 Medical costs are further compounded because gunshot victims are often underinsured, and trauma centers only recoup an estimated 30% of medical charges.47

Positive outcomes have been documented in studies of HVIP programs around the country:

  • An evaluation of an HVIP program in Baltimore, for example, found an injury recidivism rate of 5% for participating patients, compared to 36% for non-participants, which represented an estimated savings of $598,000 in health care costs.48 Moreover, patients participating in the program were half as likely to be convicted of a crime and four times less likely to be convicted of a violent crime than those who did not participate, translating into approximately $1.25 million in incarceration cost savings.49
  • An evaluation of an Indianapolis-based HVIP program found a one-year re-injury rate of 0% for program participants compared to 8.7% for a historical control group.50
  • Evaluations of HVIP programs in Chicago, Oakland, and Richmond, Virginia, have also reported promising outcomes.51

Case Study: The San Francisco Wraparound Project

San Francisco General Hospital’s Wraparound Project (WAP) provides an excellent case study on the promising potential of the HVIP strategy. WAP was introduced in 2005 and in its first six years of operation was associated with a 400% decrease in the rate of injury recidivism.52 The program works as follows: After initial post-injury stabilization, all patients at SF General who are victims of violent injury between the ages of 10 and 30 are screened by professional case managers, and those individuals considered to be at a high risk for re-injury are invited to participate in WAP, where they receive intensive case management services and are individually guided (rather than merely referred) to risk reduction resources. Nearly 70% of all WAP clients during a six–year period were victims of gun violence, 59% of the participants were black, 26% were Hispanic, the mean age was 21 years, and 87% of all clients during this period were male.53

Less likely to recidivate or be reinjured
Patients who receive hospital-based violence intervention services are four times less likely to be convicted of a violent crime and four times less likely to be violently injured again.


Tina L. Cheng, et al., “Effectiveness of a Mentor-Implemented, Violence Prevention Intervention for Assault-Injured Youths Presenting to the Emergency Department: Results of a Randomized Trial,” Pediatrics 122, no. 5 (2008): 938–946.

A study of WAP found that injury recidivism rates at SF General fell from 16% to just 4.5% for the six years following implementation.54 Another evaluation looked at cost-effectiveness of the program and found that the prevention of just 3.5 recidivist injuries per year renders WAP cost neutral and, at its current level of efficacy, the WAP program actually creates hospital savings of approximately $500,000 per year.55 The study concluded that the HVIP strategy “is effective and cost-effective and should be considered in any trauma center that takes care of violently injured patients.”56

Given the promising results generated by HVIP programs thus far, this innovative violence prevention strategy should be strongly considered by any community suffering from high levels of gun violence. The US Department of Justice has expressly endorsed the HVIP approach. A DOJ initiative known as Defending Childhood issued a report in December 2012 recommending that HVIP programs be made available to all violently injured patients and that HVIP programs be expanded beyond the less than 30 programs currently funded in American cities.57

Communities considering the HVIP strategy should contact the National Network of Hospital-based Violence Intervention Programs (NNHVIP), an organization that brings together HVIP programs from across the country and provides information and guidance to those considering implementing a new HVIP program. NNHVIP provides a variety of resources on its website, including a practical handbook of best practices for launching and sustaining HVIP programs, as well as on-site and Internet-based technical training.

Cure Violence

A third promising approach to reducing urban gun violence is the Chicago-based Cure Violence (CV) program. CV is rooted in the theory that violence is a behavior pattern that acts like a contagious disease transmitted from person to person via emulation and social norms. A key principle of CV is that, by targeting the individuals most at risk for perpetrating or becoming the victims of violence, it is possible to interrupt and slow the spread of violence within the “infected” community.

Under this framework, America’s poor, inner-city neighborhoods are the epicenters of the gun violence epidemic. As discussed in detail above, underserved, predominantly black and Hispanic urban areas are plagued by a massively disproportionate share of violence. At its core, the CV model (which was originally known as “Ceasefire Chicago,” not to be confused with the GVI “Ceasefire” strategy in Boston and other cities) is built around three primary strategies to reduce violence:

  1. The detection and peaceful resolution of potentially violent conflicts.
  2. The identification and “treatment” of the highest risk individuals.
  3. Mobilization of the local community in order to change social norms surrounding the use of violence.

Violence Interrupters: Resolving Conflicts Before They Become Violent

The first element of the CV model is to detect and resolve potentially violent conflicts through the use of culturally competent individuals known as “Violence Interrupters,” whose role is to serve as street-level conflict mediators. The Violence Interrupter (VI) concept is regarded as a unique development in the arena of violence prevention.58 This strategy arose from experience with earlier community-based violence reduction efforts that were ineffective because they were unable to directly reach the high-risk individuals who were actually engaged in violent behaviors.59

The primary role of a VI is to engage with the community to identify potentially violent conflicts and then mediate those conflicts into a peaceful resolution. Such an intervention is not likely to be successful if the parties involved do not trust the mediator or if they perceive him or her to be judgmental, an outsider, or affiliated with law enforcement.

For that reason, a VI is generally an individual who comes from the neighborhood in which he or she operates. An effective VI is often someone who was previously engaged in the same high-risk behaviors, including group/gang membership, as the individuals they are now trying to serve. Ideally, VIs are retained as full-time, compensated staff members, although this may differ from community to community, based on available resources.

VIs spend much of their time working in the streets, making connections, and building trust with those most at risk for violence. Through community networks, VIs are able to learn about conflicts that have the potential to turn violent. The prevention of retaliatory violence, for example, is a critical role for VIs, as violent acts in urban areas are often committed as a way of getting vengeance for a prior act of violence that goes unresolved by formal, legal systems of justice.

As an example of a successful intervention, a man with a handgun approached a VI and “confessed that he was preparing to stick people up for money. He told the [VI], ‘I need money for my baby’s Pampers and for food. How can you help me?’ The [VI] gave him $300 to buy the supplies. He gave up his gun, and the interrupter turned the gun in to the police.”60 Without well-developed and established relationships of trust, such interventions would not be possible.

The VI position is an essential element of the CV model that is based on the fundamental truth that messages of non-violent conflict resolution are unlikely to be heard by those most at risk for violence unless delivered by insiders who have seen and experienced the same things as the people they are trying to serve. While interrupting violence is an essential part of the CV model, addressing some of the underlying systemic causes of violent behavior is also critical.

Outreach Workers: Connecting Those Most At Risk to Available Services

The second element of the CV approach is the identification and treatment of high-risk individuals, which is accomplished through Outreach Workers (OWs). The mission of OWs is to connect clients with services designed to help bring about the positive life changes that are essential to behavior modification. Clients are carefully selected and approached based on their likelihood of involvement with violent behavior.

OWs have access to the key community organizations that provide these services and are responsible for directly connecting clients with these resources. The most frequently reported needs of the client population in Chicago, for example, are employment (76%), education (37%), disengaging from group/gang life (34%), resolving family conflicts (27%), and emotional/psychological counseling (20%). In one evaluation, nearly 85% of OWs reported that their clients were targets of abuse at home.61 Given the high levels of PTSD in communities plagued by chronic violence, it is not surprising that one study found that “identifying and providing counseling and services to individual clients was one of the most significant components of [CV Chicago], and may have been one of the most successful elements of the program.”62

The qualities that make an effective OW are very similar to those that make an effective VI, as discussed above, including personal experience with street life and an ability to connect with and gain the respect of the most at-risk individuals within the community. OWs were often involved in criminal activity, spent time in prison, and have since turned their lives around and feel a strong sense of obligation to make things right by serving the community in which they grew up.

Changing Social Norms: Mobilizing the Community

The third element of the CV model focuses on changing community-level social norms surrounding the use of violence by educating, empowering, and mobilizing community members, thereby encouraging them to speak out in favor of positive change and peaceful conflict resolution. These efforts target key stakeholders in the community, including residents, clergy members, local business owners, school leaders, directors of community-based organizations, and local political leaders.

Public education is a key component of the effort to change social norms. Drawing on experience from other public health campaigns of the past, CV Chicago focused on distributing a short, easy-to-understand message: “STOP THE SHOOTING,” distributing this message on flyers, bumper stickers, and the windows of local businesses.63 Clergy were asked to speak about non-violence during Sunday services and CV workers made appearances on local television outlets.

In Chicago, community mobilization resulted in organized marches, rallies, and prayer vigils—particularly in the wake of violent episodes—to help carry the “STOP THE SHOOTING” message to the wider community. In a program evaluation interview, a CV staffer explained that shooters continue their violent behavior because “their thinking is that the community doesn’t care.” Messaging efforts like that of CV Chicago assist in “signaling disapproval and changing the thinking of the shooter.” These community responses also deter future shootings, because shooters “don’t want attention drawn to them.”64


Program evaluations conducted to date have found that the CV model is associated with significantly reduced rates of gun violence. A 2014 quantitative evaluation of four Chicago police districts where CV was implemented found a 31% reduction in homicide, a 7% reduction in total violent crime, and a 19% reduction in shootings in targeted districts.65 The report noted that these reductions were significantly greater than would be expected, even after taking into account the overall declining trends in crime that Chicago was experiencing at the time of the study. The researchers concluded that “this evaluation adds to a growing body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of [CV] intervention, in combination with police presence, for reducing homicide, shootings, and violent crime generally in higher risk neighborhoods.”66

Fewer shooting victims
An evaluation of an evidence-based street outreach program in the South Bronx found a 37% decline in gun injuries and a 63% decline in shooting victims overall.


Sheyla A. Delgado, et al., “The Effects of Cure Violence in the South Bronx and East New York, Brooklyn,” Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, October 2017.

A number of experiences in other cities show that the CV model is exportable and capable of producing results, where implemented faithfully. In 2008, CV was successfully replicated in several high-crime neighborhoods of Baltimore in a project known as “Save Our Streets.” A 2012 study of this intervention found that “three of the four program sites experienced large, statistically significant, program-related reductions in homicides or nonfatal shootings.”67 The study gave particular credit to the street-level violence interruption strategy, noting that “mediations of high-stakes disputes with the potential to lead to shootings are the programmatic activities most directly relevant to the immediate reduction in gun violence.”68 From a qualitative perspective, 80% of clients responding to a survey about the program said that their lives were “better” since joining, with a majority reporting improved family relationships as well as employment and education opportunities.69

Cities struggling with chronic gun violence should certainly consider implementing the Cure Violence model. The Cure Violence website offers a host of resources for cities looking to implement the CV strategy.

The Comprehensive Approach to Gun Violence Reduction

Richmond, CA

The City of Richmond, California, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, provides an example of a city that has successfully implemented a hybrid approach to gun violence prevention, combining several of the elements discussed above along with an innovative mentoring program known as the Peacemaker Fellowship. An ethnically diverse city with a population of 100,000, Richmond has drastically cut homicide rates in recent years by applying a version of the GVI strategy along with elements of the Cure Violence and HVIP models. Importantly, this effort was spearheaded by an innovative, independent city agency dedicated solely to the goal of reducing gun violence.

In 2007, Richmond was considered one of the most dangerous cities in America, with an extremely high homicide rate of 45.9 per 100,000 residents (compared to an average of 4.8 per 100,000 residents for similarly sized cities in California that same year). As with many urban communities, Richmond’s crime data revealed that 88% of homicide victims were male, 73% were black, and more than a third were between 18 and 24 years old. Moreover, an extremely small number of individuals were responsible for roughly 70% of Richmond’s firearm violence.70


Gun violence is a complex problem, and while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, we must act. Our reports bring you the latest cutting-edge research and analysis about strategies to end our country’s gun violence crisis at every level.

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Office of Neighborhood Safety

In response to this crisis, the city took the innovative step of creating a new city agency, the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS), responsible for “building partnerships and strategies that produce sustained reductions in firearm assaults and related retaliations and deaths in Richmond.”71Reducing gun violence is the exclusive focus of ONS, an agency that is expressly unaffiliated with local law enforcement. Around the same time that ONS began implementing its most intensive programs, many of which resemble the CV model, Richmond also started employing community-based policing strategies and a version of the GVI strategy, driven by a partnership among law enforcement, community-based organizations, and local faith leaders.

The Peacemaker Fellowship

In one of its most innovative strategies, ONS implements a direct, intensive mentoring program for the most at-risk individuals in Richmond, called the Operation Peacemaker Fellowship. This program is totally voluntary and lasts 18 months. Participants receive daily contact from outreach workers, create a life map of both short-term and long-term goals, have the opportunity to travel outside of Richmond, and are directly connected with social services.72

Participants able to meet a certain percentage of their goals and remain enrolled in the program are eligible to receive modest cash stipends as an additional incentive for continued progress. Finally, participants receive support from regular meetings with an elders’ circle that provides intergenerational mentoring.

An evaluation of the Peacemaker Fellowship showed highly positive indicators for participants: as of April 2015, 94% (or 64 out of 68) of fellows were alive, 84% had not sustained a gun-related injury, and 79% had not been arrested for gun-related crimes since becoming fellows.73 In terms of personal development, the numbers are also promising: Since enrolling, 20% of fellows received their GED or high school diploma, 10% enrolled in college or vocational training, and 50% obtained employment at some point during the fellowship.74


The results of Richmond’s comprehensive approach to gun violence reduction are very compelling. Homicides in Richmond began decreasing in 2010, and by 2013 the city had gone from suffering more than 40 homicides per year to only 16, its lowest number in more than three decades. That trend continued in 2014, a year in which there were only 11 homicides, the lowest figure since 1971—a homicide reduction of more than 72%.75 Richmond provides a promising example of the impact a city can have on gun violence levels by employing a comprehensive combination of the strategies represented by GVI, CV, and HVIP.

It should be noted that Richmond’s experience with this hybrid model has yet to be evaluated in a more rigorous experimental format, but the initial results are quite promising, and other cities have begun implementing a similar model. For example, Stockton, California, recently created an Office of Violence Prevention that is housed within the City Manager’s Office. This office’s mission is to “significantly reduce violence in the City of Stockton through the implementation of data-driven, partnership-based violence prevention and reduction programs and strategies rooted in best practices.”76

Operating in tandem with the Office of Violence Prevention, Stockton has also recently re-implemented the GVI strategy, which had previously shown very promising results in the 1990s, before being discontinued. As with Richmond, Stockton is approaching gun violence using a comprehensive strategy that blends GVI with promising public health-oriented solutions to gun violence. Since implementing these strategies, Stockton has seen a marked decrease in homicides and overall shooting incidents.77

Richmond and Stockton provide promising models that other cities should consider emulating to reduce gun violence without worsening mass incarceration levels. As one Richmond law enforcement officer explained, “We’ve learned that a very small percentage of the people—maybe 1 to 3 percent—are committing the majority of the violent acts. Instead of impacting that other 97 percent, we try to focus on the 1 to 3 percent.”78 In other words, police are targeting specific behavior—violence—rather than entire communities.

Communities considering the Richmond ONS model should contact Advance Peace, an organization that is dedicated to the replication of this model. More information is available at

For more details on Richmond and Stockton’s approach to gun violence reduction and for more about gun violence intervention strategies in general, read our full report: Healing Communities in Crisis: Lifesaving Solutions to the Urban Violence Epidemic.

  1. Gun death and injury numbers based on fatal and non-fatal firearm injury data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, for example, there were 36,252 firearm-related deaths (with 12,979 homicides) and an additional 84,997 injuries in America. “Injury Prevention & Control: Data and Statistics,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed June 6, 2017,[]
  2. Lois Beckett, “How the Gun Control Debate Ignores Black Lives,” ProPublica, Nov. 24, 2015,[]
  3. “Global Study on Homicide: Trends, Contexts, Data,” United Nations Office on
    Drugs and Crime, 2013,[]
  4. “Uniform Crime Report Crime in the United States: Murder,” US Dept. of Justice,
    Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2012,[]
  5. “UNODC Statistics,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, accessed Feb. 19, 2016,[]
  6. Ted Heinrich, “Problem Management: The Federal Role in Reducing Urban Violence,” at 7, 2012. On file at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.[]
  7. David M. Kennedy, Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America (New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2011), 14.[]
  8. Matthew S. Goldberg, “Updated Death and Injury Rates of US Military Personnel During the Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Congressional Budget Office, Working Paper Series, Dec. 2014,[]
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  63. Id. at 1-10.[]
  64. Id.[]
  65. David B. Henry et al, “The Effect of Intensive CeaseFire Intervention on Crime in Four Chicago Police Beats: Quantitative Assessment,” Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2014,[]
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  67. Daniel W. Webster et al., “Evaluation of Baltimore’s Safe Streets Program: Effects on Attitudes, Participants’ Experiences, and Gun Violence,” Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2012, 30,[]
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  72. Richard Gonzales, To Reduce Gun Violence, Potential Offenders Offered Support And Cash, NPR, Mar. 28, 2016,[]
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