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Addressing Community Violence in the City of St. Louis

Existing Strategies, Gaps, and Funding Opportunities

Introduction

There is an ongoing crisis of community violence in the City of St. Louis. In 2020, homicide rates in the city of 300,000 people reached historic highs. Nearly 90% of the 262 homicides in 2020 were committed with a gun, and the homicide rate in St. Louis was 16 times higher than the national average. In 2019, the City of St. Louis alone accounted for 30% of Missouri’s total homicides, despite having 5% of the state’s total population.1

In June 2021, the Missouri Foundation for Health contracted with the Giffords Community Violence Initiative team to synthesize the information currently known about the scope and nature of the community violence epidemic in the City of St. Louis and identify strategies that need to either be implemented or scaled up to address this crisis. In recognition of the fact that this work requires a significant infusion of resources, Giffords staff and partners have also mapped out local, state, and federal funding opportunities to support all of the recommendations made here.

This report is intended to assist St. Louis leaders and community stakeholders in prioritizing—and funding—the most effective solutions for reducing violence as quickly as possible. Violence is the result of many complex systems and inequities, from segregation and disinvestment in communities of color, to grave disparities in the criminal legal system, among others. But until the immediate bloodshed is dramatically reduced, progress on any larger social issue in St. Louis will be more difficult, as violence is both a symptom and a cause of inequality. 

That is why, while we recognize the larger systems change work that absolutely must be done to address the inequities at the root of community violence, this report is focused primarily on concrete strategies and systems that can help reduce violence in the short term, and that must be woven into the fabric of broader systems change going forward. 

Community Violence in St. Louis

“Community violence” is defined by the World Health Organization as “violence between individuals who are unrelated, and who may or may not know each other, generally taking place outside the home.”2 This includes shootings, homicides, stabbings, physical assaults, and the unnecessary use of force by law enforcement.

While the City of St. Louis suffers from all these forms of community violence, gun-related violence is by far the most prevalent: in recent years, upwards of 90% of homicides have been committed with a firearm, and nonfatal shootings result in thousands of admissions to local emergency departments and trauma centers each year. A recent report found that “St. Louis has consistently been ranked among the most dangerous cities in the United States.”3 In a country where levels of gun violence are off the charts compared to other developed nations, St. Louis stands out. 

As a general principle, there is often a very small number of individuals who drive a substantial portion of serious violent activity in any given city (often less than 1% of a given city’s population accounts for over 50% of violent crime).4 This means that broad, citywide approaches and sweeping enforcement strategies—like “stop and frisk” policing tactics, are unlikely to be effective. When it comes to addressing community violence, focus and precision are key.

It’s also essential to understand that the communities disproportionately experiencing violence have been fundamentally failed and neglected (and at times, actively abused and traumatized) by multiple societal systems, and often are bearing the burden of generational trauma and harm.5 The individuals at the highest risk of engaging in or being victimized by violence are often falling through the cracks of many different public systems, and are hard to reach unless there are well-resourced and intentional strategies to specifically identify these individuals and provide them with tailored, long-term, and intensive support.

These general trends and principles of community violence all hold true in the City of St. Louis, where multiple studies have shown that violence correlates directly to levels of poverty, racial segregation, and patterns of divestment in communities of color. 

St. Louis has undergone tremendous changes in the last few decades, reflected by dramatic population changes: the city has seen a nearly 30% decrease in its population since 1980, and a more than 62% decrease since 1950. Population decline, a top priority of city leaders,6 is intimately related to community violence. A study of violence and population trends in Chicago, which is similarly suffering from population decline,7 showed that for every murder, 70 local residents move out.8 

Extrapolating this to St. Louis, it’s safe to assume that high levels of violence are causing thousands of individuals to leave the city each year, directly affecting the local economy, tax base, and quality of life. Indeed, an Office of Justice Programs (OJP) Diagnostic Report found a trend of population growth in St. Louis neighborhoods with lower levels of violence, compared to population decline in neighborhoods with high levels of violence.9 In short, effectively addressing violence is intimately linked with other pressing political and economic priorities in the City of St. Louis.

Since reaching a low point in 2003, community violence in St. Louis has increased dramatically, hitting a “crisis point” in 2017, when the city suffered more than 200 homicides.10 The situation worsened further in 2020, with the onset of the Covid pandemic: similar to the rest of the nation, St. Louis saw a dramatic increase in homicides and shootings, reaching 262 homicides—the highest-ever homicide rate ever for the city, and the second-highest absolute number, only five short of the 267 homicides suffered in 1993.11

This violence is not evenly distributed throughout the city. In fact, violence in St. Louis has an intensely disparate impact that breaks down along socioeconomic and racial lines. The city is divided into 79 named neighborhoods that are socially meaningful for city residents (Tower Grove South, Dutchtown, Walnut Park, etc.). The areas most affected by community violence are those characterized by high rates of poverty, unemployment and underemployment, as well as residential vacancy.12 

According to a Kansas City Star analysis of federal data and police reports, “nearly 70% of St. Louis homicides in 2020 occurred in low-income areas with no access to a grocery store or supermarket for at least half a mile.”13 This violence is also tightly concentrated geographically: just four zip codes accounted for nearly half of the city’s homicides and nearly one-third of all aggravated assaults with a firearm in 2017. 

These disparities are alarming, but not surprising given that “St. Louis is one of the most racially and economically segregated cities in the country.”14 Much of the city’s poverty is concentrated in the area north of Delmar Boulevard, known as the “Delmar Divide,” where most of the city’s Black population resides as the result of voter-approved Jim Crow-era segregation policies, followed by racially restrictive housing covenants that were not formally struck down until the middle of the 20th century. The neighborhoods directly north of Delmar Boulevard are 98% Black with a median income of $18,000, while those neighborhoods south of Delmar are 73% white, with a median income of $50,000.15 “Out of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the US, St. Louis is ranked as the seventh most segregated.16

“The effect of segregation has been to systematically exclude African American families from areas of opportunity that support positive economic, educational, and health outcomes,” concluded a 2014 in-depth report on the topic by St. Louis Magazine.17 This has created “social determinants of health that break down on geographic and racial lines, including exposure to violence.”18

As a result, in a city that is 45% Black and 47% white, a disproportionate number of both victims and perpetrators of community violence are Black. In 2017, for example, nearly all homicide suspects were Black and 98% were male. This helps explain why life expectancy in St. Louis varies by zip code, and why disparities by race exist even after socioeconomic factors have been taken into account. One study found an 18-year gap in life expectancy between two zip codes, and another found that Black residents are two-and-a-half times more likely than white residents to be the victim of a violent crime.19

In 2021, as the city’s mayor gave an address about gun violence, multiple shots literally rang out in the background.20 “My son and I fall asleep to the sound of gunshots in the distance every night,” the mayor said, “because I’m the first mayor in over twenty years to be born, raised, and still live in north St. Louis.”

This violence creates tremendous human suffering and also generates economic losses for the entire region. The National Institute of Criminal Justice Reform estimates that a single homicide in St. Louis costs taxpayers in the city, county, and state $1 million, and the public cost of a single nonfatal shooting is $534,000.21 Based on these estimates, community violence in the City of St. Louis in 2020 alone cost more than $1.5 billion in healthcare, law enforcement, lost wages, and other related expenses.

The majority of this violence occurs in public spaces, impacting not just the perpetrator and victim, but also entire neighborhoods. The negative effects of living in a neighborhood where the sound of gunfire is common are well documented and include PTSD, toxic stress, and lowered test scores for students. While community violence is often viewed as a problem of “public safety,” and therefore an issue for the criminal legal system to address, in reality community violence is a public health issue that impacts every aspect of life in St. Louis, from education to tourism to economic opportunity, requiring the coordinated efforts of multiple systems to properly address.

Risk Factors for Community Violence in St. Louis

As will be discussed in detail, while a full-blown and comprehensive problem analysis of violence in St. Louis is still needed, prior work reveals much about the nature of community violence in the city. An analysis of several years of data by the US Department of Justice showed that nearly 90% of homicides were committed with a gun in a public place. The vast majority of both perpetrators and victims of gun violence in the city are young Black men, with nearly 93% of suspects being male and Black, while nearly 78% of victims were Black and nearly 65% male.22 The vast majority of suspects—more than 85%—were between the ages of 15 and 34, and more than 63% of victims were in this same age bracket. 88% of homicide suspects and nearly 83% of victims had prior criminal arrest records. 

Of the cases in which circumstances were known, data showed that arguments, fights or retaliation were the most frequent circumstances for homicides (38.3%), followed by drugs (19.2%). Taken together, these data paint a picture of many homicides in St. Louis not being random acts of violence, but instead stemming from interpersonal disputes. This is in line with trends in other cities with high levels of community violence and research showing that personal conflicts within a neighborhood are one of the strongest drivers of community violence.23 When acts have patterns and are not random, they are more easily interrupted and prevented. 

In addition to these general trends, research has also established several individual and community-level risk factors that, when present, make it more likely that a person will commit or be the victim of community violence. The presence of risk factors help indicate where interventions and services need to be focused, while protective factors indicate what kinds of interventions and services are most likely to make a difference.  

Individual Risk Factors

As the St. Louis Youth Violence Prevention Partnership’s 2018–2023 Strategic Plan describes, individual risk factors for young people include:

  • impulsiveness
  • youth substance use
  • antisocial or aggressive beliefs and attitudes
  • low levels of school achievement
  • weak connection to school
  • experiencing child abuse and neglect
  • exposure to violence in the home or community
  • involvement with delinquent peers or gangs
  • lack of appropriate supervision
  • parental substance abuse
  • parental or caregiver use of harsh or inconsistent discipline

“Depression, anxiety, chronic stress and trauma, and peer conflict and rejection are also associated with youth violence perpetration and victimization. Youth who are arrested, particularly before age 13, have a heightened risk for future violence and crime, school dropout, and substance abuse.”24 

The relationship between prior acts of violence and exposure to violence are particularly strong. One study found that exposure to gun violence—being shot, being shot at, or witnessing a shooting—doubled the probability that a young person would commit a violent act within two years.25 Research shows that, in areas where rates of violence are high, an individual who is admitted to the hospital with a violent injury has an up to 40% chance of being reinjured again within five years.26 Moreover, if an individual is exposed to social networks that engage in community violence, it increases the likelihood that he/she may become either a victim or a perpetrator of community violence.27 

This is why interrupting cycles of violence by tailoring resources and interventions to those at high risk is so important: stopping one violent act now can prevent dozens of future acts of violence. 

Community Risk Factors

Community-level risk factors for violence include:28

  • residential instability
  • crowded housing
  • density of alcohol-related businesses
  • poor economic growth or stability
  • unemployment
  • concentrated poverty
  • neighborhood violence and crime
  • lack of positive relationships among residents 

Several of these key risk factors, which increase the probability that a person will suffer and/or inflict harm, are explored in more detail below.

Poverty, Education, and Housing Instability

Poverty is a risk factor for violence and an issue that disproportionately affects the City of St. Louis compared to the larger St. Louis region, the State of Missouri, and the rest of the United States as a whole. Measures from the US Census Bureau indicate that 27% of the population of the City of St. Louis lives in poverty, with approximately 28% of families earning $25,000 or less per year.29 Poverty in St. Louis, like violence, is not distributed evenly across the city, and the Youth Violence Prevention Partnership 2018–2023 Strategic Plan demonstrates the strong correlation between poverty and homicides with a homicide map clearly showing “a geographically concentrated clustering [of homicides] in the poorest parts of the city.”30

A diagnostic report by the US Department of Justice similarly found that “Homicides are highly concentrated in a few St. Louis neighborhoods, mostly located in the northern and southeastern parts of the city. These areas are characterized by high rates of poverty, unemployment and residential vacancy. The more stable and affluent southwestern neighborhoods experienced only one homicide in 2014.”31

As discussed above, much poverty is concentrated in the northern part of the city, which has suffered from decades of extreme segregation and divestment. The US Department of Justice diagnostic, in looking at pockets of “concentrated disadvantage” (characterized by individuals below the poverty line, public assistance, and unemployment) in the City of St. Louis, found that “Almost the entire north side of St. Louis can be characterized by this indicator.”32 In the YVPP “Violence Reduction Zone,” a section of North St. Louis that is disproportionately plagued by high rates of violence, poverty rates are 33%, and unemployment rates are 23%, compared to a citywide unemployment rate of 7.5%.33 Moreover, while 8% of the adult population in the City of St. Louis is estimated to be unemployed (compared to a regional rate of 6.3%), more than 37% of individuals on adult supervision because of a violent conviction were unemployed and had a need for social services to support them financially.34  

Poverty is also intimately linked with lack of access to quality education, and nearly 16% of the population in the City of St. Louis did not complete high school, according to the US Census Bureau, with a high school drop-out rate 10% higher than the regional average.35 In the Violence Reduction Zone, however, the number of individuals who didn’t finish high school is nearly 24%, while only 11% have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 32% citywide.36 

Housing instability, which is closely related to poverty, is also a risk factor for violence,37 and data shows that as recently as the 2016–2017 school year, over a quarter of the students enrolled in St. Louis public schools would be considered homeless.38 There is also stark racial disparity in the City of St. Louis when it comes to housing security, with Black residents being nearly four times as likely to be homeless as white residents.39

Contact with the Criminal Legal System

Another risk factor for violence is the number of times a given individual has contact with the criminal legal system. According to a diagnostic report by the US Department of Justice, more than 82% of homicide victims and close to 90% of suspects in St. Louis had a criminal history consisting of at least one prior felony or misdemeanor-level arrest.40 A study by the Vera Institute for Justice found that “St. Louis has had one of the highest incarceration rates in the country. In 2015, St. Louis sent people to prison at a rate nearly three times higher than the national average and incarcerated people in its jails at a rate more than twice the national average.”41 Studies show that incarceration has a criminogenic effect, meaning that people exiting jail or prison are actually more likely to reoffend because of the negative effects of incarceration, which helps explain how St. Louis’s overreliance on incarceration has not improved public safety in a city that consistently suffers one of the highest homicides rates in the nation.42 

There are large racial disparities in the criminal legal system in St. Louis as well, with Black people accounting for 74% of those prosecuted for criminal offenses, despite making up 47% of the city’s population. Overall, Black residents are prosecuted at a rate roughly three times higher than white residents.43

Vacant Lots and Properties

A number of studies confirm the relationship between higher numbers of vacant lots and higher levels of violent crime. This is a particular issue in St. Louis, which has one of the nation’s highest rates of vacant lots for a city of its size, with tens of thousands of parcels in the city being either vacant lots or vacant structures—between 25.7% and 40.0% of all parcels.44 Vacancies are disproportionately concentrated in areas of the city that suffer from high levels of violence. An analysis by the Youth Violence Prevention Partnership found that, in the Violence Prevention Zone, an area of North St. Louis with high levels of violence, “the proportion of lots that are vacant or contain vacant structures…range as high as 62.5%.”45 In addition, the US Department of Justice looked at building condemnations in 2016 and found that high-violence neighborhoods had a closer proximity to the highest concentrations of building condemnations.46 

This is an issue that relates to public safety and is also a clear priority for St. Louis residents in general. In a 2017 community survey of the St. Louis Promise Zone, 27% of respondents named “vacant/dilapidated buildings/lots” as a primary concern, which made this the most common issue for residents.47 A statement by the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission (VPC) noted that “When VPC and our partners like the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership have canvassed in high crime neighborhoods, residents most often cite vacant buildings and lots as a safety concern before traditional street crime.”48

Low Levels of Trust between Residents and Law Enforcement

As Giffords Law Center described in detail in its report, In Pursuit of Peace, another community-level risk factor for violence is a strained relationship between residents and law enforcement. One of the most aggravating factors in this relationship is the frequency the use of force—especially lethal force—by the police. “According to data from Mapping Police Violence, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department killed more people per capita between 2013 and 2020 than any other police department in the country.”49 Tellingly, not a single one of those shootings has made it to the Civilian Oversight Board in the nearly five years the board has been up and running.50

In a community survey conducted by the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission of more than 1,200 residents indicated that they would be willing to call the police if they witnessed suspicious activity or to report a crime, but most people expressed disagreement with the following statements: a) Police serve all people equitably; b) Police enforce the laws the same way across all people; and c) Police admit when they get something wrong.51 These are all key indicators of a lack of legitimacy, which is one of the cornerstones of trust between police and the community they serve. 

Contributing to this belief is a measured disparity in the way Black residents and white residents are policed. A report by the Center for Policing Equity, discussed in more detail, below, looked at years of data from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and found that Black residents were more than twice as likely as white residents to be stopped on the street, Black drivers were disproportionately pulled over relative to their share of the population, and, once pulled over, were more likely to be arrested than white residents, and force was used against Black residents at a rate four times higher than for white residents.52

Another factor that undermines community faith in law enforcement is low clearance rates for serious violent crimes. Nationally, in 2019, US law-enforcement agencies cleared 61% of murders and nonnegligent homicides and 31% of aggravated assaults with firearms. As of September 2020, the clearance rate for homicides during the year in St. Louis was just 24%.53 

Homicides involving Black victims in St. Louis were far less likely to be cleared than those involving white victims or victims of other races.54 All of these disparate outcomes exacerbate distrust of law enforcement, which reinforces cycles of retaliatory violence. 

“There is a lack of trust between community members, especially people of color, and the police departments in the region. This is due to systemic issues in how the criminal justice system disproportionately affects black communities,” summarized a statement on policing and violence prevention by the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission.55 “Community members simultaneously feel over-policed and under-policed. This lack of trust leads to lower clearance rates for violent crimes due to lack of cooperation with investigations. This can lead to more retaliatory crime as victims take it upon themselves to find ‘justice’ for their situation.”

Protective Factors for Community Violence

Protective factors may reduce the occurrence of violence or make the outcome less impactful. At a general level, addressing any of the risk factors listed above, at both the individual and community level, will help to reduce violence, including “household financial security, safe and stable housing, economic opportunities, increasing access to services and social support, residents’ willingness to assist each other, and collective views that violence is not acceptable.”56 A St. Louis-specific analysis by the Youth Violence Prevention Partnership identified the following protective factors:57

  • Healthy social, problem-solving, and emotional regulation skills 
  • School readiness and academic achievement
  • Positive and warm parent-youth relationships
  • Positive peer and adult mentoring relationships 
  • Supportive social networks
  • Access to mental and behavioral health services
  • Steady employment

A US Department of Justice diagnostic project from 2017 showed how violence can be addressed even while certain risk factors remain present. Researchers compared four St. Louis neighborhoods, all with high levels of poverty, but only two with high rates of violence, and found key protective factors included fewer vacant houses, good public lighting, and less presence of trash. This is in line with other findings that “physical environments of schools, parks, and business and residential areas that are regularly repaired and maintained and designed to increase visibility, control access, and promote positive interactions and appropriate use of public spaces are also buffers to violence.”58 

Access to social services that can address the risk factors of violence and provide additional protective factors is critical as well. One study found that “having services that are within a two-mile radius of a person can serve as a protective factor to reduce recidivism,”59 which is why increasing access to services for those at high risk of engaging in violence is a crucial aspect of any city’s violence reduction strategy. A 2017 focus group of adults living in high-violence areas in St. Louis echoed this finding as well, reporting that in order to reduce violence, “additional resources and services are needed to meet the needs of residents.”60

This report examines violence reduction strategies in the City of St. Louis through the lens of the risk and protective factors discussed above, and recommends the expansion and implementation of specific initiatives based on those factors. This is in line with the consensus finding that “reducing violence requires multi-prong approaches that target the community, businesses, schools, criminal justice, social services, and the individual,” with successful initiatives marked by their consideration of the factors that most influence violent behavior.61

Local Context: The City of St. Louis at a Crossroads

As of the publication of this report, the City of St. Louis sits at a juncture of tremendous challenge and tremendous opportunity. In addition to the challenges of epidemic levels of community violence, St. Louis is also grappling with extremely high levels of segregation, inequity, and population decline. The fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of police in nearby Ferguson in 2014, rocked the nation and shook the St. Louis region to its core, centering issues of police violence, segregation, and systemic racism. Then in 2020, the global Covid pandemic exacerbated nearly every measure of previously existing racial and economic disparities, including community violence, and issues of social justice were only amplified further by the murder of George Flloyd in Minneapolis in the summer of 2020.

It was with that background that St. Louis voters elected Tishaura Jones as mayor—the first Black woman to lead the city in its history.62 Jones has made addressing violence one of the priorities of her policy platform, calling for a strategic, focused approach to violence reduction that balances community-based solutions with a more targeted law enforcement approach. “The city must reject the false choice between being ‘tough’ on crime and addressing the root causes of violence,” Jones writes in her public safety plan. “We must address the small groups responsible for the large percentage of violent crimes. Officers are spending too much time responding to routine calls instead of addressing violent crime.”63

Her first executive order as mayor was designed to address accountability and transparency at the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) by giving additional powers to the Civilian Oversight Board. “These systems were built for abuse, not accountability,” Jones explained. “If we want to rebuild trust between our communities and the police department, we cannot allow the police to investigate themselves. This Executive Order creates a clear and direct line of authority between Internal Affairs and the Civilian Oversight Board.”64

As described by Dr. Daniel Isom, the City of St. Louis Public Safety Director, the mayor’s plan for addressing community violence rests on three pillars: 1) improving physical safety and responses to violent crime (including improving the response to nonfatal shootings and developing a civilian response to certain emergency calls for service), 2) investing in root causes of violence and social determinants of health (including addressing environmental factors such as vacant lots and providing social services for those at high risk of engaging in violence), and 3) ensuring that public safety is responsive to community input (including a formal partnership with the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission).

Early actions to address community violence on the part of the Jones administration and its partners are encouraging. In 2021, the first year of Jones’s term, homicides and shootings declined 25%. However, relative to other US cities, buy-in and leadership from the mayor’s office alone will not be enough to move the needle. The City of St. Louis’s weak mayoral system means that Jones lacks some of the authority—over policy levers like certain cabinet appointments and budget decisions—enjoyed by mayors in other cities.65 To move her violence reduction agenda, it will be critical for Mayor Jones to win support from diverse stakeholders ranging from the Board of Alderman to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment to residents in the cities most impacted neighborhoods.

Another unique challenge for St. Louis is the fact that its police force, SLMPD, was controlled by the state until relatively recently. It wasn’t until 2013 that the city regained control of its police force, something it had not had for over 150 years. This change has allowed for more local control, but also came with a host of challenges, including syncing up city functions around hiring and other forms of administration with the needs of the department. Hiring and retention remains a major issue at SLMPD, an issue compounded by the fact that the County of St. Louis, which is a totally separate and distinct entity from the adjacent City of St. Louis, is able to offer starting salaries thousands of dollars more than SLMPD.

The divisions between the city and county of St. Louis present another major challenge. These entities have been divided since the “Great Divorce” of 1875, and efforts to formally combine have not been successful.66 The County of St. Louis itself is splintered into dozens of independent political entities, with many of them having independent police departments. Between the city and county, there are more than 600 elected officials, which makes coordination incredibly difficult.67 Calls for a coordinated, regional response have not been heeded and county officials have failed to adequately prioritize addressing violence.

Prior Analysis

A number of other agencies and consultants have undertaken analyses of St. Louis’s community violence problem, and Giffords does not intend to reinvent the wheel with this report. Below are key findings from each major study that reinforce and complement the recommendations made in this report.

2017 OJP Diagnostic Analysis for the City of St. Louis, Missouri

In 2017, the Federal Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) completed a “diagnostic analysis” focused on youth violence (involving people ages 15 to 24) in the City of St. Louis.68 The report found that, compared to other cities of similar size, St. Louis actually had the highest rate of officers per 1,000 residents, suggesting that simply hiring more officers would not necessarily lower levels of violence. Based on a variety of data sources and interviews with more than 27 stakeholders from different local systems, OJP researchers found that youth violence in St. Louis is directly linked with levels of poverty, that young Black men were most likely to be both victims and perpetrators of community violence, and that various risk factors, including poverty levels and high school dropout rates, were higher in the City of St. Louis compared to rates seen in St. Louis county, statewide, and nationwide.

OJP conducted a number of focus groups with adult and youth residents of high-crime neighborhoods in which residents reported that a lack of convictions and fear of retaliation were undermining willingness to provide witness testimony in violent crimes. Despite issues around lack of trust of law enforcement, residents interviewed expressed a desire for officers to be allotted to neighborhoods based on frequency of crime, and frustration with a perception of officers being pulled to events in other areas of the city.69

The report identified a number of existing strengths for St. Louis to build upon, including coordination efforts through what is now the Violence Prevention Commission, and also identified key gaps that needed to be addressed, including:70 

  1. A lack of intervention services for at-risk youth and low-level offenders;
  2. A lack of outreach workers, case managers, and wraparound services in violent crime hot spots;
  3. An inability for resources and services to reach the highest risk individuals and their families;
  4. A lack of drug treatment and mental health services
  5. A lack of trauma-informed services and training for staff working with youth

Several of the key recommendations to help fill these gaps are echoed in this report as well, including OJP’s recommendation to “reorganize city services and their funding sources to enable proactive outreach to high violence neighborhoods,” and strategically focusing SLMPD resources on investigating and solving both homicides and nonfatal shootings.71 

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Administrative Review

In 2020, members of the private sector in St. Louis contracted with Teneo Risk, an international consulting firm, to conduct a thorough review of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) and make recommendations for its improvement.72 The report found that the department was 120 to 140 officers under its ideal number, but that the allocation of resources mattered more than raw numbers. 

One of the core recommendations was that SLMPD strategically prioritize serious acts of violence, rather than attempting to respond to every single call for service. “The department’s focus on responding to calls may create a perception among St. Louis residents that the police are heavy-handed in crime enforcement without contributing to any improvements in overall quality-of-life issues, or that officers are not trustworthy or invested in serving the public,” the report concluded.73 

Teneo Risk recommended several specific changes as part of this strategic shift that are relevant and echoed in this report, including:

  1. Redistribute patrol resources based on levels of serious violent crime: At the time of Teneo’s report, patrol resources were evenly distributed among the six major policing districts—which was inconsistent with crime trends and did not reflect the fact that most serious violence disproportionately occurs in certain districts.
  2. Prioritize response to shots fired: Teneo recommended that SLMPD increase shots fired notifications detected by the city’s ShotSpotter technology, which alerts the police when a firearm is discharged in certain areas of the city, be classified as Priority 1. Changing this designation would improve response times to gun-related incidents and help to both solve a higher number of shootings, while also addressing the perception that SLMPD is not responsive to issues of gun violence.
  3. Improve support for prevention and intervention strategies: Teneo recommended that SLMPD “explore more diverse means of prevention and intervention in crime, in collaboration with local nonprofits and community organizations.” 
  4. Identify alternatives to officer response for non-violent, low-level disturbances: Teneo recommended rerouting low-priority calls for service, to allow officers to spend more time on crime prevention. 
  5. Improve City and County Coordination: According to Teneo’s assessment, the City and County do not analyze and share criminal intelligence in any regular or strategic manner tied to specific crime-reduction efforts, and should improve this in order to improve its response to crime.

Several of the recommendations proposed by consultants from Teneo Risk are repeated in this report, including the need to bolster social services for high-risk individuals, strategically focus police resources on serious violent crime—with an emphasis on homicides and shootings—and increasing coordination between both law enforcement and community stakeholders when it comes to responding serious violence.

George Mason University – Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) Framework

In 2016, the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission, with funding from United Way and Washington University, contracted with George Mason University’s Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence to assess the capacity of programs and services in St. Louis to address violence and support crime reduction efforts.74 

George Mason researchers conducted an analysis to determine the capacity of local organizations to address the needs of individuals and the risk factors most associated with violent behaviors. A review of the research literature showed the importance of providing programming that includes elements of cognitive therapy with the development of life skills, so George Mason researchers looked specifically at the capacity of local organizations to provide that kind of programming. This revealed a lack of relevant programming in a number of key areas. For example, out of 2,100 violent offenders identified in the study, nearly 34% of the population needed decision making programs and 34% would benefit from self-management programs, yet the George Mason team found no programs to address decision making and very few to address self-management. “Programming cannot address the issues of the population and/or community if getting into a program is like finding a needle in a haystack,” researchers concluded.75

Finally, researchers recommended that St. Louis continue to foster the capacity for organizations to collaborate in delivering services to high-risk populations, including the development of an academy where service providers can learn skills to prevent violence and crime, and to improve the use of evidence-based practices and treatments. “It would behoove a foundation or government agency to develop and implement an academy to assist providers to improve the quality of their services and to advance treatment outcomes,” concluded the George Mason team. “The curriculum should include how best to do evidence-based programming, training staff, and tailoring services to the unique needs of clients.”76

This report underscores several of these recommendations and emphasizes the need for the City of St. Louis to expand the capacity of organizations providing services to those at the highest risk of exposure to violence and their families.

Youth Violence Prevention Partnership, 2018-2023 Strategic Plan

The St. Louis Youth Violence Prevention Partnership (YVPP) is a more than 20-member collaborative supported by the City of St. Louis Department of Health and Ready by 21 St. Louis. In 2018, YVPP, which is now a subcommittee of the broader St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission (VPC), launched a planning process to create a strategic plan for reducing youth violence in St. Louis, based on the following principles: 1) informed and owned by youth, 2) accountable for action, 3) focused and targeted to avoid mission creep, and 4) committed to maximizing collective impact by breaking down silos. The plan emphasizes actions in a geographically specific portion of North St. Louis, referred to as the Violence Reduction Zone (VRZ).77

The strategies proposed in the YVPP strategic plan were influenced by the realities that nearly all homicides in St. Louis are committed with a gun (at a rate much higher than the national average), victims and suspects are generally known to one another, many acts of violence arise from some form of dispute between the perpetrator and victim, and Black young men ages 15–24 account for 5% of the population, but more than 20% of victims and 50% of perpetrators of lethal violence. The plan also recognized that “violence does not occur in a vacuum. It is concentrated in the communities that have been (and continue to be) victims of structural inequality,” noting the higher levels of poverty, unemployment, segregation, and lower academic achievement in the VRZ. 

In developing the strategic plan, YVPP worked with trained facilitators to structure conversations with more than 100 young people who were either directly impacted by violence or lived in directly impacted communities. Several strong themes arose from these conversation, including “the pervasiveness of shooting and gun violence, not being able to access their entire community because of safety concerns, a desire for stronger relationships and trust within communities, and a need for more programming and structured activities.”78

With that input in mind, and with the end goal of protecting all youth in St. Louis from violence, the YVPP created five goals to drive violence reduction efforts:

  1. Increase the availability and accessibility of safe spaces and positive connections for youth
  2. Support and enhance neighborhood and community-based organizations to re-build social cohesion
  3. Advocate for better coordination of city, nonprofit, and volunteer efforts to improve neighborhood conditions
  4. Foster positive interactions between community and law enforcement (police, courts, etc.)
  5. Implement a sustainability framework for youth violence prevention focused on the VRZ

Each of these core goals included specific objectives and measurable action items needed to achieve it, along with a justification for its inclusion in the strategic plan. For example, one of the specific objectives under the goal of creating safe spaces and positive connections for youth included providing street outreach “to reach disconnected youth and connect them to services.” One of the activities to achieve this included contracting with community-based organizations like Mission St. Louis to provide “evidence-based outreach to teens and young adults,” with specific performance measures of the number of street outreach contacts and referrals. The reason for this objective was a reported lack of after-school programming for at-risk youth, including long waitlists for mentoring and youth employment programs and the role of such programming and services as protective factors that lower risk of exposure to violence. 

Although it is now several years old, the YVPP strategic plan is a thoughtful, well-executed document—noteworthy for its effort to include and center youth from St. Louis neighborhoods most impacted by violence—that continues to be highly relevant and forms the basis of actions taken by stakeholders around St. Louis, including the VPC. Many of its recommendations are echoed in this report. 

Center for Policing Equity Analysis of Police Practices

In an effort to identify and better understand racial disparities with respect to policing, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) engaged the Center for Policing Equity (CPE) to conduct an analysis of SLMPD data dating back seven years regarding pedestrian stops, vehicle stops, and the use of force against residents. The CPE found clear evidence of racial disparities in each of these areas.79

Black residents were found to be more than twice as likely as white residents to be stopped on the street, Black drivers were disproportionately pulled over relative to their share of the population, and, once pulled over, were more likely to be arrested than white residents. Most importantly, the analysis revealed disparities in the use of force across racial groups, with 81% of all people subjected to force between 2012 and 2019 being Black, despite the fact that Black residents represented 47% of the population. Force was used against Black residents at a rate four times higher than for white residents.

SLMPD is continuing to engage with CPE in an effort to improve transparency by informing the community of the findings of CPE’s analysis.80 In addition CPE is assisting with a pilot program for Districts 1 and 5, with an emphasis on eliminating racial disparities in stops and use of force, building back trust with residents, ensuring that police activities directly relate to improving public safety, and partnering with non-law enforcement stakeholders to play a more active role in public safety.81

The CPE analysis provided concrete evidence to support the feeling reported by many community members that SLMPD officers do not serve all people equitably. Confronting this head-on and working to change both the perception and the reality around policing equity in St. Louis will be an important part of reducing community violence. Several of the recommendations made in this report are intended to reinforce that goal.

Washington University Institute for Public Health Analysis 

A multidisciplinary team with funding from the Washington University Institute for Public Health spent a year reviewing data and interviewing stakeholders to determine the ingredients that were in place in St. Louis in 2003, when the city reached a historically low level of violent crime.82 The key takeaways from this project were that: 1) leadership is a vital component for sustainable outcomes and real impact, 2) willingness to cooperate among and within agencies and to share responsibility, information, and resources is necessary to achieve results, and 3) funding that aids collaboration and programs provides the infrastructure for continued collaboration and sustained funding. 

Existing Strategies 

St. Louis is already implementing a number of evidence-based strategies to address community violence, although as will be discussed in detail below, most of these strategies are at the scale of pilot programs rather than robust, institutionalized solutions. These efforts fall into three broad buckets: coordination, services for high-risk individuals, and law enforcement. The fact that the city saw a 25% reduction in homicides in 2021 indicates that these strategies are having an impact,83 and their expansion will help to maintain the positive momentum from 2021 into 2022 and beyond. 

Coordination: The St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission

Effectively addressing community violence requires a highly coordinated, multi-stakeholder response. “Addressing violence demands a multi-disciplinary response and a strategic plan to effectively organize these efforts,” recommends a 10-step guide for cities released in January 2022 by the Council on Criminal Justice’s Violent Crime Working Group, which consists of 16 issue-area experts from around the country, including Giffords Community Violence Initiative Director Paul Carrillo.84 “Most critically, leaders must coordinate stakeholder activities focused on the highest risk people and places.” 

In recognizing that violence is a public health epidemic that requires much more than a law enforcement response alone, the cities that have had the most success addressing community violence in recent years have all intentionally built capacity for collaboration between government agencies and between the public and private sector.85 

In St. Louis, one of the only entities dedicated to coordinating and improving a citywide response to community violence is the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission (VPC).86 This effort originated as a partnership between stakeholders at Washington University in St. Louis and United Way of Greater St. Louis, which saw the need for better coordination among the many individuals and groups working on the epidemic of violence in the region. It was later bolstered by the Saint Louis Mental Health Board, who dedicated executive level staff time to move the group from planning to implementation.

The VPC now has more than 150 organizational members representing education, healthcare, law enforcement, local government, neighborhood groups, and social services. There are a number of working committees that allow individuals to contribute to the collective effort, including in the areas of community engagement, policy and systems change, service delivery, evaluation, and communications. The VPC as a whole meets quarterly and subcommittees meet monthly to provide regular opportunities for networking and information sharing. The group’s stated goals for 2021 were to advance an agenda around:

  1. Police legitimacy
  2. Trauma-informed care/safe spaces for youth and young adults
  3. Response to nonfatal shootings
  4. Supporting evidence-based program implementation
  5. Community engagement and leadership development
  6. Engaging local leadership in the VPC’s action plan

In conjunction with Mayor Jones’s office, the VPC also plays a key role in facilitating community input regarding the mayor’s blueprint for public safety. To achieve this, the VPC hosted a series of community planning sessions and town hall meetings starting in September 2021, and has created two different online surveys to gather resident input.87

There is also specific programming that VPC helps to implement along with its partners, including the Gun Violence Response Network,88 a resource for victims of gun violence and individuals who have witnessed gun violence and need support. Through a 2-1-1 hotline run by United Way, survivors of violence are put in touch with a navigator who can direct them to specific services such as mental health, victims compensation, housing, and others. 

“We know when folks have experienced violence, victims of violence have a higher risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder than victims of other types of trauma,” said VPC Project Director Jessica Meyers.89 “Helping people to deal with the trauma actually reduces the likelihood that they will have the trauma symptoms that could lead to them committing a future violent act.”

For most of its programming, the VPC serves as an intermediary, passing funds through to community-based organizations. For example, in response to the fact that violence traditionally peaks in summer months in St. Louis (as it does in cities across the country), the VPC was able to leverage federal ReCAST grant funds to create the Safer Summer St. Louis Campaign. Through this effort, a partner organization created a toolkit for agencies looking to plan engagement activities for St. Louis youth during the summer months, and VPC directed funds to support several such events.

Funded projects included a student-led conflict resolution center in which high school students created a tool kit for schools to develop peer mediation groups, arts programming for youth, a healing and recovery clinic for individuals impacted by gun violence, a boxing program that included family safety planning and community first-responder training. In addition, St. Louis ArtWorks partnered with youth to design, construct, and install artwork to rehabilitate a vacant lot in a high-violence area.90 Demand for this type of programming was so high that the city invested $1 million to continue it year-round.91

Another example of a VPC-led programming is the Handle with Care Initiative, which creates a process for law enforcement to notify school leaders when a child becomes involved in or is otherwise exposed to violence.92 Prior to the implementation of this program, school officials were only finding out about such events through word of mouth. With this initiative, teachers and administrators are alerted to potentially traumatic events in a student’s life and can respond in a way that supports the student and promotes healing, rather than unintentionally exacerbating the trauma and toxic stress of witnessing or being the victim of violence. The program has led to increased coordination between SLMPD and the public school district, including a formal Memorandum of Understanding, and has been so well-received that the county is looking to replicate it.

The VPC is playing a crucial role in building regional capacity to address violence, but much of the success described above is happening despite a lack of significant investment in this work—much is driven by volunteerism and as of the publication of this report, the VPC has only one full-time staffer.93 As will be discussed below, expanding and sustaining support for the VPC should be an important part of the city’s (as well as the county’s) strategy for addressing community violence. This community-centered coordination effort should also be complemented by enhancing coordination capacity at the local government level as well, particularly within the mayor’s office.

Services for High-Risk Individuals

One of the key elements of a successful strategy to reduce community violence is directly addressing risk factors with high-risk individuals through the provision of services. As indicated earlier in this report, those at highest risk of engaging in or being victimized by violence in St. Louis are young Black men who have generally had multiple contacts with the criminal legal system, have been victimized by violence or witnessed acts of violence in the past, and who are dealing with issues related to untreated trauma, housing instability, and a lack of access to quality educational and employment opportunities.  

It’s important to build up not just a single organization or entity to address these needs, but rather to develop a coordinated ecosystem of programs that address the root causes of violence and specialize in providing services to difficult-to-reach populations. As the Council on Criminal Justice’s Violence points out, “When possible, cities should avoid placing all the burden of street outreach on a single provider. Instead, fund multiple organizations that are trained and organized centrally in partnership with local government.”94 

Cities that have successfully reduced violence in recent years, including Los Angeles, Boston, and New York City, as well as smaller jurisdictions such as Richmond, California, and New Haven, Connecticut, have committed significant resources to support community-based organizations in delivering effective, trauma-informed, and culturally relevant services to this high-risk population. St. Louis has a number of groups that are doing this work and, as will be discussed in the following section, still has a pressing need to expand and coordinate this critical, community-based approach to reducing violence.

Street Outreach, Violence Interruption, and Intensive Mentoring

Cure Violence

Cure Violence is a public health approach to reducing violence based on connecting those at the highest risk of violence with trained violence interrupters and outreach workers.95 Cure Violence also calls for addressing social norms of violence within the community through public events, conversations, and media campaigns. Various evaluations have associated this strategy with significant reductions in violence when implemented with model fidelity and sustained resources.96 

In the fall of 2019, the St. Louis Board of Alderman approved the funding of three Cure Violence sites at $7 million over a three-year period. Two catchment areas, in Wells Goodfellow/Hamilton Heights and Dutchtown, were launched in 2020 and are run by Employment Connection, and a third site in Walnut Park, was launched in January 2021 and is run by the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. The whole program is overseen by the St. Louis Department of Health, which contracted with Employment Connection and the Urban League to run the specific sites, each chosen based on their high levels of gun violence: in 2019, those three neighborhoods accounted for about 28% of the city’s homicides, despite making up just 10% of its population.97

According to Sal Martinez, executive director of Employment Connection, the two sites his organization manages have eight full-time staff each, consisting of three violence interrupters, three outreach workers, an outreach supervisor, and a site manager.98 Staff go out into the community in the catchment area and build relationships, seeking to identify those at the highest risk of engaging in violence. Cure Violence Global, the organization providing technical assistance for the project, has a risk assessment tool that Employment Connections staff uses before they formally add an individual to their caseload, which is generally limited to 15 individuals per outreach worker, although caseloads can be expanded, if necessary.  

Caseloads are deliberately kept small because this population has a large number of needs and extra time is required to navigate trust issues and build relationships with participants and their families (in addition to the core clients, Martinez said that his team is serving about 50 other individuals when counting participants’ social networks). Nearly all of the Cure Violence population served by Employment Connection are formerly or currently involved with the criminal legal system, so employment is a major issue. Employment Connection staff keep a database of employers that are “second chance friendly.”99 The goal is to shepherd clients to services that will help reduce their long-term risk of engaging in or being victimized by violence. 

When acts of violence are imminent, the Cure Violence team also acts to defuse potentially lethal situations with trained Violence Interrupters. As a concrete example of this, on a day in February 2021, several 911 calls were made about a man walking down the street, armed with a knife and reportedly seeking retaliation against certain other individuals who he felt had wronged him. Before the police arrived, an off-duty Violence Interrupter from the Dutchtown Cure Violence site stopped the man and was able to talk him down, peacefully. 

“He kept talking to the guy, utilizing techniques to engage the individual and let him know that he was there seeking a peaceful resolution to whatever the conflict was,” Sal Martinez, CEO of Employment Connections, told local reporters.100 Martinez also reported that his team planned to follow up with the individual to engage him in services to help reduce his risk of violence.      

Those kinds of interactions have been happening on a regular basis in all three Cure Violence sites. From their inception in 2020 to midway through 2021, the three sites reported a combined 326 interruptions of potential acts of violence. Given how cycles of retaliation work, each interrupted act of violence represents many more potential acts of violence that were prevented before they could occur. 

Not only were homicides down 25% citywide in 2021,101 but the city is also “seeing reductions across all [Cure Violence] catchment areas,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Fredrick Echols, with a more than 45% reduction in homicides across the Cure Violence sites from 2021 to 2022.102 Mayor Jones and Director of Public Safety Dr. Daniel Isom also credits the three Cure Violence sites with helping to curb homicide and other crimes in the city, demonstrating support from a variety of city leaders.103 

As will be discussed in detail below, the key is now to expand the catchment areas to cover more hot spots for violence and to institutionalize Cure Violence as a permanent part of the city’s violence reduction strategy.  

Serving Our Streets

Serving Our Streets is an initiative of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, Inc., which is designed to provide case management to at-risk individuals and their families in 8-by-10-block areas in the neighborhoods of Hyde Park, Jeff Vander Lou, Kingsway East, and also—with the help of a $1 million federal grant awarded in 2020—Baden, Walnut Park, and the Murphy Blair apartments.104 The stated mission of Serving Our Streets is to “reduce crime and violence, while making neighborhoods more livable.” This is done through a model that begins by literally meeting participants where they are: Engagement Specialists visit potential participants in their homes, where they conduct a non-intrusive assessment to determine the needs of the entire household.

After agreeing to engage, a participant household is assigned a Case Manager, who builds a relationship with the head of the household by contacting that person multiple times a week. Based on the unique needs of each household, both Case Managers and Engagement Specialists work with members of the household to connect them with relevant service providers. Similar to the Cure Violence model, Serving Our Streets also has a community capacity building element and staff members organize neighborhood events in order to build community cohesion and agency.

Participants may be referred to partner agencies for assistance with various needs. In Walnut Park, for example, this includes the Black Alcohol/Drug Service Information Center (BASIC) for substance use issues, and the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) for employment assistance. The Urban League also has a number of in-house services related to violence reduction that participants may leverage, including the Neighborhood Healing Network,105 a support system for victims of violence, the Gun Violence De-Escalation Network, which provides for short-term conflict mediation and assistance with relocation for conflicts that cannot be resolved, and the Cure Violence site in Walnut Park.106 

Race & Opportunity Lab 

The Race & Opportunity Lab, located in the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, aims to examine “race, opportunity, and social mobility with an emphasis on informing policies, interventions, and interprofessional practice.”107 The Race & Opportunity Lab houses several initiatives, one of which focuses on the healthy development of Black boys and young men ages 12–29 years old. 

After the murder of Michael Brown in 2014, Dr. Sean Joe, principal director of the Race & Opportunity Lab, envisioned a new strategy that focused on identifying Black males who were at a higher risk of incarceration and homicide while assessing the needs of local providers to ensure quality services were made available for those who were deemed at-risk. This initiative, Homegrown STL, is built around the core belief that in order to improve the quality of life for Black men, short-term and collaborative long- term strategies should be implemented.108

Homegrown STL values a “village mindset” that purports that an individual’s success is enhanced by the community’s level of investment in the individual.109 Because Homegrown STL believes partnerships and collaboration are essential to align appropriate, personalized services with young Black men to support their journeys towards success, a key element of the Homegrown STL strategy is the introduction of life coaches who meet with participants for at least 90 minutes each week “to set personalized, socio-economic mobility goals.”110

Dr. Joe believes that life coaches are fundamental for success due to the need for high-risk young men to have an increased sense of engagement, support, and safety. While many organizations may lack the capacity or funding to provide long-term support for this high-risk population, Homegrown STL is working with city and community leaders to scale their program to ensure that identified high-risk Black males are connected to qualified and well-trained life coaches. This program model will serve as an important supplement to other service providers, including violence prevention and youth outreach programs within the city, due to its personalized approach and method of long-term engagement throughout critical years of growth and development.

Services for Survivors of Violence

Life Outside of Violence

Life Outside of Violence (LOV) is the St. Louis Area Hospital-based Violence Intervention Program (STL-HVIP). HVIPs are an evidence-based strategy to improve outcomes for victims of violence and prevent future violence, based on the insight that exposure to violence is one of the strongest risk factors for future violence: in certain areas, the violent re-injury rate is as high as 40%.111 As the LOV concept paper explains, “Provision of quality screening, intervention, discharge planning, and follow up for this population is necessary to reduce the likelihood of subsequent violent injury and death. Hospitals are the primary location where patients who have suffered a violent injury seek medical care and thus are uniquely positioned to interrupt the cycle of violence for these high-risk individuals.”112 

4x
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.

Source

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.

To interrupt this cycle, HVIPs deploy culturally competent case managers to meet with violently injured patients in the hospital. Those that meet the criteria and voluntarily choose to join the program receive up to a year of intensive case management and other forms of assistance, depending on their individual needs and circumstances. Multiple studies, including several randomized clinical trials, have shown that HVIPs reduce reinjury rates for participants and improve other outcomes—saving lives and creating significant cost savings for healthcare systems.113 

In St. Louis, LOV was launched in 2018 by the Institute for Public Health at Washington University and is a partnership with four different hospitals (St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital, and SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital) and three research universities (Washington University, Saint Louis University, and University of Missouri-St. Louis). LOV represents one of the first regional HVIP networks in the nation. 

St. Louis City and St. Louis County residents ages eight to 30 who are injured by gunshot, stabbing, or blunt trauma, and who have been seen at a participating hospital are eligible to enroll in the LOV program. Each site employs licensed clinical case managers and outreach workers to build relationships with victims of violence and connect them with services and provide immediate counseling. Each case manager has a maximum caseload of 20 participants. Following medical treatment, a trained case manager works with each participant and his or her family for up to one year to develop and maintain a plan to stay safe, connect to community resources, and to receive treatment, support, and guidance.114

Keyria Jeffries is a case manager with LOV and is based at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where she screens young people admitted with violent injuries and flags eligible cases for initial contact and follow-up with her community outreach worker partner. If a patient agrees to participate in the program, Keyria provides ongoing therapeutic case management. For her young client population, this often means working with school systems, the child’s family or caregiver, church, or whatever other systems and activities constitute the young person’s support system. Keyria helps identify her clients’ needs and then work within their support system to help address those needs. One recent client, an 11-year-old, was admitted to the hospital after becoming the victim of seriously violent bullying. The dispute that led to the violence continued over social media and Keyria is currently working with both the girl’s mother and the school system to create a safety plan. 

Many of the families Keyria is serving are dealing with multiple stressors based around the inability to meet basic needs, especially food and housing. “A lot of the violence with young people is really just being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Keyria reported.115 “People can’t work on higher level things—whether it’s school or trying to figure out a career, or anything else, really—when their basic needs aren’t being met. 99% of our job is working on those basic needs and stabilizing people.”

A success with one client illustrates how LOV’s work prevents future violence by looking at root causes and helping to put people on a different path. Keyria once had a nine-year-old client who was admitted to the hospital after being attacked at school by an adult security guard. “This was a kid from a really supportive family, but they saw him struggling with his grades, starting to lose interest in school. And when you’re in third grade, you still have a whole lot of school left.” Keyria was able to identify that this child was disengaged because he felt unsafe at school because of this incident. “Once we figured that out and were able to get him into a different school, he just thrived,” Keyria said.116 “He’s become an honor roll student. It’s not that he didn’t like school, but when you don’t feel safe that can come out in a lot of harmful ways unless it gets addressed.”

As of January 2022, LOV had enrolled more than 196 survivors of violence, and LOV graduates have had a collective reinjury rate of 7%, with no instances of homicides or acts of retaliation known to LOV staff.117 That’s a significantly lower reinjury rate compared to 21% among a matched control group from the four LOV hospitals that did not participate in the program.118 While this is important progress, additional resources are needed—both to ensure that LOV is able to reach as many victims as possible, and to ensure that fewer and fewer people are needing those services in the first place. 

Neighborhood Healing Network

The Neighborhood Healing Network (NHN) is an effort to serve crime victims, particularly victims of community violence,119 who have experienced trauma. The network was initiated by Area Resources for Community and Human Services (ARCHS), an organization that has provided funding and strategic assistance to St. Louis nonprofits for over 20 years,120 and is funded by the Missouri Department of Social Services with a $1 million VOCA grant.121  

To establish the NHN, ARCHs convened five community-based organizations (CBOs) to serve as hubs where residents can access trauma counseling and other support services.122 Each NHN hub is staffed by a community resource specialist tasked with reaching out to the community to determine the needs of residents and begin to identify gaps in services.123 

NHN hubs are operated by Better Family Life, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis, Fathers & Families Support Center, Mission: St. Louis, and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, organizations strategically located in some of the city’s most underserved communities and with a history of serving this population.124 

Partners organizations in the NHN assess people seeking their services to identify individuals impacted by trauma and connect them with counseling and resources that can help them overcome barriers to education and employment.125 “If you are impacted by violence, you qualify for a connection to counseling resources and the Neighborhood Healing Network,” explains Lesley Harris, the community resource specialist for the Mission: St. Louis hub.126  

Partner CBOs offer a variety of support services that differ from hub to hub; however, each client impacted by trauma is provided access to counseling. Hubs may also provide in-house services or refer clients to other NHN hubs that are able to address the needs of the individual.127

One year after the network was launched in August of 2020, the NHN had provided support to 390 victims of crime, made over 600 referrals to victim and social service agencies, and conducted 30 trauma-focused workshops.128  

Crime Victim Center

The Crime Victim Center (CVC) is a resource for victims of violent crime, witnesses to violence, and families of homicide victims in the St. Louis area.129 CVC provides trauma-informed counseling and therapeutic services, help with victims compensation applications (which assist with payments for medical bills and other expenses related to violent victimization), advocacy, resource mapping, and legal assistance. Referrals to CVC come from both the Neighborhood Healing Network, described above, and also from local law enforcement. They are notified by SLMPD after fatal crimes. Families of homicide victims represent about 20% of their client caseload.130  

CVC is also a partner and provider with the Gun Violence Response Network, an initiative of the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission (VPC), described above. When a victim of gun violence or their family calls 2-1-1, they are often referred to CVC for services. In addition, CVC has two staff members that are embedded with the police department. In comparison with two other victim advocates that are employed directly by SLMPD, the CVC advocates have the advantage of being able to talk more confidentiality with people in sensitive situations. With the increase of telehealth in the wake of the Covid pandemic, CVC has seen a dramatic increase in the demand for their services. Even after hiring two additional counselors, there is still a wait list for many of their services.

Freedom Community Center (FCC)

Under the former title of The Bail Project, the Freedom Community Center (FCC) focused primarily on reducing the jail population within the Workhouse, a medium security facility notoriously known for unsafe and inhumane housing conditions. In spring of 2021, new leadership founded this organization intentionally with Black leaders to focus on serving those who are justice-involved while also supporting survivors of harm in their healing and restoration.

FCC receives referrals from community members either in the aftermath of harm or when community partners perceive that harm will occur. As part of their peacemaking strategy, FCC responds to community members immediately by providing resources and creating safety plans to help facilitate peace. FCC also responds in the aftermath of a violent incident with funding support for immediate relocation or the installation of security systems for concerned residents. Longer-term services offered by FCC include group therapy and restorative circles for participants to process trauma and adverse experiences, and work towards healing and restoration of relationships. 

In addition, FCC provides support for survivors of harm who are interested in strategic campaigns that promote the advancement of equity and economic mobility for justice-involved and returning citizens. Survivors of harm are encouraged to attend strategy meetings and work with partners to advance agendas that support alternative approaches to incarceration and investment in communities most impacted by systemic oppression. FCC also serves as a partner and advocate of the “sponsored recognizance” program offered to those who are currently incarcerated but not yet convicted of their crime.

According to Patrick Sullivan, Operations Manager for FCC, “judges will often release those who are not convicted to an organization that will sponsor and support them. A network of providers, called community release partners, will provide supportive resources, including housing, to those who are eligible for release but pending sentencing.”131 The sponsored recognizance program offers an “opportunity for returning citizens to be active in their community and take active steps to heal and repair harm. While this initiative offers no guarantee that a higher charge will not ensue, it provides the opportunity to take steps to work on healing and learn how to make healthier choices.”

As a dedicated provider and partner in the reentry community, FCC remains committed to supporting those who want to take advantage of a second chance. According to Patrick, some of the challenges the reentry community faces are the “lack of sustainable funding for all partners and the difficulty with changing the public narrative around gun violence.”132

For FCC and other partners, gun violence is the symptom of other systemic challenges of inequity, poverty, and disinvestment. While FCC believes that addressing gun violence should be a priority, it also recognizes that there are systems of oppression that need dismantling, and more equitable investment is critical to reducing gun violence and improving the economic and environmental conditions for impacted communities. These systemic challenges are what drives FCC to continue their mission to “advocate for transformative justice to reduce harm” while addressing the immediate safety concerns of the community and providing supportive services to those striving to improve their overall health and well-being.133

Reentry Services

Every year over 700,000 individuals are released from America’s jails and prisons.134 Many returning citizens are released to their families and communities yet face the challenge of learning how to reintegrate into society and connect with quality comprehensive services to support their fresh start. Prior acts of violence and repeated exposure to the criminal legal system are both risk factors for future violence. Yet, too often, formerly incarcerated individuals return to society without adequate support systems to reduce their risk. This helps explain the more than 40% crime recidivism rate in the State of Missouri.135 

In addition, it is vital to understand the long-term needs of returning citizens. Most funding and investment strategies tend to focus on meeting the basic needs of food, housing, transportation and jobs. While important for survival, once returning citizens are established and on a productive path, many face the challenges of “collateral consequences” and find limitations in their ability to fully participate in society as ordinary citizens.136 Business or employment opportunities may be limited or even the inability to vote may prohibit formerly incarcerated individuals from fully participating in society, even after successful rehabilitation.

A number of public and private initiatives exist in St. Louis to support the successful reentry of formerly incarcerated individuals: the city, for example, is funding the hiring of twelve additional staff through the Department of Health’s new Division of Supportive Reentry, which is meant to ensure that a trained social worker is available to the reentry population. The following community partners offer programs geared towards offering critical support services for returning citizens, including transportation from a penal institution, case management, mental health therapy, life skills courses, employment training, and transitional housing. Without these essential services, returning citizens are often left to navigate systems on their own, which in some cases, can lead them back to a lifestyle of crime and retribution.

Criminal Justice Ministry 

A leading reentry organization in St. Louis, Criminal Justice Ministry (CJM), prioritizes the needs of returning citizens by tailoring their program to first addressing basic immediate needs, which is often providing transportation from penal institutions to a safe location. According to Danelle Douthit, Director of Programs, “the first two weeks after release from incarceration are the most challenging.”137

CJM recognizes the importance of offering more intense support by not only providing transportation but also personal hygiene products, clothing, and safe housing options. CJM offers several transitional housing programs for returning citizens, including tailored programs for veterans, women, and individuals who have served extensive sentences.

In addition to housing and rental assistance, CJM offers anger management classes as well as substance abuse and healthy relationship support groups in hopes of providing a supportive environment and skills that will help change unhealthy habits and work towards the restoration of relationships.

Danelle shared that one of the major challenges reentry providers in the city face is the pervasive issue of the housing shortage, mentioning that “it is challenging to turn people away from the program who are desperate for help and safety…however, meeting the basic needs of housing, food and safety for returning citizens will help prevent future violence and crime because people will often resort to doing what is necessary for survival.”138 Solutions to this concern should include the expansion of housing options, continuous funding, and more local coordination between providers.

STL Reentry Collective

In 2020, STL Reentry Collective, a budding organization started by formerly incarcerated individuals, sought out to assess the types of services available within the city and county of St. Louis, that caters to supporting returning citizens. The group realized that while there are limited reentry services available, the most pressing need for returning citizens is financial support. Through community donations, the organization was able to raise funds and provide mutual aid financial assistance to those trying to reestablish themselves within the community. The organization also created a comprehensive reentry resource guide, and is currently working on the creation of a documentary that will highlight the stories, needs and experiences of those who are formerly incarcerated.139

STL Reentry Collective plans to provide trauma focused workshops that will accompany the viewing of their documentary series. According to Harvey Galler, co-founder of the STL Reentry Collective, “the workshops will aim to provide information on how unaddressed trauma impacts incarcerated individuals, including contributing to higher rates of recidivism. Participants will be connected to mental health organizations that specialize in trauma treatment within the area.”140 Through a unique partnership with the St. Louis county libraries, these workshops will be held at various county locations and will be open to the public.

STL Reentry Collective views the trauma-focused workshops as an essential component of violence prevention initiatives within the city and county. Harvey argues that while “meeting basic needs are critical upon release from incarceration, it is also necessary to identify and treat unresolved trauma because it often perpetuates the revolving door of recidivism.”141 Formerly incarcerated individuals who have higher rates of recidivism are further locked out of resources and are less likely to receive adequate services due to institutional record and the stigma attached to repeat offenders. “Providers and the public in general often do not want to deal with those who have higher rates of recidivism. However, it is those individuals who are more likely to have the higher rates of unaddressed trauma and are at greater risk for perpetrating violent crime,” says Harvey. 

The expansion of quality services for returning citizens and others at elevated risk of exposure to violence, is a critical investment that needs to be made in order to reduce violence as well as incarceration rates. Achieving these goals will also require critically examining and reforming policing practices.

Law Enforcement

While Giffords strongly believes that community-based responses to violence are essential and under-invested in, we also recognize that there is a critical role for law enforcement to play in reducing violence. Any law enforcement strategy however, must be grounded in principles of legitimacy, fairness, and equity, with a deep understanding and recognition of the historical and ongoing trauma created by both over-policing and violence at the hands of police, particularly in communities of color. 

The communities that have had the most success addressing violence in recent years have prioritized building back trust between the police and the communities most impacted by violent crime, which has included efforts to improve accountability; reduced the use of stop-and-frisk and other forms of untargeted, sweeping enforcement; reduced police use of force by prioritizing de-escalation; and embracing the notion that the police are not the best first-responders in every emergency situation.

A policing response to violence must also be strategic, data-driven, and focused. As the Council on Criminal Justice’s Taskforce on Violent Crime recommends, “police agencies must remain committed to solving the problem of community gun violence, rather than overcommitting to particular tactics such as low-level arrests.”142

As an example of a change that is starting to be made along these lines, the Teneo report pointed out that St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) patrol resources were being divided evenly among all six police districts, despite the fact that crime—including serious violent crime—is concentrated in certain districts. St. Louis Public Safety Director Dr. Daniel Isom reported to members of the VPC that, in response to the Teneo recommendation, SLMPD have “looked at statistics and redeployed patrols based on area and time of crime.”143

Other key elements of SLMPD’s new strategy for addressing violence, according to Dr. Isom, include seeking funding to support the implementation of focused deterrence, emphasizing the clearance of homicides and nonfatal shootings, investing more in victim services, and improving collaboration with community-based service providers. 

Gun Crime Intelligence Center and Victim Advocates

SLMPD has been engaged in a process to overhaul its intelligence gathering and distribution system to better understand and respond to serious violent crime. According to Lt. Commander Michael McAteer, one of the hallmarks of this new process has been the creation of daily intelligence fact sheets that focus on homicide and violent assault cases and include a wealth of information, such as details about the victim, the location of the incident, and any known information on dynamics between rival gangs or groups.144

There are also SLMPD analysts who actively track the homicide and nonfatal shooting clearance rates, which is a critical metric for success, as discussed in other parts of this report. Until recently, clearance rates of SLMPD were not being measured in the same way as most departments in the rest of the country. The department is taking steps to be able to gather and measure this data in a more uniform manner.

In addition, SLMPD operates the Gun Crime Intelligence Center, which consists of six detectives and a sergeant that work directly with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to run analysis on recovered guns to try to link them to specific crimes. This analysis is used to generate a Gun Intelligence Report that shows information about guns that are being linked to multiple crime scenes, including a “Most Wanted Gun” section, that help to give leads on solving gun-related crimes. Through this work, Lt. Commander McAteer reports, more connections are being made, and crime guns that are used in the city are being found and identified in St. Louis county and vice versa.145

In fact, this area of the department’s work has opened up a productive sphere of collaboration between SLPD and law enforcement agencies within St. Louis County. This collaboration is occurring through what’s known as the “Violent Crime/Armed Offender Meeting,” where once a week, a variety of law enforcement agencies including ATF, the FBI, prosecutors, and officers from both SLPD and county agencies gather to talk specifically about violent crimes that occured within the last week, sharing intel from crime gun analysis, potential leads, and anything else that might be relevant to solving a violent crime. This information-sharing session is translated into a written memo that gets sent around to all relevant officers.146

Finally, the federal grant that helped create the Gun Crime Intelligence Center also allowed for the hiring of two Victim Advocates, Maggie Barone and Marley Graviss, who are responsible for reviewing a daily incident report and identifying potential clients. The Victim Advocates will work with a client as much as is needed, with formal engagements lasting until the point at which charges are brought by the Circuit Attorney’s Office, at which time clients are passed on to victim advocates working in that office. The demand for these services is staggering, SLMPD tracked nearly 6,000 (duplicated) instances of victimization, including armed robberies, assault with or without a firearm, and the Victim Advocates practice is to respond to all instances of non-fatal violence within 24-48 hours.147 The initial contact is about finding out how the person is and establishing a baseline of trust and then subsequent meetings focus on getting needs met with issues ranging from housing stability to mental health needs. With a staff of just two, the advocates maximize their impact by partnering with community-based victim services providers, like the Crime Victim Center, including daily communications, and regular referrals to meet the various needs of clients.

According to Sgt. Joseph Bell, the supervisor of the Gun Crime Intelligence Center, it’s “instrumental” to have the Victim Advocates as part of the team. “A lot of victims and witnesses are hesitant to support an investigation, but when a trained civilian helps them out first, that helps to build trust and bring a sense of ownership to the case. By the time a warm hand-off is made to a detective, they are more ready to see it through to prosecution.”148 Victim Advocates also attend the weekly Violent Crime/Armed Offender Meeting, where they receive critical information about victims that may need their immediate attention. As a concrete example, if an individual is in immediate danger because of the threat of retaliation and needs to be relocated, the Victim Advocates have been able to use a new state program to cover relocation expenses.   

The type of collaboration occurring at the weekly Violent Crime/Armed Offender Meeting, which was also one of the specific recommendations of the Teneo report, could help explain why, at least according to its own data, SLMPD homicide and nonfatal clearance rates improved in 2021. Giffords applauds this focus on violent crime and a collaborative, data-driven approach, and there is still room to further resource these efforts, including through hiring additional Victim Advocates. In addition, as will be described below, one of the important next steps is for SLMPD to create a procedure for sharing information about violent crimes with community-based organizations doing violence interruption and prevention work. 

911 Diversion and Co-Responder Program

The City of St. Louis has implemented the 911 Diversion and Co-Responder Program as part of an effort to reduce the strain on law enforcement resources and improve outcomes when responding to calls for emergency services. The goal of the program is to “divert individuals with behavioral health disorders from the criminal justice system, improve efficiency and effectiveness of law enforcement response, and improve access to treatment,” according to Wilford Pinkney, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Children, Youth, and Families, who oversees these efforts. 

SLMPD receives a huge number of emergency calls, approximately 750,000 each year,149 up to half of which may not require a traditional police response and could be better responded to by a trained civilian service provider. St. Louis’s North Patrol District conducted a pilot program in 2019, known as Cops and Clinicians, and “discovered that nearly 50% of calls routed to their district could have been answered by a social worker or other licensed professional.150 “It has always been a concern of police that [officers] come in contact with individuals who call 911 and clearly need something other than a police response,” said Pinkney.151 “Call diversion is all about transferring them to a crisis line where they can talk with someone who’s trained to engage with people going through a personal crisis. The hope is that this will decrease calls that require an emergency response or arrest in those situations.” 

Cops and Clinicians addresses some of the root causes of violence by helping people with behavioral health issues get their needs met and individuals who have experienced traumatic events process these events without resorting to violence. In addition, this program can reduce negative police interactions with residents and the likelihood of police use of force. Because it frees up police resources that can then be used to address serious violence more effectively, this program also has the potential to improve the clearance rate for homicides and nonfatal shootings. In a 2020 interview, John Collins-Muhammad, the alderman for the city’s 21st Ward reported that “the majority of his constituents in the high-crime neighborhoods in north-central St. Louis don’t trust the police partly because 911 and other calls to police are put on hold or disregarded.”152

With 911 diversion, emergency operators are trained to identify calls that would be better handled by behavioral health professionals trained in crisis intervention rather than dispatching police or EMS. Those calls are then transferred to Behavioral Health Response (BHR), a nonprofit agency that provides 24-hour access to mental health services and counseling in cities around the country. A BHR-trained operator will then ask the caller questions to determine if a response from a non-law enforcement clinician is the most appropriate response. 

“We know that police officers and the justice system have become the pseudo mental health treatment plan,” said Tiffany Lacy Clark, who heads up Behavioral Health Response, the agency the city is contracting with to run the program.153 “This gives us an opportunity to move treatment back to [trained service providers] and let the criminal justice system focus on what they are trying to do.” 

This effort has been in operation since February 2021 and in its first 8 months, more than 500 calls were diverted, of which 300 received a non-police response, and more than 180 received some form of follow-up, which is not usually available in the traditional emergency response. “So that we’re walking with the person,” Pinkney said. “Oftentimes we just send people somewhere but we don’t follow up. [Cops and Clinicians] is a game-changer because we don’t often have the resources to do that.”154

In addition to 911 diversion, the other aspect of this program is a co-responder model, known as the Crisis Response Unit (CRU), which includes eight dedicated officers and eight behavioral health clinicians who “work together in responding to calls involving a behavioral health crisis, substance use and trauma to provide resources and connection to care at the time of the incident.”155 If an emergency call is made for a response, and officers deem the scene to be safe, but understand that a behavioral health issue is involved, then CRU clinicians are able to provide an on-site response to the individual in crisis.

The goal is to reduce the number of cases that end with a person being unnecessarily jailed or hospitalized.156 The program was launched in February 2021, and in its first eight months, the CRU responded to more than 2,500 calls for service. Of those, 99% were diverted away from jail and 80% were diverted from hospitalization. Resources were offered and accepted on-scene in nearly 1,000 instances, referrals to community behavioral health agencies were made in more than 750 instances, and more than 500 cases were referred to a hospital psychiatric unit for evaluation.157   

“Oftentimes, police get to a scene and there’s someone having a behavioral health episode, whether it’s mental health or related to substance use,” said Pinkney.158 “For me, it’s important that that person have an opportunity for their needs to be met before they get arrested—or if they do get arrested, that they get the help they need afterward, because we don’t normally do enough to look at root causes.”

Pre-Trial Services Program

With the help of a federal grant, the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court, which is the court system that covers the City of St. Louis, has set up a pilot Pre-Trial Services program designed to help meet the needs of individuals awaiting trial by connecting them with service providers as an alternative to more punitive pretrial options such as incarceration.159 Given the criminogenic effects of incarceration and the fact that multiple contacts with the criminal justice system contributes to risk of violence,160 an initiative like the 22nd Judicial Court’s Pre-Trial Services program has the potential to help reduce risk and create a critical point of entry for services to help address the root causes of violence. “What we know for sure, based on national data, is that people who are released pretrial to await the disposition of their cases have markedly better outcomes than those who are detained,” said Sarah Phillips, who is the Pre-Trial Services Coordinator at the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court.161

Through this program, individuals who have been arrested and charged with a crime are screened by a case worker from Mission: St. Louis or Places for People while incarcerated in the city’s jail. For those with less complex needs, these screenings often occur prior to their initial pretrial bond hearing. During this screening process, case workers find out much more about the individual, their interest level in participating in pretrial services, their needs, and their potential risk to public safety. All of this information is presented to a judge at pretrial bond hearings, where a judge has the power to approve participation in services provided through the program’s community-based partner organizations as an alternative to pretrial detention, cash bail, or other traditional pretrial supervision options.

An additional option will soon be available to judges, offered by community-based provider Freedom Community Center (FCC). FCC staff will similarly identify and screen potential participants and work to support people released pre-trial who are eligible for services.162

If the individual accepts and is released on bond, they will be seen by staff at Mission: St. Louis, Places for People, or the Freedom Community Center, all organizations with experience serving at-risk individuals in the City of St. Louis. Places for People, for example, specializes in providing behavioral health and substance-abuse-related services. Those who need assistance with employment are referred to Mission: St. Louis, while the Freedom Community Center provides intensive healing and case management services to its clients.163

According to Pre-Trial Services Coordinator Sarah Phillips, there are no charge exclusions other than a prior history or current charge of a sex offense, which means that, while the program was not specifically designed for individuals who have committed violence or may be at risk of engaging in violence, there is a significant overlap with this population.164 At present, the Mission: St. Louis and Places for People caseloads include individuals with charges ranging from felonies to misdemeanors. Participation is limited by capacity, with community-based partners only able to support 90 higher-need clients at any given time. However, even with a relatively small population of participants—with just under 50 individuals enrolled or actively in the screening process as of December 2021—early experience is showing improved outcomes both for participants, in terms of increased employment and behavioral health needs being met, and the public, with a low rearrest rate and low rate of individuals who fail to appear in court.165 

Gaps and Recommendations

As one of the few cities in America to see a significant decline in homicides in 2021, St. Louis does not need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to addressing community violence. Rather, city leaders need to double down on existing strategies and move to institutionalize several promising pilot programs that are ready to be brought to scale, such as Cure Violence.

The following section details 15 specific recommendations from Giffords for implementing or expanding strategies and programs to address community violence in four main buckets: 1) building coordination capacity among entities working to reduce community violence, 2) improving service delivery for those at high risk of engaging in violence, 3) refining law enforcement’s response to serious violent crime and building trust with the community, and 4) remediating vacant lots and buildings in areas with high levels of violence. 

This section makes concrete recommendations about baseline levels of investment needed for each area, with an annual total of just over $30 million represented. Each individual recommendation includes information about the most relevant public funding options, which are discussed in more detail in the final section of this report, and each concludes by cross-referencing prior reports and analyses that have called for similar action. It’s important to emphasize that these recommendations have come from multiple sources and perspectives, and not just from Giffords alone. 

The $30M annual investment recommended here breaks down as follows:   

  • Building coordination capacity among entities working to reduce community violence: $2.1M 
  • Improving service delivery for those at high risk of engaging in violence: $15.5M
  • Refining law enforcement’s response to serious violent crime and building trust with the community: $7.5M
  • Remediating vacant lots and buildings in areas with high levels of violence: $5M

Building Coordination Capacity

One of the hallmarks of successful violence reduction at the local level is cross-sector coordination and cooperation between a range of public and private stakeholders.166 A study by Washington University into the drivers of a historically low period of violence in St. Louis in 2003 pointed to coordination as one of three pillars of success for the city (with leadership and funding being the other two), which researchers described as a “willingness to cooperate among and within agencies, and to share responsibility, information and resources.”167

Our analysis showed that the capacity to coordinate violence reduction efforts has improved somewhat in recent years, but there is still room for improvement. Multiple stakeholders pointed to both the deep silos in which many organizations and agencies are carrying out their work and the lack of government resources dedicated to improving the coordination of violence reduction efforts. Moreover, multiple stakeholders reported a lack of coordination between the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County—a strategic miss given that acts of violence spill across artificial political boundaries: a fight that takes place in the city one day can easily lead to a shooting in the county the following week, and vice versa. 

To address these issues, Giffords recommends a combined initial investment of at least $2.1 million to build coordination capacity in three specific areas: community coordination, executive coordination, and regional coordination. Finally, in order to increase capacity to advocate for increased state resources to address community violence, Giffords recommends the creation of a statewide Missouri Community Violence Coalition, mirroring a successful organizing movement occurring in states around the country in recent years, including Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois, California, and others. Each of these recommendations is discussed in more detail in the following sections.

1. Community Coordination: Expand the Capacity of the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission

The St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission (VPC), as described above, is the primary organization dedicated to addressing community violence in both the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County through a coordinated, multi-sector response. In recent years, the VPC has built up its capacity to coordinate violence reduction efforts, and has grown to include more than 150 member entities and hundreds of individual volunteer members. The role of the VPC is not to provide direct services itself, but rather to influence local policy based on community input, raise awareness about resources to address violence, and help coordinate responses to violence. However, additional resources are needed to maximize the efficacy and impact of this important effort. 

The VPC is currently supported by the St. Louis Mental Health Board, which is funded through a state statute that allows municipalities to pass local tax ordinances to provide for behavioral health services. The VPC is one very small aspect of the Mental Health Board’s $14 million budget, which is largely dedicated to funding organizations that provide behavioral and mental health services to city residents and young people, in particular.168 At current levels of funding, VPC has only been able to hire a single full-time paid position: project director Jessica Meyers. 

According to stakeholders, additional full-time staffing support would allow the VPC to pursue several core functions, including maintaining a comprehensive funding calendar accessible to all organizations doing violence reduction work in the St. Louis area. St. Louis Mental Health Board Deputy Director Serena Muhammad, who oversees the VPC, noted that the program could best maximize its work by hiring three full-time employees who would specialize in managing relationships within the city, managing relationships within the county, and providing administrative support to the entire program, including supporting the work of passing funds through to community-based partners.169

In addition to staffing, several of the current VPC functions are carried out by volunteer-only subcommittees. The Community Engagement committee, which is tasked with gathering community input regarding unmet needs and raising awareness of existing programs, is one example of this.At several town hall events hosted at the end of 2021, participants cited a lack of awareness of existing violence reduction programs as one of their biggest issues. Creating a budget to carry out the work of the Community Engagement committee would help to address this. 

At present, VPC meets its funding needs for programming by braiding together various grants, but a more sustainable investment from both the City and County of St. Louis would help to institutionalize this collective effort and protect against the risk of grant funds becoming unavailable. Given the important role being played by the VPC in the violence reduction ecosystem of St. Louis, Giffords recommends that the City and County of St. Louis increase investment in VPC to at least $1 million annually to support the hiring of three to four additional FTEs, as well as discretionary spending to support VPC programmatic and committee work, particularly around community engagement, service delivery, and communications.

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • BJA Smart Policing Initiative: “Areas of particular interest to BJA include, but are not limited to, initiatives that: adopt and test the Cardiff Violence Prevention Model.”170
  • Strategies to Support Children Exposed to Violence: Support services for children exposed to violence in their homes, schools, and communities, priority for applicants proposing to implement a CVI initiative and also for applicants in high-poverty areas.171
  • Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma (ReCAST): In 2021, St. Louis ReCAST provided more than $200,000 to VPC for grants to support community organizations planning summer events as a part of the Safer Summer Campaign.
  • Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program: “Through a broad cross-sector partnership team, including neighborhood residents, BCJI grantees employ a wide range of crime prevention and intervention strategies to address conditions that contribute to crime in high-violence areas.”
  • Congressionally Directed Spending: Representative Cori Bush submitted a pending earmark request for $601,700 for VPC services, this would be one-year, one-time funding.172

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • Youth Violence Prevention Partnership, 2018-2023 Strategic Plan: “Advocate for better coordination of city, nonprofit, and volunteer efforts to improve neighborhood conditions.”
  • OJP Diagnostic: “Build partnerships among local government agencies, law enforcement, public health and social services to share information, coordinate, focus on high risk people and places and implement more creative and innovative solutions.”
  • George Mason University Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) Framework: “The STLVPC has an important role in organizing programs and services to create an integrated effort to advance violence reducing efforts.”
  • Washington University Institute for Public Health Analysis: “Willingness to cooperate among and within agencies and to share responsibility, information, and resources is necessary to achieve results.”

2. Executive Coordination: Build Capacity within the Mayor’s Office

Even if the VPC were brought to full capacity with increased funding, per the above recommendation, there would still be a gap in local coordination capacity that needs to be filled by the city itself. When it comes to coordinating violence reduction efforts, certain functions, especially those related to data sharing and accountability, are more effective when held at the executive level of government. Multiple St. Louis stakeholders pointed to the decentralized nature of data related to violence and violent crime, the bureaucratic hurdles preventing full cooperation between various city agencies, and the need for leadership within the executive branch of local government to help break down those barriers to spur meaningful action. Several representatives of community-based organizations also noted the presence of deep silos between service providers and the need for an influential third party, such as the mayor’s office, to incentivize and motivate providers to work together.173

The Council on Criminal Justice’s Violent Crime Task Force recently recommended that “every city suffering from high rates of violent crime should have a permanent unit dedicated to violence reduction operating inside the mayor’s office, with its senior leadership reporting directly to the mayor.”174 In St. Louis, relevant government and quasi-government agencies include the Department of Health, the Department of Public Safety, the Office of Children, Youth, and Families, the St. Louis Development Corporation, the St. Louis Public School District, and the St. Louis Mental Health Board, among others. As of the publication of this report, leadership from these agencies were not meeting regularly or actively coordinating together around responses to community violence, nor reporting regularly to the mayor on this topic. This needs to change.

With the variety of responsibilities already held by these entities (Public Safety Director Dr. Daniel Isom, for example, has responsibility not just for the police department, but also for the fire department, the corrections system, emergency management, and neighborhood stabilization, among others),175Giffords recommends that the City of St. Louis create and fund at least one position within the mayor’s office with the responsibility to coordinate with other government agencies to address community violence and a direct report line to the mayor. 

Given the number of strategic plans that already exist relating to violence reduction, the emphasis for this position should be project management, implementation, and accountability, with responsibility to publish public-facing metrics of success, convene agency leadership, spearhead the shooting review process outlined below in Recommendation 12, and report directly to the mayor on progress and barriers to success. As a recent briefing from the Council on Criminal Justice’s Violence Prevention Task Force explains, “Articulating and then translating a city’s anti-violence vision into action requires clear and consistent leadership. Roles must be defined, goals must be set, and schedules must be kept.”176

Additional resources to implement a grant-making function to support local violence prevention capacity would also enhance the ability of this position to bring together stakeholders and incentivize collaboration. In cities such as Oakland and Los Angeles, a centralized office of violence prevention administers public funds to a network of community-based organizations serving individuals at the highest risk of engaging in violence.

“We have a critical role to play as a convener of our partner agencies, and as the funder responsible for holding grantees accountable, we have a real motivational tool to get people together,” explained Peter Kim, the former director of what is now called the Oakland Department of Violence Prevention.177 During the five-year period in which Oakland saw a nearly 50% reduction in homicides and shootings, Kim’s agency was distributing approximately $14 million annually in tax-payer funded grants to community-based organizations focused on intensive mentoring and case management, education and economic self-sufficiency for high-risk individuals, and violent incident and crisis response.  

Eventually, a fully resourced Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) is a best practice that the City of St. Louis should consider. Giffords recognizes the views expressed by several stakeholders that launching a new department or office brings with it tremendous bureaucratic and political challenges, and therefore presents this as a longer-term recommendation. However, a number of successful models exist around the country from which to pull best practices, including the Office of Neighborhood Safety in Richmond, California,178 the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development,179 and the City of San Jose’s Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force.180 The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform runs the National OVP Network, which brings together more than 30 such offices from around the country.181  

Giffords recommends that, as a first step to improving its capacity for coordinating local community violence reduction efforts, the City of St. Louis fund a full-time, cabinet-level position and support staff for that express purpose, with a yearly budget of at least $500,000. Ultimately, a fully funded Office of Violence Prevention in the City of St. Louis would require an annual investment of at least $15 million to support grantmaking, capacity-building in the field, and other important functions.

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Coronavirus State Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF): The US Treasury Department issued guidance specifically permitting the use of ARPA funds to, “facilitate access to resources that improve health outcomes,” including, “evidence-based community violence intervention programs to prevent violence and mitigate the increase in violence during the pandemic.”182 A number of cities invested earlier pandemic-relief funds in violence prevention, and now multiple state and cities have announced plans to invest American Rescue Plan funds in violence prevention too, including Wisconsin’s governor investing $8 million in ARPA dollars to support the City of Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention183
  • City of St. Louis General Fund

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • OJP Diagnostic: “Collaborate with multiple city agencies and community members. Identify targets for reductions in homicides and non-fatal shooting incidents. Based on past data, a 5–10% per year reduction and 25–50% reduction in five years are reasonable targets.”
  • George Mason University Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) Framework: “Develop interagency collaborations to create a service network. This includes inviting programs and services to work together to improve outcomes and better serve the population.”
  • Youth Violence Prevention Partnership, 2018-2023 Strategic Plan: “Create, implement and enhance multidisciplinary leadership.”
  • Washington University Institute for Public Health Analysis: “Willingness to cooperate among and within agencies and to share responsibility, information, and resources is necessary to achieve results.”

3. Improve Coordination between the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County

Many stakeholders interviewed for this project pointed to the fact that a good deal of community violence spills between the city and county, which are separate and distinct political entities. “Violent crimes don’t respect the borders between the city and county,” said SLMPD Lt. Commander Michael McAteer, who pointed out that guns used in acts of violence in the city will sometimes turn up in the county just a few days later.184 As one headline from September 2021 read: “Two recent killings in St. Louis and a third fatal shooting in St. Louis County appear to be related.”185 Despite this, the vast majority of stakeholders also reported a lack of coordination or information sharing between the city and the county when it comes to violence reduction efforts—with the sole exception of a weekly meeting of local and federal law enforcement stakeholders who meet to talk specifically about violent crime for the week.

In 2020, St. Louis County, which has approximately one million residents, suffered 77 homicides, a far lower homicide rate than the City of St. Louis, but still a significant number that needs to be addressed, with trends showing a clear uptick in the wake of Covid, similar to most jurisdictions around the country.186 Compounding the difficulty is the fact that St. Louis county is made up of dozens of independent political subdivisions, many of which have their own separate services—for example, the county has more than 50 different police agencies.187 

Targeted pockets of coordination between city and county entities, such as a partnership to reduce crime in Jennings and nearby Walnut Park West, show early signs of progress.”188 According to police data, this partnership has helped reduce crime in both areas.

Areas that are succeeding in reducing violence, such as Los Angeles, use resources to bolster a regional approach. The Los Angeles County Office of Violence Prevention’s Early Implementation Strategic Plan, for example, calls for identifying and funding a lead agency in each of the County’s eight Service Planning Areas to establish Regional Violence Prevention Coalitions, including a requirement of paid participation of at least two youth representatives in each.189 These regional coalitions are meant to include not just government agencies, but also community and faith-based organizations, businesses, and others engaged in addressing community violence.   

Given its size and population, the County of St. Louis has more resources to leverage to address community violence, but may be less inclined to make such investments because their overall homicide rates are lower than the City of St. Louis. However, to not prioritize violence prevention would be a mistake. “This isn’t just a St. Louis City issue; it’s an issue that faces the entire region, because it affects the entire region,” said Pat Kelly, executive director of the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis, in an interview with local media.190

Giffords recommends that the City of St. Louis and the County of St. Louis create a working partnership to coordinate violence reduction efforts, funded either jointly and/or through a shared state or federal grant. Given the importance of this collaboration, Giffords recommends an investment of at least $500,000 annually in this coordination, including the cost of full-time staff support and ongoing technical assistance.

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • Project Safe Neighborhoods: “Create and maintain ongoing coordination among federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials for reducing violent crime while cooperatively engaging the communities they serve.” The federal judicial district for Missouri covers both St. Louis City and St. Louis County.
  • Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program: Community Violence Intervention: “BJA encourages state and local jurisdictions to invest JAG funds to tailor programs and responses to CVI in an effort to build strong, sustained partnerships with community residents and organizations to support CVI work in communities most impacted by violent crime.”
  • American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Coronavirus State Local Fiscal Recovery Funds: The US Treasury Department issued guidance specifically permitting the use of ARPA funds to, “facilitate access to resources that improve health outcomes,” including, “evidence-based community violence intervention programs to prevent violence and mitigate the increase in violence during the pandemic.”191
  • City of St. Louis General Fund; St. Louis County General Fund

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Administrative Review: “This border area of the City and County suffers from some of the most significant violent crime in the St. Louis region. It therefore offers an ideal opportunity for a new collaborative crime-fighting effort for SLMPD and SLCPD, local prosecutors and their federal law enforcement partners. This border crime is shared by both SLMPD and SLCPD, and so, too, must be their response.”
  • OJP Diagnostic: “Develop systematic methods for sharing, on a regular basis, the hot lists and other key data with the gang unit, detectives, patrol officers, etc.”
  • Washington University Institute for Public Health Analysis: “Willingness to cooperate among and within agencies and to share responsibility, information, and resources is necessary to achieve results.”

4. Create a Statewide Missouri Community Violence Coalition

An emerging best practice in the community violence field is the formation of statewide coalitions focused on raising awareness and increasing state-level investment. While the issue of gun regulation as a solution to gun violence is extremely political and polarizing, especially in Missouri,192 the types of solutions promoted by such coalitions and discussed in this report are generally more amenable to bipartisan support. Statewide community violence coalitions—ideally consisting of a mix of on-the-ground practitioners, advocates, survivors of violence, city leaders, faith-based organizations, and researchers—in places such as Illinois, Wisconsin,193 and Virginia194 have won a number of impressive victories in recent years that should help inspire Missouri stakeholders to create a similar effort.

In 2021, an alliance of organizations in Illinois successfully advocated for the governor to declare a state of emergency regarding gun violence and to commit an additional $250 million of state and federal dollars to address the violence epidemic.195 A similar coalition in California secured a more than $200 million increase in funding for the state’s Violence Intervention and Prevention grant program (CalVIP).196 Likewise, a group of community violence advocates successfully encouraged Governor Evers of Wisconsin—a state with a fraction of the homicide totals seen in Missouri—to allocate more than $45 million of federal American Relief Plan Act dollars to address community violence.197   

Even in the absence of a statewide community violence coalition, the Missouri legislature and governor agreed to earmark some new funding for violence reduction efforts in the City of St. Louis in 2021, appropriating $500,000 for “local violent crime prevention programs,” and another $500,000 for “services to residents in areas with high crime and deteriorating infrastructure.”198 This suggests that more support could be won with the concerted effort of an organized community violence coalition. However, as will be discussed in detail below, this was the state’s only direct investment in addressing community violence, and was implemented in such a way that it was very difficult to access in general and almost impossible for community groups—leaving much room for advocacy to increase state-level support for evidence-informed solutions to this public health crisis.

Given the disproportionate impact of community violence in the City and County of St. Louis and Kansas City—which combined accounted for 65% of all homicides in Missouri in 2019—an effort to raise awareness of the problem and encourage investment in effective solutions should begin with meetings between stakeholders from each area. It would also be important to identify and conduct outreach to the high-violence areas that are contributing to the other one-third of the state’s homicides. Despite the politics, the State of Missouri has a powerful economic incentive to support its localities in their violence reduction efforts, as gun violence is costing Missouri taxpayers nearly $2 billion annually in costs ranging from healthcare to law enforcement.199 The timing of such an effort is also optimal, with the state enjoying record revenues and historic spending proposals from the Governor Parson.200

Based on experience, the cost to start a statewide community violence coalition is quite low, and generally covered by in-kind services provided by member organizations and volunteers. Giffords recommends that a private foundation in Missouri invest $100,000 for dedicated staff and administrative expenses to launch such a coalition in 2022.  

Improving Service Delivery for High-Risk Individuals and Their Families

It’s a fundamental fact of community violence that a very small segment of the population of a given city is responsible for a majority of acts of serious violence.201 Identifying individuals at high risk of engaging in or being victimized by violence, and then working directly with those individuals to address their underlying risk factors is essential. It’s also incredibly difficult. Those at the highest risk of violence have generally been failed by every conceivable system of government, are not in school or work, and do not seek out services. This is why one of the key elements of St. Louis’s violence reduction strategy must be the provision of culturally relevant and trauma-informed services specifically designed for individuals at the highest risk of engaging in violence and their families.

To be effective, services must not only reach those at highest risk but also effectively address the risk factors most associated with violence, especially trauma, housing instability, and lack of economic opportunity. An anger management class or one-off job fair for an individual who is unsure where his next meal will come from will not be effective. This is important when looking at metrics of success: it’s not enough that “more St. Louis youth receive mentoring” in order to reduce violence, it’s critical to know exactly who is being reached and how. The following sections identify organizations and programs that are working with those at highest risk of engaging in violence, and make recommendations about ways to expand support for this universe of providers. This is by no means an exhaustive list of worthy service providers in the City of St. Louis, but rather an attempt to highlight those efforts most directly focused on the population that must be reached in order to move the needle on public safety.    

Any investment the City of St. Louis makes in this area must include robust support and training for front-line workers, the men and women who are putting themselves on the line every day to serve their communities, and who are too often overworked and underpaid.202 Finally, as will be discussed below, one of the strengths of St. Louis is a robust universe of service providers; however, more must be done to coordinate these efforts and ensure that effective and tailored services are reaching individuals at the highest risk and their close social networks.

5. Expand Cure Violence Catchment Areas Based on Levels of Violence

Cure Violence is one of the primary ways through which the City of St. Louis is attempting to reach and serve those at the highest risk of engaging in violence. 2021 was the first full year of operation for all three Cure Violence catchment areas in Walnut Park, Wells-Goodfellow/Hamilton Heights, and Dutchtown. In addition to a citywide reduction in homicides of approximately 25% when comparing 2020 to 2021,203 the Cure Violence catchment areas also saw a more than 45% reduction in total homicides—suggesting that the program is already having a positive impact.204

In order to maximize the impact of this strategy, the City of St. Louis needs to immediately expand the number of current Cure Violence sites and create sustainability by making Cure Violence a regular line item in the General Fund. At present, Cure Violence St. Louis is not a citywide strategy because its services are limited to geographically defined catchment areas. The need for an expansion is self-evidence: the current Cure Violence catchment areas suffered a combined 24 homicides in 2020, a year in which the city as a whole suffered more than 260 homicides.205 

An analysis undertaken by the Department of Health in 2021 helped identify three additional “hotspot” areas—defined as areas having consistently high rates of gun violence over time—that would benefit most from the implementation of Cure Violence: Baden, The Ville/Greater Ville, and Downtown/Carr Square/Columbus Square.206 Adding catchment areas in these neighborhoods would increase the impact of the program. In addition, there is a clear need to expand the existing Walnut Park catchment area into the western part of the neighborhood, where there is significant violent activity.207 

Based on the experience of the first three Cure Violence sites, the start-up cost for a new catchment area is approximately $750,000, followed by $550,000 to $600,000 per site per year in ongoing costs, which primarily covers salaries and benefits for outreach workers and violence interrupters. Given this, Giffords recommends that the City of St. Louis appropriate at least $2.25 million in new funds for the initial implementation of Cure Violence in the three areas named above, with a minimum yearly appropriation of $1.8 million to maintain services over time. When the existing Cure Violence sites are factored in, including the approximate cost of the expansion of the Walnut Park catchment area, a minimum annual appropriation of $4.2 million is required for ongoing expenses in all six catchment areas. 

Cure Violence was launched with a one-time appropriation from the Board of Alderman of $7 million in 2019. Those funds are in a special account that is spent down over time.208 As of the release of this report in early 2022, roughly $3.5 million remains of the initial investment, which would, at most, support two more years of services in the three existing catchment areas. When this account runs out, Cure Violence operations will be forced to cease. Other cities around the country have suffered predictably negative effects when funding for violence reduction initiatives such as Cure Violence have been allowed to expire.209 In order to avoid this outcome, and to help institutionalize this strategy, Giffords recommends that the City of St. Louis appropriate at least $3 million in the coming fiscal year to fund the expansion of Cure Violence to three new catchment areas and expand the existing Walnut Park site, followed by an ongoing annual appropriation in future fiscal years of at least $4.2 million to maintain services in all six catchment areas.

At least some of this can be achieved in the short-term through the use of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), of which the City of St. Louis has already allocated $5.5 million to the Department of Health to fund “data driven public health solutions such as Cure Violence.”210 This investment was part of an initial investment of $135 million in federal APRA funding,211 and the City of St. Louis still has more than $360 million left to appropriate, which can and should be used for the purposes identified here. While increased investment for Cure Violence is an important step in the right direction, Giffords also cautions that ARPA funds are a one-time allocation, so truly institutionalizing this strategy will ultimately require an investment of General Fund dollars and/or other sources of revenue. This is best practice from a number of American cities that have had the most success in reducing violence in recent years, including New York and Los Angeles, where local budgets include significant yearly appropriations to support Cure Violence and similar violence intervention strategies.212

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program: “The BCJI model is often used to support Community Violence Intervention (CVI) strategies to reduce gun violence. CVI strategies like violence interruption programs deploy trusted messengers who work directly with individuals most likely to commit gun violence, intervene in conflicts, and connect these people to social and economic services to reduce the likelihood of their using gun violence as an answer…Applicants proposing to use these or other community-based interventions targeting gun violence as part of their BCJI strategy will receive priority consideration.”213
  • Comprehensive Youth Violence Prevention and Reduction Program: “Applicants using Community Violence Intervention (CVI) strategies (i.e., community-based gun violence interventions such as street outreach [and] violence interrupters)…will receive priority consideration.”214
  • Strategies to Support Children Exposed to Violence: Priority for applicants proposing to implement a CVI initiative and also for applicants in high-poverty areas.215
  • Project Safe Neighborhoods: “PSN grant funding can be used to support a wide variety of evidence-based prevention and intervention programs, including Community Violence Intervention (CVI) programs — such as violence interrupters [and] street outreach — which identify those who are at the highest risk and work to reduce violence through targeted interventions.”216
  • Title II Juvenile Justice Formula Funding: “All applications must be submitted in one or more of the following program areas: Community-based alternative (including home-based alternatives) to incarceration and institutionalization including…for youth who need specialized intensive and comprehensive services that address the unique issues encountered by youth when they become involved with gangs.”
  • Services for Residents of “High-Crime Area” with “Deteriorating Infrastructure”: Eligible applicants include community-based organizations in the City of St. Louis who services in “high-crime” areas for the purpose of deterring criminal behavior.
  • Community Development Block Grants: “Because crime prevention and reduction strategies are priorities for the City and because crime prevention and offender reentry services were identified by the community as a priority during the Consolidated Plan process, CDA is actively seeking proposals in these areas and may fund several programs.”
  • Prop S Youth Crime Prevention Fund: For “qualified not-for-profit organizations to serve at-risk youth in the 11 to 24-year-old demographic,” to “reduce the likelihood of youth involvement in criminal activity.”
  • Community Mental Health Fund; Community Children’s Services Fund217

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • OJP Diagnostic: “Reorganize city services and their funding sources to enable proactive outreach to high violence neighborhoods.”
  • George Mason University – Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) Framework: “Targeting known violent offenders, their social networks, and formerly justice-involved violent offenders is important to address violence related issues in the St. Louis area.”
  • Youth Violence Prevention Partnership, 2018-2023 Strategic Plan: “Provide street outreach to reach disconnected youth and connect them to services.”

6. Expand Services for High-Risk Survivors of Violence

Given the strong connection between prior victimization and future violence, St. Louis should dramatically expand its existing regional network of hospital-based violence intervention programs, Life Outside of Violence (LOV), to minimize the number of high-risk victims who are falling through the cracks and not receiving lifesaving intervention services. To put this gap into perspective, consider that with its current program budget of just over $1 million per year, LOV is able to hire only a single full-time clinician and a single outreach worker at each of the four participating hospitals. As discussed above, LOV graduates are seeing a reinjury rate that is three times lower than a control group of individuals who did not participate, clearly demonstrating the benefit of this program and the need to expand beyond its current capacity to serve victims of violence.218

The busiest trauma center in St. Louis, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, had 84 eligible patients enroll in the program between 2018 and 2021, but 686 violently injured patients who were not necessarily reached because of incorrect contact information or lack of follow-up due to capacity limitations. As LOV Project Coordinator Kateri Chapman-Kramer explained, enrollment rates in the program are much higher when staff are able to make a connection while patients are still recovering in the hospital, and while the outreach team can respond from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., there is still room to increase LOV’s capacity for in-hospital connections and extensive follow up with eligible individuals.219 

The number of unenrolled patients is also artificially low, because LOV’s current eligible population is limited to individuals ages 8 to 30 (recently increased from 24). While it is important to strategically limit the pool of eligible candidates while resources are limited, this means that patients aged 31 and older are not receiving any contact from LOV staff or an opportunity to participate in LOV programming.

Funding for LOV initially came from a $1.6M, three-year grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health, but that funding expired near the end of 2021. The program has continued, thanks to a grant through the Victims of Crime Act, a new specialized grant from the Department of Justice’s Office of Victims of Crime, and support from participating health systems, which Giffords applauds. 

However, in order to institutionalize and expand this important violence reduction strategy, a larger infusion of public funds is needed. Based on ideal caseloads of 15 or fewer patients per clinical case manager, Giffords recommends an annual investment of at least $2.5 million per year to hire additional full-time clinical case managers, outreach workers, and supervisors at each of the four LOV sites. This investment should be proportional to the number of victims of community violence being seen at each location, rather than distributed evenly across sites. 

In addition, since LOV participants are engaged in the very specific setting of hospitals, Giffords recommends that the City of St. Louis fund the expansion of services for survivors of violence in a neighborhood setting, which is being addressed by the Neighborhood Healing Network (NHN). This network, which is also supported by the Crime Victim Center, consists of five community-based organizations: Better Family Life, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis, Fathers & Families Support Center, Mission: St. Louis, and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, each of which has experience providing services in some of the city’s most disadvantaged communities.

As of the publication of this report, NHN is supported by a $1 million grant from the Missouri Department of Social Services, but is not directly funded by the city. Giffords recommends that the City of St. Louis invest at least $1 million in matching funds to incentivize NHN providers to offer services specifically for survivors of community violence, and to facilitate collaboration between NHN, LOV, and other organizations and efforts supporting this same population. 

Finally, another important entry point for services for victims of violent crime are the Victims Advocates embedded at SLMPD. As discussed above, at present there are only two full time advocates for thousands of victims—with an annual budget of approximately $140,000 to cover staff, technology, and administrative costs.220Giffords recommends increasing this budget to at least $350,000, which would enable the Gun Crime Intelligence Center to hire several more Victim Advocates. 

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program: “Hospital-based violence interventions engage people who have been shot while they are still in the hospital, connecting them to services to decrease the likelihood that they commit gun violence or are victimized in the future. Programs like these have reduced homicides by as much as 60 percent in areas where they are implemented. Applicants proposing to use these or other community-based interventions targeting gun violence as part of their BCJI strategy will receive priority consideration.”221
  • Comprehensive Youth Violence Prevention and Reduction Program: “Applicants using Community Violence Intervention (CVI) strategies (i.e….hospital-based violence interventions) will receive priority consideration.”222
  • Strategies to Support Children Exposed to Violence: Priority for applicants proposing to implement a CVI initiative and also for applicants in high-poverty areas.223
  • Project Safe Neighborhoods: “PSN grant funding can be used to support a wide variety of evidence-based prevention and intervention programs, including Community Violence Intervention (CVI) programs — such as…hospital-based interventions.”224
  • VOCA Assistance Grants: “At least 10 percent to programs that serve victims determined by the state to have been previously underserved. For MO purposes, “underserved” is defined to mean underserved victims of violent crime.”
  • National Centers of Excellence in Youth Violence Prevention: Research Area 1: Rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of prevention strategies addressing social and structural conditions that reduce racial and ethnic inequities and community rates of youth violence.225
  • State Services to Victims Fund (SSVF): “The agency funded must verify that victims serviced through this program must be victims of a that involved the threat or the use of force or violence in its commission.”
  • Missouri Community Service Commission (MCSC): MCSC will prioritize the investment of national service resources in the following areas: Geographic areas of the state that are currently underserved…[and] Racial justice programming.
  • Community Development Block Grants: “Because crime prevention and reduction strategies are priorities for the City and because crime prevention and offender reentry services were identified by the community as a priority during the Consolidated Plan process, CDA is actively seeking proposals in these areas and may fund several programs.”
  • Prop S Youth Crime Prevention Fund: For “qualified not-for-profit organizations to serve at-risk youth in the 11 to 24-year-old demographic,” in order to “reduce the likelihood of youth involvement in criminal activity.”
  • Community Mental Health Fund; Community Children’s Services Fund226

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • OJP Diagnostic: “Adopt trauma-informed approaches to address the needs of individuals who have experienced trauma, particularly young people exposed to recurring violence. Research indicates there is a connection between early exposure to violence and negative outcomes later in life.”
  • George Mason University Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) Framework: “Violence prevention must acknowledge how trauma and exposure to violence perpetuates a cycle of violence.”
  • VPC Statement on Policing and Violence Prevention: “We recommend investing in service provision for victims of nonfatal shootings including allocating funding to helping victims to repair their homes after nonfatal shootings.”

7. Provide Direct Support for Frontline Workers in the Community Violence Field

There is increasing recognition that an effective violence reduction ecosystem requires an investment in direct support for frontline workers and for smaller, grassroots violence reduction efforts that lack the capacity to leverage traditional public grants. In a national survey of more than 200 violence intervention workers around the country, Giffords found that frontline staff in this field suffer from unequal pay and inadequate fringe benefits; untreated vicarious and direct trauma and a lack of uniform training, professional standards, and professional development opportunities.227

As examples of efforts to address these issues, in Los Angeles, the city-funded Urban Peace Academy implements minimum qualifications and training standards, offers a tiered professional development track, and enforces standards of conduct and practice through a Professional Standards Committee.228

“The Academy has not only helped to train and professionalize gang intervention and street outreach nationally, but is a career pathway for formerly incarcerated and gang-involved people to contribute to and come back to their communities,” said Fernando Rejon, executive director of the Urban Peace Institute, which runs the Urban Peace Academy.229 “The Academy has served as an organizing platform, which has allowed intervention workers to build strong networks, to leverage resources, [and] to define the work.”

In Massachusetts, the state-funded community violence workforce development program is providing a 36-hour, culturally relevant skills and professional development course for frontline violence intervention workers in Boston and other cities.230 At an cost of approximately $150,000, this training is provided in partnership with both local practitioners and the University of Massachusetts. 

Several years ago, researchers from George Mason University conducted an in-depth analysis of the capacity of St. Louis organizations to meet the needs of individuals at high risk of engaging in violence. “It would behoove a foundation or government agency to develop and implement an academy to assist providers to improve the quality of their services and to advance treatment outcomes,” the George Mason team recommended.231 “The curriculum should include how best to do evidence-based programming, training staff, and tailoring services to the unique needs of clients.” 

This gap has not yet been filled, and Giffords reiterates the need for the City of St. Louis to develop its capacity to support the field of community violence intervention, including the wellness and development opportunities of frontline workers, modeled after Los Angeles’s Urban Peace Academy. Given the scope of community violence in the City of St. Louis, Giffords recommends an annual investment of at least $300,000 in this effort.  

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program: “The BCJI model is often used to support Community Violence Intervention (CVI) strategies to reduce gun violence. CVI strategies like violence interruption programs deploy trusted messengers who work directly with individuals most likely to commit gun violence, intervene in conflicts, and connect these people to social and economic services to reduce the likelihood of their using gun violence as an answer…Applicants proposing to use these or other community-based interventions targeting gun violence as part of their BCJI strategy will receive priority consideration.”232
  • Comprehensive Youth Violence Prevention and Reduction Program: “Applicants using Community Violence Intervention (CVI) strategies (i.e., community-based gun violence interventions such as street outreach, violence interrupters, group violence intervention, and hospital-based violence interventions) will receive priority consideration.”233
  • Community Development Block Grants: “Because crime prevention and reduction strategies are priorities for the City and because crime prevention and offender reentry services were identified by the community as a priority during the Consolidated Plan process, CDA is actively seeking proposals in these areas and may fund several programs.”
  • Prop S Youth Crime Prevention Fund: For “qualified not-for-profit organizations to serve at-risk youth in the 11 to 24-year-old demographic,” in order to “reduce the likelihood of youth involvement in criminal activity.”
  • Community Mental Health Fund; Community Children’s Services Fund

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • OJP Diagnostic: “Reorganize city services and their funding sources to enable proactive outreach to high violence neighborhoods.”
  • George Mason UniversityRisk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) Framework: “Develop an Academy where service providers can learn skills to prevent violence and crime, and to improve the use of evidence-based practices and treatments.”

8. Expand Support for Community-based Organizations and Grassroots Groups Serving High-Risk Individuals, with an Emphasis on Employment, Housing, Mental and Behavioral Health, and Reentry Services 

One of the keys to reducing violence is to provide intensive services to the relatively small population of individuals at high risk of engaging in violence. In order to be effective, these services must touch on the risk factors most associated with violence. In St. Louis, as discussed in detail, above, these risk factors include multiple contacts with the criminal justice system, poverty (including both job and housing insecurity), and lack of positive, adult relationships. In each of these areas, the City of St. Louis has existing networks of community-based and grassroots organizations, but interviews with stakeholders revealed the need to intentionally expand these efforts and to incentivize organizations to work specifically with individuals at the highest risk of engaging in violence.

Using ARPA funds, the City of St. Louis has taken a step in this direction by allocating $5.5 million to the Department of Health for grants to community-based organizations to: 1) operate community programs designed to interrupt cycles of violence, such as Cure Violence; and 2) transfer individuals from a “carceral environment” to “an ecosystem of community support,” which will provide individuals with resources to reintegrate into the community, including housing, addiction treatment, behavioral health services, etc.”234 These investments focus on violence interruption, which is essential but generally does not include wider support services—ultimately a violence reduction strategy such as Cure Violence will only be effective in the long term if linked to a strong referral network of service providers in multiple issue areas. Moreover, the investment calls for reentry services, but as written is not specifically for those at the highest risk of engaging in violence. These are gaps that should be addressed. 

Based on best practices from other cities,235Giffords recommends an annual investment of at least $7.5 million for community-based and grassroots organizations to work with individuals at the highest risk of engaging in violence, with an emphasis on services related to employment development, housing security, mental and behavioral health, and reentry.

It’s also important to recognize that certain individuals and entities may lack the organizational capacity to leverage grant funding, despite having access and credibility in certain communities that others may not have. As just one example, the Organization for Black Struggle operates a violence prevention initiative, Project Haki, modeled after Cure Violence, in the city’s 22nd Ward, with one full-time project manager and a volunteer staff of two.236 Some of Project Haki’s efforts overlap with territory covered by Cure Violence, but different social networks of its outreach workers give Project Haki staff access to a different population. To maximize the reach of violence intervention efforts, it’s important for the City of St. Louis to support grassroots efforts to complement higher-profile efforts such as Cure Violence.

One way of addressing this is to earmark a percentage of investment recommended here for smaller organizations, as the State of Pennsylvania recently did with violence reduction grant program designed specifically for the City of Philadelphia. The program carved out categories of applicants based on organization and award size, and reserved funding for applicants “with under $100,000 in annual operating expenditures relying primarily on volunteers to operate and may have no full-time employees. These applicants are seeking funding to support small-scale, neighborhood level activities.”237 As another example, the City of Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention administers millions of dollars in grants to support community-based violence reduction efforts, including a mini-grants program designed specifically to “support the violence reduction work of individuals and smaller community-based organizations with innovative efforts to address violence.”238

Another is to partner with one or more intermediary organizations whose role is not just pass through resources, but also to develop the capacity of grassroots violence intervention and prevention organizations to serve their neighborhoods.239 An ideal intermediary would have a strong track record of focusing on issues of race and equity in their efforts to analyze problems, fashion solutions, and define outcomes, and a reliance on soliciting input from directly impacted individuals in shaping their work. 

In Colorado, the Department of Corrections successfully partnered with an intermediary, the Latino Coalition, which helped develop the capacity of several grassroots organizations providing reentry services in communities of color. As an Urban Institute study of this arrangement noted, the intermediary role was “important to the launch of the program because the CDOC was not in a position to provide this support,” which included administrative oversight as well as leadership, resources, and capacity-building skills.240

In the City of St. Louis, ARCHS is functioning as an intermediary organization, directing federal funds awarded from the Missouri Department of Social Services to help build the capacity of five different local service providers to assist victims of crime in north St. Louis, through the Neighborhood Healing Network, described above.241 Similarly, in 2021, ARCHS directed $5.5 million in federal funding to local community-based organizations—including Better Family Life, Fathers & Families Support Center, and Mission: St. Louis—to focus on workforce development and employment readiness skills in underserved St. Louis neighborhoods.242

The city would benefit from further investment in intermediaries to support local, grassroots organizations working specifically with individuals at high risk of engaging in violence at the individual neighborhood level, particularly in the areas of employment development, housing stability, mental and behavioral health, and reentry services. In Colorado, a state investment of just under $10 million supports the Latino Coalition in partnership with seven community-based, grassroots reentry service providers around the state. Given the scope of community violence in the City of St. Louis, Giffords recommends an investment of at least $7.5 million to support established community-based organizations, intermediaries, and smaller grassroots organizations in working with those at high risk of engaging in violence, with an emphasis on trauma-informed services in the areas of employment development, housing security, mental and behavioral health, and reentry.

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program: “The BCJI model is often used to support Community Violence Intervention (CVI) strategies to reduce gun violence. CVI strategies like violence interruption programs deploy trusted messengers who work directly with individuals most likely to commit gun violence, intervene in conflicts, and connect these people to social and economic services to reduce the likelihood of their using gun violence as an answer…Applicants proposing to use these or other community-based interventions targeting gun violence as part of their BCJI strategy will receive priority consideration.”243
  • Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) for State Prisoners Program: “Assists with developing and implementing residential substance abuse treatment programs within state correctional facilities, as well as within local correctional and detention facilities, in which inmates are incarcerated for a period of time sufficient to permit substance abuse treatment.”
  • Comprehensive Youth Violence Prevention and Reduction Program: “Applicants using Community Violence Intervention (CVI) strategies (i.e., community-based gun violence interventions such as street outreach, violence interrupters, group violence intervention, and hospital-based violence interventions) will receive priority consideration.”244
  • Title II Juvenile Justice Formula Funding: Alternatives to Detention: Community-based alternatives to incarceration and institutionalization including- (i) for status offenders and other youth who need temporary placement: crisis intervention, shelter, and after-care; (ii) for youth who need residential placement: a continuum of foster care or group home alternatives that provide access to a comprehensive array of services; and (iii) for youth who need specialized intensive and comprehensive services that address the unique issues encountered by youth when they become involved with gang.
  • Community Development Block Grants: “Because crime prevention and reduction strategies are priorities for the City and because crime prevention and offender reentry services were identified by the community as a priority during the Consolidated Plan process, CDA is actively seeking proposals in these areas and may fund several programs.”
  • Missouri Community Service Commission (MCSC): “Evidence-based interventions on the AmeriCorps Evidence Exchange that are assessed as having Moderate or Strong evidence. Please note that many of these interventions have demonstrated effectiveness in improving outcomes for individuals living in underserved communities and that the agency has committed resources to supporting grantees seeking to replicate and evaluate these interventions in similar communities.”
  • Missouri Economic Distress Zone Fund Grant: Funding for nonprofit organizations in qualified areas, including the City of St. Louis, to “provide services…for the purpose of deterring criminal behavior.”
  • Neighborhood Assistance Program: Tax credits for donations to nonprofit organizations operating projects that fall under one of five categories: community services, crime prevention, education, job training, physical revitalization”
  • Youth Opportunities Program: Tax credits for for donations to nonprofit organizations, with priority for projects that: Increase the number of at-risk youth receiving a high school diploma or equivalency; Increase the number of at-risk youth that remain in school and improve academic performance; Increase the number of at-risk youth that complete workforce training and job skills development programs; Decrease the number of at-risk youth committing crimes and violent acts.”
  • Prop S Youth Crime Prevention Fund: For “qualified not-for-profit organizations to serve at-risk youth in the 11 to 24-year-old demographic,” in order to “reduce the likelihood of youth involvement in criminal activity.”
  • Community Mental Health Fund; Community Children’s Services Fund

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • OJP Diagnostic: “Reorganize city services and their funding sources to enable proactive outreach to high violence neighborhoods.”
  • Youth Violence Prevention Partnership, 2018-2023 Strategic Plan: “Targeted services and support to individuals at high risk of committing crimes or individuals with characteristics that are associated with criminal or delinquent behavior such as providing mental health services, diversion programs, and substance abuse treatment. Support and enhance neighborhood and community-based organizations to re-build social cohesion. Build organizations’ capacity to mentor youth, specifically in the VRZ, and link them and their families with services…Few employment programs and interventions have an explicit focus on neighborhoods experiencing the highest rates of violence. Employment programs should look to support those youth who face the most risk by targeting outreach and recruitment efforts to neighborhoods experiencing violence.”
  • George Mason UniversityRisk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) Framework: “The RNR methodology examined the quality of the programs and services that are available to prevent or treat the needs of those involved in violence and crime. Programs consistently scored low on many program quality measures, which indicates the need for expanded use of evidence-based practices. It is important to address these issues to ensure positive results from programming.”
  • VPC Statement on Policing and Violence Prevention: “Fund Subsidized Employment Training that Incorporates Wraparound Services and Mental Health Treatment.”

Focusing Law Enforcement Efforts on Addressing Serious Violence and Building Trust with Residents

The American cities that have succeeded the most in reducing community violence have taken steps to reduce reliance on arrest numbers and sweeping tactics, and have instead prioritized serious acts of violence and efforts to rebuild trust in the communities they serve. The below recommendations include funding programs for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to improve its clearance rate for homicides and non-fatal shootings, and to improve its ability to analyze violent crime data and share that data with key community partners. In addition, there are recommendations to help reduce the use of force and the overall amount of unnecessary police interactions with community members by instituting de-escalation training and supporting a civilian emergency response option. Finally, Giffords recommends expanding the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court’s Pre-Trial Release program in order to provide services as an alternative to traditional pretrial detention.

Taken together, these investments will help reduce the overall law enforcement footprint in the City of St. Louis, while improving SLMPD’s capacity to address and reduce violent crime.

9. Implement a Program to Improve the Clearance Rate for Homicides and Non-Fatal Shootings

Given the link between low clearance rates for shootings and high rates of violence,245 the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) should implement programs similar to the Boston Homicide Clearance Project and New York State’s Non-fatal Shooting Incidents Project.246

In 2011, Boston—one of the only cities in the US to see a drop in homicides during 2020 and again in 2021—used federal resources to fund a project “to understand the underlying nature of their homicide clearance problem, develop appropriate responses to enhance their investigations, and evaluate the impact of the implemented changes.”247

From 2007 to 2011, the Boston Police Department had a homicide clearance rate of about 47%, which was well below the national average—but still well above the reported clearance rate in St. Louis in 2020 of just 24%. BPD hired outside consultants and began with a review of 314 homicide cases from 2007 to 2011, with an eye toward identifying gaps in response and best practices, including with input from international homicide investigation experts based in the UK. 

A Homicide Advisory Committee, staffed by homicide detectives, district detectives, Crime Scene Response Unit (CSRU) officers, Forensics Group analysts, intelligence analysts, homicide prosecutors, and others, ultimately made a number of recommendations for reforms intended to improve the city’s homicide clearance rate. These reforms included increasing the size of the homicide unit, enhancing the training of detectives, and adopting new practices and policies designed to improve outcomes.

BPD implemented these reforms in 2012 by reorganizing its homicide unit, including hiring a civilian analyst to and a second victim-witness resource officer. The department also made an effort to strengthen relationships with victim-assistance organizations.248 

Research showed that these reforms worked to significantly improve homicide clearance rates, especially in cases involving young men of color. From 2012 to 2014, BPD’s homicide clearance rate went from 47% to 66%. These gains appear to have been largely sustained over time, with BPD data showing a homicide clearance rate of more than 60% each year from 2016 to 2019. 2019 also represented a 20-year low in homicides for the city—with just 37 homicides in a city of more than 650,000—compared to 194 homicides that same year in St. Louis, a city with a population of just over 300,000.249

A budget narrative for the Boston Homicide Clearance Project suggests costs of approximately $600,000 for a two-year period, including personnel, equipment, training, and travel expenses. Given the tremendous scope of the violence problem in St. Louis, Giffords recommends a minimum yearly investment of $500,000 for the implementation of a similar program.

In most US cities, the clearance rate for nonfatal shootings is even lower than the homicide clearance rate. To help address this, the State of New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services selected two cities to participate in a pilot program aimed at strengthening the investigation of nonfatal shooting incidents with the specific goal of increasing the number of clearances and prosecutions.250 As part of this initiative, the state provided resources to each city to receive technical assistance from the John F. Finn Institute of Public Safety, which reviewed years of data on nonfatal shooting cases to identify gaps and best practices and supported the development of detailed protocols for nonfatal shooting investigations.

The results were impressive: Utica’s clearance rate from 2017–2019 increased to 36% (compared to 23% from 2014–2016), and Newburgh’s increased to 40% (compared to 14% before the project).”251 With the rise in clearance rates in Newburgh came a significant drop in nonfatal shooting incidents, with the city reaching a decade-low of just eight incidents in 2018, compared to 55 in 2015.252 

Researchers also identified a number of key principles that were applied successfully in both demonstration cities that could be replicated in other places, including St. Louis. These recommendations included:253

  • Having buy-in from executive leadership to prioritize the investigation and clearance of nonfatal shootings as if they were homicides
  • Promoting collaboration between police and prosecutors
  • Having officers that specialize in the investigation of nonfatal shootings
  • Creating written protocols and checklists to follow in each shooting investigation
  • Understanding the behaviors and patterns of the small number of individuals responsible for the majority of serious acts of violence

In Newburgh alone, which more than doubled its clearance rate for nonfatal shootings, the project budget included about $280,000 in funding, which paid for a dedicated investigator in the District Attorney’s Office, a dedicated mid-level detective, a crime analyst and overtime.254 In addition, a local prosecuting attorney was dedicated solely to working on nonfatal shooting cases. Given that Newburgh has a population about one-tenth the size of the City of St. Louis, Giffords recommends a minimum investment of $2 million to improve the clearance rate for nonfatal shootings. One concrete change that would help address the non-fatal shooting clearance rate would be for SLMPD to assign detectives to specialize in the handling of non-fatal shooting cases, which requires a specific skill set—including understanding how to work with families of victims and potential witnesses who are suffering from the trauma of exposure to violence—and is a best practice that is not currently being implemented.255

Combined, Giffords recommends a yearly investment of at least $2.5 million for the city of St. Louis to improve both its homicide and nonfatal shooting clearance rates, which will simultaneously reduce violence and improve community trust in law enforcement.

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • BJA Smart Policing Initiative: “Applicants are encouraged to focus on a strategy that would: Increase an agency’s ability to effectively investigate fatal and nonfatal shootings/aggravated assaults that are driving factors in a community’s violent crime issues, and support the victims and witnesses of these crimes.”256
  • COPS Hiring Program: “Community-Based approaches to combating gun violence that build trust in underserved communities suffering from high incidents of gun crime will receive additional consideration.”257
  • Byrne JAG: “BJA encourages state and local jurisdictions to invest JAG funds to tailor programs and responses to CVI in an effort to build strong, sustained partnerships with community residents and organizations to support CVI work in communities most impacted by violent crime.”
  • Project Safe Neighborhoods: “PSN grant funding can be used to support a wide variety of evidence-based prevention and intervention programs.”
  • Local Violent Crime Prevention Grant (LVCP): “This opportunity will be for technology and equipment used in violent crime reduction and prevention efforts. Examples of allowable items include, but are not limited to, the following: Gunshot Detection Technology, Justice Information Sharing Technology, Communications Systems, Crime Analytics Software.”

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • OJP Diagnostic: “Focusing investigatory and other resources on non-fatal shooting incidents to improve clearance rates. Implementing recommendations of the Violence Reduction Network on non-fatal shooting model practices.”
  • St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Administrative Review: “Further complicating the City’s unprecedented number of homicides is the department’s solve rate, which is less than 25% compared to the national average of 60%.”

10. Implement Group Violence Intervention with Support from a Technical Assistance Provider

One of the most consistently effective strategies to reduce community violence is known as Group Violence Intervention (GVI), and also commonly referred to as “focused deterrence.” This strategy relies on a partnership between law enforcement, service providers, and community members. These stakeholders work together to identify the small number of individuals at the very highest risk of engaging in violence and then physically bring those individuals together for an in-person meeting known as a call-in.

The purpose of call-ins is to put individuals on notice of the risk they are in, to have them hear a genuine plea for change from members of the community directly affected by violence, and to connect with service providers who can help steer them in a different direction. In many cities, call-ins are also supplemented with individualized versions of a call-in known as “custom notifications,” where small teams of community members, service providers, and law enforcement meet with high-risk individuals one-on-one.

When implemented to the fullest extent possible, GVI represents not just a strategy for reaching and intervening with high-risk individuals, but also a paradigm shift for the way law enforcement approaches both serious violence and policing in general. In Oakland, for example, the implementation of GVI led to a restructuring of the police department to focus on boosting capacity to investigate and solve serious violent crime, improving relationships between police and community, reducing the use of unfocused enforcement actions and arrests for low-level offenses, and creating a regular system for multiple stakeholders to share information and problem solve around violence crime.258 Several of these elements are significant enough to be separate recommendations in other parts of this report.   

In cities that have implemented GVI effectively, the results have been dramatic,259 with multiple evaluations showing double digit reductions in homicides and shootings over a one-to-two year period.260 In Oakland, researchers conducted a formal evaluation and found Oakland’s version of GVI to be associated “with an estimated 31.5% reduction in Oakland gun homicides controlling for seasonal variations and other trends,” including a 43.2% drop in group-involved shootings, which helped drive a near 50 percent reduction in homicides and shootings in the city between 2012 and 2019. Unfortunately, Oakland still suffered an increase in homicides in the wake of the Covid pandemic, as did almost every other major American city.261

Oakland’s experience with GVI is particularly relevant to St. Louis because, like St. Louis, Oakland experimented with iterations of the strategy before finally getting it right. The City of St. Louis implemented a version of GVI in 2008, focused on the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood, which evaluators found to be associated with some reductions in violence, but not at statistically significant levels.262

As was true with less successful earlier iterations of GVI in Oakland, the 2008 version of GVI in St. Louis did not fully embrace full partnership between police and the community, the use of call-ins, or the provision of social services—three essential elements of the strategy.263 Nor was the effort combined with a comprehensive problem analysis or shooting review process. As such, it’s not surprising that evaluators of St. Louis’ 2008 effort “did not find statistically significant differences in total violence between the Wells GoodFellow neighborhood and the seven matched comparison neighborhoods.”264

Given the documented success of GVI in other cities, Mayor Jones was right to try the strategy in St. Louis, pleading in her campaign’s public safety platform that, as mayor, she would “use the national model of Focused Deterrence.”265 True to this promise, Office of Public Safety Director Dr. Daniel Isom reported that the implementation is one of four core pillars of his office’s approach to reducing community violence in St. Louis, and funding for that is coming from the police department general budget.

However, as of the publication of this report, this effort was not being implemented with support from an outside technical assistance provider, and was still located entirely within the SLMPD, rather than in partnership with community members and social service partners. Both of those gaps are critical to the success of any GVI effort, and the City of St. Louis should seek to fill them as quickly as possible. 

To cover the costs of a technical assistance contract and the hiring of a full-time project coordinator and support staff, Giffords recommends that the City of St. Louis invest at least $500,000 to support the expansion of GVI. Interviews with stakeholders indicated that the city applied for a federal grant from OJJDP to fund a full-time GVI project manager, support staff, an outreach coordinator, and community member involvement in direct communication with high-risk individuals; however, this application was not funded. Despite this setback, several other options exist and should be pursued.

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • Project Safe Neighborhoods: “PSN grant funding can be used to support a wide variety of evidence-based prevention and intervention programs, including Community Violence Intervention (CVI) programs—such as violence interrupters, street outreach, and hospital-based intervention—which identify those who are at the highest risk and work to reduce violence through targeted interventions.”266
  • Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI): “Applicants proposing to use these or other community-based interventions targeting gun violence as part of their BCJI strategy will receive priority consideration.”
  • Byrne JAG: “BJA encourages state and local jurisdictions to invest JAG funds to tailor programs and responses to CVI in an effort to build strong, sustained partnerships with community residents and organizations to support CVI work in communities most impacted by violent crime.”
  • COPS Hiring Program: “Community-Based approaches to combating gun violence that build trust in underserved communities suffering from high incidents of gun crime will receive additional consideration. Applicants requesting additional consideration for gun violence issues will be asked to describe their holistic, community-based approach and may wish to review COPS Office publications such as Group Violence Intervention: An Implementation Guide.”267
  • Community Policing Development Microgrants: “Addressing street-level community violence in a holistic, multipronged approach with intervention programs such as group violence interventions, focused deterrence, and wraparound services strengthens community resilience and builds social capital.”268

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • OJP Diagnostic: “Developing criteria and data to identify chronic violent gun offenders and chronic violent hot spots (or “hot list” of individuals and places causing the greatest harm) and link them with proactive intervention strategies beyond increased police presence.”
  • St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Administrative Review: “There is no coordinated gang strategy, combining enforcement, investigations, intelligence gathering, and intervention.”

11. Conduct a Formal Problem Analysis and Implement a Shooting Review Process

A universal best practice for cities grappling with high levels of community violence is to undertake a rigorous problem analysis and institutionalize a shooting review process in which a range of stakeholders regularly meet to share the most recent information about serious violence and proactively solve issues together.269 

Problem Analysis

A problem analysis is a formal process that involves reviewing years of homicide and nonfatal shooting data, combined with interviews of homicide detectives and community members with knowledge of local dynamics, in order to create a detailed understanding of a city’s violence dynamics at a specific point in time. This process can help to both dispel myths and focus resources strategically. “For complex problems such as homicide, a deep understanding of the nature of the problem is crucial in framing appropriate responses,” wrote noted criminologists Anothony Braga and Deborah Azrael.270

In Oakland, California, for example, outside technical assistance experts from the California Partnership for Safe Communities (CPSC) conducted a comprehensive, year-long review of data and their findings revealed that the city, police, and community groups had fundamentally misunderstood the dynamics of gun violence in Oakland for years. As in many cities, the false narrative being perpetuated in Oakland was that large groups of young people involved in drug-related disputes were driving the majority of gun violence. 

CPSC’s problem analysis revealed that there were 50 violent groups or gangs in Oakland with an active membership of between 1,000 and 1,200 people, representing just 0.3% of the population.271 These individuals were responsible for up to 85% of the city’s homicides and were also the vast majority of homicide victims. Moreover, only a small subset of those groups, about 400 individuals—just 0.1% of Oakland’s total population—were at high risk for engaging in serious violence at any given time. Despite commonly held beliefs that juveniles were driving violent crime, CPSC’s problem analysis showed that fewer than 10% of homicides in Oakland involved anyone under 18. In reality, the average age of a homicide suspect in Oakland was 28, and the average age of a victim was 30. 

All of this information was used to reform the city’s strategy for addressing violence, which researchers found contributed to a close to 50% reduction in nonfatal shootings and homicides between 2012 and 2019.272 

Although the City of St. Louis has engaged in a number of analyses of violence in recent years, none of these efforts have included a comprehensive problem analysis, as defined in this report. Interviews with multiple stakeholders within and outside of law enforcement, including Public Safety Director Dr. Daniel Isom, confirm that the city has not conducted a full-scale problem analysis with respect to community violence.

As this is an important aspect of understanding and strategically directing resources to effectively address homicides and shootings,Giffords recommends that the City of St. Louis contract with a third party technical assistance provider, such as the National Network for Safe Communities or the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform,273 in order to undertake a problem analysis that will capture the most recent violence trends, identify risk factors for those at the highest risk of engaging in violence, and inform resource allocation. 

A problem analysis on its own generally costs $50,000, however, a longer-term technical assistance engagement is likely to yield more results. As such, Giffords recommends that the City of St. Louis budget at least $350,000 for a two-year engagement with a reputable technical assistance provider to conduct an initial problem analysis and ongoing assistance with the implementation of indicated strategies.

Shooting Review

A problem analysis, as useful as it is, provides a snapshot of violence dynamics at a very specific time, and so must be updated regularly, as these dynamics are often very fluid. A best practice is to implement a shooting review process in which a diverse array of stakeholders meet on a regular basis to analyze recent shootings, share information, and collectively problem-solve issues in a proactive manner.

As researchers evaluating the impact of Milwaukee’s Homicide Review Commission noted, “Homicide problems evolve over time and cities must be positioned to identify and understand new trends, implement appropriate strategies, and adjust strategies as necessary. Dynamic and adaptable processes, rather than tactics and specific programs, are needed to manage and control urban violence.”274

As an example of a shooting review, in response to rising violence, the City of Milwaukee funded and launched the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission (MHRC) in 2005,275 with the goal of reducing homicides by improving data collection, data sharing, and multi-agency problem solving around homicides and non-fatal shootings. As another medium-size metropolitan area, Milwaukee (population 595,000) presents a useful case study for the City of St. Louis because its violence dynamics are similar to those of St. Louis. 80% of homicides in Milwaukee are committed with a firearm (90% in St. Louis), violence is highly concentrated geographically in areas affected by poverty and segregation, and the large majority of victims (65%), and suspects (80%) are Black males.276 As in the case in St. Louis, Milwaukee homicides are “often the outcome of an ongoing dispute between individuals and/or groups…and involved respect, status, and retribution as motives.”

The idea in Milwaukee was to bring together a diverse group of informed individuals to share knowledge about the nature of homicides, and then analyze the resulting data in order to gain important insights regarding both individual and systemic responses. The initial MHRC shooting review process, based in part on the Child Death Review model and implemented with the help of technical assistance providers,277 took place in four different phases meant to engage different sets of stakeholders at different times. 

The Criminal Justice Review, for example, took place once a month, and consisted largely of law enforcement partners, although other partners, such as the Milwaukee Public Schools and Milwaukee Housing Authority, were present as well. These stakeholders came together to share information about homicides, with MHRC staff transcribing as much information as possible into a digital, searchable format.278 Another level of review, the Community Service Provider Review, focused on analyzing homicides through the lens of social service providers and public agencies, such as the Health Department, Mayor’s Office, and representatives from faith-based organizations. 

This process also involved real-time analysis of homicides and shootings conducted by police investigators and crisis response provided by community-based organizations, who were alerted to violent incidents through a shared notification system. Finally, community-wide reviews created transparency for residents and allowed them to give their input into the MHRC process.

Among other insights, the MHRC process revealed that many Milwaukee homicides (18%) and nonfatal shootings (15%) were concentrated in and around taverns, and 70% of these incidents occurred between 11pm and 3am on Friday and Saturday nights. This led the MHRC review teams to recommend specific action items to address this issue, including the passage of a local ordinance to improve security protocols at taverns (e.g., the installation of security cameras), increased police presence at hot-spot taverns, and increased enforcement of various nuisance and alcohol regulations, leading three three targeted taverns to voluntarily surrender their liquor licenses, while four others were closed down. During the evaluation period, “treatment districts experienced no tavern-related homicides…[while] there were three tavern-related homicides in control districts.”279

Another trend that emerged was the connection between certain “nuisance” properties and violent crime. The MHRC process revealed that 29% of homicides occurred at rental properties that had previously been identified by district officers as “nuisance” properties, meaning a property that received three substantiated complaints for criminal or disorderly activity within a 30-day period. This led to increased coordination between the police department and the City Attorney’s Office, which began to initiate civil actions against the landlords of nuisance properties, who also received a letter from the police department requiring them to meet personally with the District Captain to provide an abatement plan.

According to a rigorous evaluation of MHRC by Harvard researchers, this effort succeeded not only in vastly improving the quality of data available for homicide and nonfatal shootings, but also facilitated cross-agency information sharing and problem solving that had a significant impact on levels of violence. Specifically, evaluators found that MHRC interventions were associated with a 52% reduction in monthly homicides.280 Control districts saw a 9.2% reduction during the evaluation period. These results were particularly significant because unlike most violence reduction strategies, Milwaukee was able to implement the MHRC model in a randomized fashion so that only some districts participated, while others continued on with business as usual. 

In the years since the evaluation was conducted, homicide levels have bounced back in Milwaukee—but critically, this coincided with reductions in both participation in and funding for MHRC,281 with budget cuts that reduced staff size by 75% and a complete withdrawal of the police department in the process. There is renewed appetite to revitalize MHRC in the face of increasing violence, with one community-based organization lamenting that “we don’t stick with what works [in Milwaukee] when it comes to reducing crime and preventing violence.”282

A shooting review process in Omaha, Nebraska, also helped drive that city’s 76% reduction in overall gun violence, 56% reduction in homicides, and 90% reduction in officer-involved shootings in the years leading up to the Covid pandemic.283 As Willie Barney, founder and president of the African-American Empowerment Network, which spearheaded the Omaha 360 effort, explained in an interview, “We meet every single week for at least an hour [to] engage in open dialogue about what happened during the past week, what’s coming up the next week, and…who needs to address what. For example, we discussed if the intervention team should be at a football game. We knew the police department would be there, but could we get some pastors and community leaders to go as well? We’re always asking what we can do together to create a safe environment.”284

Despite the evidence in favor of implementing a shooting review process,285 interviews with multiple stakeholders indicate that the City of St. Louis is not engaged in such a process, at least not outside of the context of law enforcement. The Gun Crime Intelligence Center, discussed above, is serving several of the homicide/shooting review functions discussed here, but there is still need to expand this type of analysis to community stakeholders as well. The operating cost of the MHRC has historically been around $275,000 per year, which has included some amount of in-kind support from the City of Milwaukee.286Given this, Giffords recommends that the City of St. Louis invest at least $300,000 per year in staff, technology support, and a technical assistance provider to implement and institutionalize a rigorous shooting review process.

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • BJA Smart Policing Initiative: “Priority consideration for applicants in high poverty areas and those “proposing to implement CVI strategies to help law enforcement identify their most pressing crime problems and support their use of promising practices, data, and technology to effectively respond to those problems.”287
  • COPS Hiring Program: “Applicant will employ community policing strategies to address a range of violent crime problems. Community-Based approaches to combating gun violence that build trust in underserved communities suffering from high incidents of gun crime will receive additional consideration.”288
  • COPS Hiring Program: “Applicants requesting additional consideration for gun violence issues will be asked to describe their holistic, community-based approach and may wish to review COPS Office publications such as Group Violence Intervention: An Implementation Guide.”
  • Project Safe Neighborhoods: “PSN grant funding can be used to support a wide variety of evidence-based prevention and intervention programs, including Community Violence Intervention (CVI) programs…which identify those who are at the highest risk and work to reduce violence through targeted interventions.”
  • Local Violent Crime Prevention Grant (LVCP): “This opportunity will be for technology and equipment used in violent crime reduction and prevention efforts. Examples of allowable items include, but are not limited to, the following: Justice Information Sharing Technology; Communications Systems; Crime Analytics Software; Hardware and Software.”
  • Byrne JAG: “BJA encourages state and local jurisdictions to invest JAG funds to tailor programs and responses to CVI in an effort to build strong, sustained partnerships with community residents and organizations to support CVI work in communities most impacted by violent crime.”
  • Community Development Block Grants: “Because crime prevention and reduction strategies are priorities for the City and because crime prevention and offender reentry services were identified by the community as a priority during the Consolidated Plan process, CDA is actively seeking proposals in these areas and may fund several programs.”

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Administrative Review: “Discussions with multiple members of the department revealed gaps in the department’s execution of this crime plan: specifically, lack of regular evaluation of its progress; the absence of a strategic approach toward staffing and resource allocation; and lack of systematic information and intelligence-sharing.”
  • OJP Diagnostic: “Support the development and evaluation of Community COMPSTAT currently being planned by the Community Engagement and Organizational Development Unit. Community COMPSTAT will involve regular meetings where police share real-time crime data and analysis with social service providers in order to spark innovative and real time solutions for high risk individuals and their families, aimed at interrupting the cycle of violence.”
  • George Mason University Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) Framework: “A need exists for: Better indicators of individual level data regarding involvement in the justice system, protective factors, mental health, crime and risky behaviors, housing stability and financial needs.”

12. Expand Capacity of the 911 Diversion and Co-Responder Program and Implement a Civilian-Only Response Model

As described above, the 911 Diversion and Co-Responder programs are both showing promise to help to address several drivers of violent crime, from increasing the number of individuals receiving behavioral health services, to increasing community trust in police, to freeing up law enforcement resources to focus strategically on solving and preventing acts of serious violence. Moreover, an improved 911 response is highly desired by St. Louis residents: the results of several VPC community forums have shown that residents want city leaders to “spend time and energy into making this the best customer experience possible,” given that emergency response is often the most important contact with local government.289

With 750,000 911 calls per year, and pilot estimates that 50% of calls don’t require a police response, the 911 diversion program has a ways to go before it is fully to scale. According to Wilford Pinkney, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Children, Youth and Families, this will first require having all emergency responders on the same Computer Aided Dispatch (“CAD”) system, as well as increased levels of training and improved IT capacity, which the city is currently pursuing but should prioritize. 

The co-responder aspect of this work, the Crisis Response Unit (CRU), has been responding to more total cases than the 911 diversion program, but also needs to be scaled up. As of December 2021, the CRU is not able to provide 24/7 coverage because of staffing limitations. There is a need for additional response vehicles and additional support staff to help coordinate data monitoring and sharing, as well as supporting community-based partner organizations in providing three-to-six-month followups to individuals who receive services as the result of an encounter with the CRU. 

With additional support from federal ARPA funds, the total annual budget for the 911 diversion and co-responder program is now $2.1 million, with the co-responder program constituting the majority share of that amount.290 Given the promising early results of these programs, and their role within the city’s overall violence reduction strategy, Giffords recommends that the City of St. Louis take steps to stabilize and increase this investment over time, using the current, ARP-supplemented budget of $2.1 million as a baseline going forward. 

In addition, St. Louis should implement a civilian-only response to emergency calls, such as Denver’s Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) program, modeled after the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon,291 which provides a response to emergency situations that includes mental health care professionals and social workers instead of law enforcement in appropriate cases.292 In its first full year of implementation, STAR, which was visited in-person by Mayor Jones and Representative Cori Bush in 2021,293 has successfully responded to 1,396 calls, none of which led to arrests, injuries, or police back-up.294 In 2021, the City of Denver, which has a population of 700,000, increased funding for the STAR program, bringing its total budget up to $3.8 million.295

To complement its existing 911 diversion and co-responder models, Giffords recommends that the City of St. Louis invest at least $1.5 million in implementing a robust pilot program of a STAR-like fully civilian emergency response to help improve outcomes for distressed individuals and free up police resources to investigate and address serious violent crime. 

Taken together, Giffords recommends a yearly investment of at least $3.6 million to support the City of St. Louis’s 911 diversion program, co-responder program, and the implementation of a civilian-only emergency response. The city has already allocated $5 million in ARPA funding to support several competitive contracts, including one “to build a community responder model designed to divert calls for clinical help away from the police department, thereby freeing up officer time to combat violent crime.”296 This is absolutely a step in the right direction, but as Director Pinkney pointed out, ARPA funding is one-time funding, and these efforts need to be sustained and institutionalized over time in order to be effective.

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • Community Policing Development: Crisis Intervention Teams: “The Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) Program is for expansion of the use of crisis intervention teams in order to embed mental and behavioral health services with law enforcement, as well as the development of training programs.”297
  • Community Policing Development Microgrants: “The 2021 CPD Microgrants program has been established to fund specific projects related to the following subcategory areas: Community Trust and Legitimacy.”
  • Byrne JAG: FY21 solicitation references “building tools to support diversion and alternatives to incarceration.”
  • Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma (ReCAST): “SAMHSA will prioritize funding grants from communities that have formed partnerships between key stakeholders.”
  • Community Development Block Grants: “Because crime prevention and reduction strategies are priorities for the City and because crime prevention and offender reentry services were identified by the community as a priority during the Consolidated Plan process, CDA is actively seeking proposals in these areas and may fund several programs.”
  • Local Violent Crime Prevention Grant (LVCP): “The funding will be utilized to advance violent crime reduction efforts by improving trust and cooperation between communities and law enforcement in the state of Missouri.”
  • Community Mental Health Fund: “Accessible, high-quality behavioral health and substance abuse recovery services” for St. Louis residents.”

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Administrative Review: “Identify alternatives to officer response for non-violent, low-level disturbances…Re-routing low-priority calls for service will result in more free time for officers to engage in focused crime prevention.”
  • VPC Statement on Policing and Violence Prevention: “Create a Civilian Public Safety Response Network for 911 Calls Unrelated to Crime.”
  • Youth Violence Prevention Partnership, 2018-2023 Strategic Plan: “Foster positive interactions between community and law enforcement. Connect social workers in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) to help connect resources to the community.”

13. Institute a Department-Wide ICAT De-Escalation Training Program

In recent years, SLMPD has had some of the highest rates of police-involved killings of residents in the nation.298 Data also reveals a racial disparity in the use of force by police in the City of St. Louis, with force used on Black residents at a rate four times higher than white residents.299 Not only is the excessive use of force a form of community violence, it also indirectly worsens community violence by eroding trust between residents and law enforcement. One of the promising solutions to excessive use of force is training officers in the principles of “de-escalation,” a set of strategies and tactics focused on “bringing a situation or citizen in crisis back to a calm state, using the least amount of force possible.”300 

A growing body of evidence shows that a specific type of de-escalation training, developed by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and known as Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics (ICAT), can help to reduce police use of force and also increase officer safety. In 2019, the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) delivered in-service ICAT de-escalation training over a ten-month period to 1,049 sworn officers (85% of the department), including all officers assigned to patrol duty. ICAT training was provided by five members of the LMPD training staff, who attended a train-the-trainer course provided by PERF staff. The two-day, 16-hour training was provided to groups of 40–50 officers at a time, who were grouped based on how regularly they worked together in the field.

Researchers from the University of Cinncinati’s Center for Police Research and Policy evaluated the impact of this training using a randomized controlled trial design and found that “de-escalation training was associated with statistically significant declines in uses of force (-28.1%), citizen injuries (-26.3%), and officer injuries (-36.0%).”301 These results indicate that ICAT training improved outcomes not only for residents, but for officers as well, which is significant given that officer safety is one of the main criticisms of de-escalation training. 

Evaluators also looked at how the training was received by officers and found that the vast majority (80%) reported positive perceptions of and receptivity to the ICAT training. Up to 70% self-reported implementing de-escalation tactics in the field. Other reports demonstrated “significant positive changes in officers’ and supervisors’ attitudes related to interaction with the public, persons in crisis, and the use of force.”302

A number of organizations currently encourage the adoption of de-escalation training, including the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement303 and the Council on Criminal Justice’s Task Force on Policing. “Research evidence supports policies that mandate de-escalation as an important component of academy and in-service training,” concluded a policy assessment by the Task Force on Policing.304 “When implemented with fidelity and complemented with strong supervisory and accountability mechanisms, such training can yield reductions in use of force, public complaints, and injuries to officers and members of the public.” The final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing also recommended that “law enforcement agency policies for training on use of force should emphasize de-escalation.”305

Interviews with stakeholders indicated that some amount of de-escalation training is available to SLMP officers in the academy setting, but nothing has yet been implemented on a department-wide level, as it was in Louisville. Giffords recommends that SLMP invest in an ICAT train-the-trainer session provided by PERF, with a goal of providing in-service ICAT de-escalation training to as many officers as possible in the next twelve months. Further information about ICAT, including a detailed training guide, is available on the PERF website.306 Giffords is also in touch with researchers who are actively looking for sites to partner with to evaluate the impact of de-escalation training, which may provide SLMP an opportunity to evaluate these efforts at no cost.   

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • Community Policing Development (CPD) De-Escalation Training:307“Funding may be used to support attendance at nationally certified de-escalation train-the-trainer programs and to build agencies’ internal capacity to provide de-escalation training to their officers.”
  • COPS Hiring Program: “The goal of the COPS Hiring Program (CHP) is to provide funding directly to law enforcement agencies to hire and/or rehire additional career law enforcement officers in an effort to increase their community policing capacity and crime prevention efforts.”
  • Community Policing Development Microgrants: “The 2021 CPD Microgrants program has been established to fund specific projects related to the following subcategory areas: Community Trust and Legitimacy; Officer Engagement.”
  • Byrne JAG: “BJA encourages state and local jurisdictions to utilize JAG funds for the purposes of law enforcement accreditation, and developing and maintaining policies and law enforcement training focused on addressing those areas most likely to promote trust, transparency, and accountability, including use of force, racial profiling, implicit bias, procedural justice, and duty to intervene.”
  • Missouri Local Violent Crime Prevention Grant (LVCP): “Funding will be utilized to advance violent crime reduction efforts by improving trust and cooperation between communities and law enforcement in the state of Missouri.”

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Administrative Review: “Add an entire section on de-escalation, all officers if safe and feasible, will be required to use de-escalation techniques to reduce or prevent the need for force.”
  • Youth Violence Prevention Partnership, 2018-2023 Strategic Plan: “Goal D: Foster positive interactions between community and law enforcement.”

14. Expand the 22nd Judicial Court’s Pre-Trial Services Program

As discussed above, the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court’s Pre-Trial Services Program is showing promising early results, but is also significantly limited in its capacity to serve a larger number of eligible individuals. In addition to the need to add at least one full-time employee to focus on mental health services, there is also a need with respect to services specifically designed for individuals charged with violent crimes and/or who have committed prior acts of serious violence.308 Given the current annual program budget of approximately $255,000, which is currently funded by a federal grant through the Department of Justice,309Giffords recommends a supplemental investment of at least $250,000 to help meet the needs described here. This will help to provide pretrial services specifically tailored to those at risk of engaging in violence and improve outcomes for that population and, as a result, improve public safety.

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • Project Safe Neighborhoods: “PSN grant funding can be used to support a wide variety of evidence-based prevention and intervention programs, including Community Violence Intervention (CVI) programs…which identify those who are at the highest risk and work to reduce violence through targeted interventions.”
  • Comprehensive Youth Violence Prevention and Reduction Program: “Communities are encouraged to include efforts to build trust between youth, the community, and law enforcement as a part of their overall program approach.”
  • Byrne JAG: One of the eight specified purposes of Byrne JAG grants is “Corrections and community corrections programs.”
  • Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma (ReCAST): “The goal of the ReCAST Program is for local community entities to work together in ways that lead to improved behavioral health, empowered community residents, reductions in trauma, and sustained community change.”
  • Young Adult Reentry Partnership (YARP): “Young adults served under this grant program are between the ages of 18 and 24 and currently or previously have been involved in the juvenile or adult criminal justice system and/or who left high school prior to graduation.”
  • YouthBuild: Eligible participant is someone who is “between the ages of 16 and 24 on the date of enrollment; and 2) Is a member of a low-income family (including youth experiencing housing instability), and/or a youth involved in the justice system.”
  • OJJDP – Title II Juvenile Justice Formula Funding: “All applications must be submitted in one or more of the following program areas…Detention: Community-based alternatives (including home-based alternatives) to incarceration and institutionalization.”
  • Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) for State Prisoners Program: “Assists with developing and implementing residential substance abuse treatment programs within state correctional facilities, as well as within local correctional and detention facilities, in which inmates are incarcerated for a period of time sufficient to permit substance abuse treatment.”
  • Community Mental Health Fund: “Accessible, high-quality behavioral health and substance abuse recovery services” for St. Louis residents.

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • Youth Violence Prevention Partnership, 2018-2023 Strategic Plan: “Increase rehabilitation opportunities within jails.”
  • St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Administrative Review: “Explore more diverse means of prevention and intervention in crime, in collaboration with local nonprofits and community organizations.”

Remediating Vacant Lots and Buildings in High-Violence Areas

A number of studies from around the country establish the strong connection between vacant properties and violent crime.310 “In large cities, a small number of streets account for an outsize number of violent crimes. Those streets are usually in segregated Black neighborhoods that, because of structural racism, have suffered from decades of disinvestment and physical and economic decline,” explained Eugenia C. South, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. “Without changing these physical spaces in which crime occurs, violence-prevention efforts are incomplete. A focused and sustained investment in high-risk places should be a cornerstone in the effort to create safer and healthier communities.”311

This is of particular relevance in St. Louis, a city with more than 18,000 vacant lots covering more than 2,500 acres, and more than 6,000 vacant buildings which give the city the third-highest vacant property rate in the nation.312 The connection between vacant property and violent crime has been specifically studied in the City of St. Louis using a technique known as “risk terrain modeling,” with researchers finding that “vacancy presents a strong, consistent risk for both homicide and aggravated assault,” a pattern that “emerges most clearly in the northern part of the city which is majority African American and has suffered chronic disinvestment.”313 This is reflected by the fact that 65% of the Black population in the City of St. Louis lives in high-vacancy census tracts, compared to 19% of the white population.314

Researchers distinguished between vacant buildings and vacant lots, and found that vacant lots “carry greater risk for both homicide and aggravated assault in north city,” while vacant buildings were a larger risk factor in the city’s southern half. These findings have important consequences for the strategic use of vacancy remediation as a crime reduction method. As researchers concluded, “This difference in the relationships of vacant buildings and vacant lots in the north and south is an important insight for planning interventions. Given that vacant lots explain a greater proportion of risk in the north, it is likely that lot intervention may offer greater benefit.”315 In other words, it’s not enough for the city to measure success through the number of actions taken with respect to vacant lots—for crime reduction purposes, it matters a great deal where and what types of remediation actions are taken.

Interviews with various stakeholders, however, illustrated that public policy regarding vacant lots has favored demolition across the board, regardless of geography, with approximately $17 million spent from 2019 to 2021 to demolish more than 1,600 buildings.316 At the same time, there has been a lack of resources and intentional planning to connect vacancy remediation efforts to serious violence data and trends. This should change.

Studies from programs in a number of other cities help illustrate a way forward for St. Louis. In Philadelphia, for example, a randomized control trial of the city’s LandCare program,317 showed that various forms of vacant property interventions helped to reduce crime, but the strongest effects—up to 29% reductions in crime levels—occurred “in the several blocks surrounding vacant lots in neighborhoods whose residents live below the poverty line.”318 A similar study, in which vacant homes were randomized to receive either full remediation, trash clean-up services, or no intervention at all, demonstrated “a clear reduction in weapons violations, gun assaults and shootings as a result of the full remediation.”319   

The costs of the project studied in Philadelphia for remediation of vacant buildings was $2,550 per building, with $180 per year in upkeep. For vacant lots the cost was $1,600 per lot, with $180 per year in upkeep. Based on associated crime reduction, researchers found the average cost savings of these programs to local taxpayers to be more than $15 per dollar invested, creating benefits to both public safety and public finances. As an added benefit, in cities like Philadelphia, such programs employ local companies and work specifically with formerly incarcerated individuals to create opportunities for people at elevated risk of exposure to violence.320

Laura Ginn, the Vacancy Strategist at the St. Louis Development Corporation, estimates that to remediate all the vacant property in the city’s land bank would cost $100 million a year for five years, and then $15 million a year to continue maintaining the land.321 However, using vacancy remediation as a crime reduction strategy does not require the city to address every single vacant building and lot.

Instead, as a panel of experts recommended to the City of Dallas in 2019,322 city leaders should begin by prioritizing lots and buildings that present the highest risk of attracting violent crime. Addressing the highest-risk quartile of vacant buildings in the City of St. Louis would cost approximately $7.6 million upfront, and $540,000 per year in ongoing maintenance expenses. Remediating the highest-risk quartile of vacant lots—which, given current analyses should be the priority in St. Louis—would cost approximately $6.3 million upfront, with $720,000 in yearly maintenance expenses.

Based on the above, Giffords recommends that the City of St. Louis allocate at least $5 million to implement and rigorously evaluate, using a randomized control trial, a program to remediate vacant lots and vacant buildings identified as being at high risk for attracting violent crime, with an emphasis on vacant lots. Although the passage of Proposition NS by St. Louis voters in 2019 created roughly $6 million per year in resources to address vacancy, Prop NS funds are specifically for stabilizing vacant buildings, which means that funds cannot be used to address vacant lots. As such, an independent funding source must be identified for the purpose of carrying out this recommendation.

Finally, as public safety experts recommended to the City of Dallas, “Policymakers would be well advised to set annual goals for the number of [vacant properties] to be fully remediated and monitor progress via the appropriate committee structure throughout the year.” The City of St. Louis should do the same and create public accountability measures to help assure progress. 

Most Relevant Funding Opportunities

  • Prop NS: “The Prop NS Program (named after Proposition NS, approved by voters in 2017) stabilizes vacant residential buildings owned by the Land Reutilization Authority as a first step toward subsequent purchase and full rehab by others.”
  • Preventing Violence Affecting Young Lives (PREVAYL): “Examples of strategies that can be implemented with this funding include Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.”323
  • Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program (BCJI): “While each BCJI community is unique, most face common challenges and use similar approaches to address crime and safety challenges. These include: Addressing physical conditions that increase risk for crime, seeking to harden these targets through assessments and review of land use, code enforcement, and nuisance laws.”
  • Choice Neighborhoods: “The program helps communities transform neighborhoods by redeveloping severely distressed public and/or HUD-assisted housing and catalyzing critical improvements in the neighborhood.”
  • State of Missouri Economic Distress Zone Fund Grant: Funding for nonprofit organizations in qualified areas, including the City of St. Louis, to “provide services…for the purpose of deterring criminal behavior.”
  • Missouri Community Service Commission (MCSC): MCSC will prioritize the investment of national service resources in the following areas: Geographic areas of the state that are currently underserved; Urban environmental stewardship programming; Racial justice programming.”
  • Community Development Block Grants: “Because crime prevention and reduction strategies are priorities for the City and because crime prevention and offender reentry services were identified by the community as a priority during the Consolidated Plan process, CDA is actively seeking proposals in these areas and may fund several programs.”

Overlap with Prior Analysis and Recommendations

  • OJP Diagnostic: “The attributes typically associated with physical disorder are more heavily concentrated in high gun violence neighborhoods, including…more vacant properties.”
  • Youth Violence Prevention Partnership, 2018-2023 Strategic Plan: “Convert vacant lots into clean and safe spaces.”
  • VPC Statement on Policing and Violence Prevention: “Invest in Vacancy Abatement and Remediation.”

Funding Opportunities Analysis

The above recommendations require resources to implement, and the following section outlines local, state, and federal funding opportunities that could be leveraged for these purposes. Each section is also accompanied by a chart that contains detailed information including the grant program name, purpose, eligible applicants, relevant funding priorities, application timing, and links to the most recent solicitation.

The largest opportunity comes from the federal government, both in terms of a host of competitive grant programs that newly prioritize strategies to address community violence, as well as funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) which have been allocated directly to the City of St. Louis and the State of Missouri, separately. The Biden/Harris administration has encouraged governments to use ARPA funds to address community violence, and several of the above recommendations could be initially funded with ARPA dollars.

The Missouri Foundation for Health offers a unique resource through its MoCAP program, which provides grant writing support for community-based and government entities in its service area—which includes the City of St. Louis—that are applying for federal grant opportunities to address health issues, including community violence. MoCAP is discussed in more detail in the final portion of this section. 

At the state level, there are some opportunities, but also a clear need for organized, state-level advocacy to encourage Missouri leaders to make the kinds of robust and targeted investments in local community violence efforts that have been implemented in recent years in states such as Pennsylvania.

By leveraging the diverse range of local, state, and federal funding sources discussed below, leaders in the City of St. Louis can muster significant support for the city’s growing community violence prevention and intervention infrastructure. 

Local Funding Opportunities

Our local funding opportunities chart lays out the below information in a spreadsheet.

The fiscal year for the City of St. Louis runs from July 1 to June 30.324 As of the publication of this report in February 2022, the city is in the midst of FY22, with a total budget of more than $1.1 billion.325 The budget process is overseen by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which is composed of the Mayor, the Comptroller, and the President of the Board of Aldermen, who are responsible for developing, reviewing, and approving the budget in collaboration with the Board of Aldermen and its Ways and Means committee.326

Of this overall budget, the largest portion goes to the Department of Public Safety, which includes the fire department and corrections, at $365 million. Of that amount, roughly $203 million is for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, which funds a police force of approximately 1,293 officers, as well as the pensions and benefits of retired officers.327 For comparison, the next largest budgeted functions are public utilities ($249 million), general government ($63 million), judiciary ($56 million), streets ($48 million), health ($34 million), and human services ($32 million). 

Most items in the budget do not specifically relate to violence prevention, with the notable exception of a $3 million appropriation for the Department of Health’s Cure Violence program (which is part of an overall special fund allocation of $7 million).328 The budget also includes $500,000 to support the Cops and Clinicians program, which includes 911 diversion and civilian co-response to emergency situations as a means of improving police-community interactions and freeing up police resources.

The upshot of this is that local funding for the recommendations made in this report are largely at the discretion of key decision makers, including department heads and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. The single largest and most time-sensitive local opportunity for increasing investment in strategies to reduce community violence comes from the nearly $500 million of flexible federal funds available to the City of St. Louis through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).329 In addition, there are a number of special local funds created by ballot initiatives and also federal resources allocated directly to the city that can also be leveraged to help reduce community violence.

American Rescue Plan Act 

On May 12, 2022, the City of St. Louis was awarded $498 million from the ARPA’s Coronavirus State Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF). In August 2021, the city passed Board Bill 2, which appropriated an initial round of $122,894,020 of SLFRF funds “focused on delivering direct relief to families across St. Louis,” while a report noted that future allocations of the remaining approximately $375M would focus more on “long term investments into public infrastructure and economic justice.”330

As will be discussed in more detail in the federal funding section below, the Biden/Harris administration and various federal departments have openly encouraged localities to use ARPA funds to address community violence and issued formal guidance clarifying that ARPA funds may be used for that vary purpose. In accordance with this guidance, the first round of SLFRF funding spending in the City of St. Louis included several investments directly related to addressing community violence, including $5.5 million for the Department of Health to support competitive contracts with community programs that will “prioritize data-driven public health solutions such as Cure Violence, as well as efforts to reduce recidivism rates by transferring individuals from a carceral environment which compounds violence and trauma, to an ecosystem of community support designed for restorative justice, which provides them with the resources—housing, addiction treatment, behavioral health services, etc.—they need to re-integrate into the community.”331

Another $5 million was allocated to the Department of Health for contracts with third party agencies “to build a community responder model designed to divert calls for clinical help away from the police department, thereby freeing up officer time to combat violent crime,” and to “address trauma before it escalates into violent outcomes by providing mental health services at city recreation centers and libraries, and to city residents and employees.”332 An additional $1 million in SLFRF funding was appropriated for “programming for youth safe spaces, drop-in centers, and community projects.”333

As the solicitations related to each of these programs are rolled out, there is an opportunity to expand support for violence intervention initiatives, such as Cure Violence and reentry services for high-risk individuals, which were named specifically in the appropriation language. There is also an opportunity to expand other elements of the city’s violence reduction infrastructure, such as services for victims of violence and vacant lot remediation in high-crime areas, with the remaining $375 million in federal funds. It should be noted that, as of the publication of this report, ARPA funds must be used by the end of 2024, so this opportunity should be viewed as a way of supporting new or existing initiatives in a manner that can then be carried on by the city going forward.

City-Funded Opportunities

There are several locally funded opportunities for addressing community violence, and also a clear need for additional investment of city resources to address this ongoing crisis. Each opportunity is detailed in the local funding chart that accompanies this report and includes information such as program name, description, eligible entities, application timing, links to prior solicitations, and the specific recommendations from this report that are most relevant. The end of each recommendation section detailed above in this report also cross-references the most relevant opportunities.

Proposition S – Youth Crime Prevention Fund

Proposition S, also known as the Youth Crime Prevention Fund, was sponsored by Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed, and approved by voters in 2008.334 Prop S allocates approximately $1 million each year “to be set aside for anti-violence youth programs.”335 In 2021, for example, $936,000 in competitive grants administered by the Board of Alderman’s Public Safety Committee. This solicitation sought proposals from “qualified not-for-profit organizations to serve at-risk youth in the 11 to 24-year-old demographic,” in order to implement programs to “reduce the likelihood of youth involvement in criminal activity.”336 In 2021, the solicitation opened September 15 and applications were due October 15, with award ranges of $15,000 to $200,000 for a one-year performance period.

The Prop S solicitation instructed that proposals “should utilize a culturally cognizant, community-based approach to prevent or deter all forms of crime with a preference for proposals focusing on reducing murder, assault, and gang activity.”337 As a violence reduction strategy, Prop S is limited by its relatively small size—especially given the scope of the community violence epidemic in St. Louis—-as well as the lack of strategic emphasis on high-risk youth and neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by violent crime, and a lack of guidance around the types of program and strategies that should be pursued to lower risk for youth participants. By comparison, the City of Oakland, California, which has about half the number of homicides as the City of St. Louis, despite having a larger population, generates approximately $8 million per year for investment in “collaborative strategies that focus on youth and young adults at highest risk of violence,” through Measure Z, a ballot initiative passed by voters in 2014.338

Proposition P Sales Tax

In 2017, voters in the City of St. Louis passed Proposition P, a ballot measure that created a half-cent sales tax increase intended mainly to increase pay for police and firefighters.339 This tax generated close to $18.5 million in revenue in FY22, according to budget documents from the Department of Public Safety. Of this amount, $8 million went to police salaries, $3.5 million for the police retirements benefits, $700,000 for a cadet training for younger residents interested in pursuing a career in policing, $4.2 million for firefighter salaries, and $900,000 for firefighter retirement benefits.340 

Of the remaining amount, $800,000 is intended to “help stabilize vacant buildings to prevent future demolition and encourage future development,” which, as described above, could be part of the city’s overall violence reduction strategy if the stabilized properties are located in high-violence areas.341 An additional $460,000 is for youth employment programs, which the department estimated would “provide an additional 185 high-quality, full-summer jobs for City youth aged 16-24 in high risk neighborhoods.”342 These are resources that could be administered by city agencies to address community violence, but the vast majority of Prop P funds are for police and firefighter salaries generally, and not specifically related to violence reduction strategies.

Proposition NS

As discussed in more detail above, there is a strong connection between rates of violent crime and the presence of vacant properties—both buildings and lots—and the City of St. Louis has one of the highest vacant property rates in the nation. In areas of the city with higher levels of poverty and crime, as high as 60% of total parcels are vacant.343

In 2017, voters in the City of St. Louis approved Proposition NS, which directed the city to issue and sell $40 million in general obligations bonds for the purpose of “stabilizing, securing, and selling vacant residential buildings owned by the City of St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority,”344 which owns about 40% of vacant properties in the city (the vast majority of which are located north of Delmar Boulevard).345 Prop NS allows up to $6 million per year to be used for this purpose, and by ordinance no more than 200 properties can be in the stabilization process at any given time.346 The intention of the program is to “increase the likelihood that these properties will be purchased by private parties who will then finish their rehab and transform current deteriorating buildings into decent housing for their communities.”347

The stabilization process funded by Prop NS has been active since early 2021 (implementation was delayed by litigation regarding the program),348 and is a public process in which residents nominate vacant buildings to be stabilized.349 According to interviews with city stakeholders, this process is limited by a number of factors, including staffing capacity and citywide limitations in contractor supply.350 As a result, the city is not leveraging the full $6 million allocated annually for the purpose of stabilizing vacant buildings. More importantly from a violence prevention perspective, Prop NS funds may only be used to stabilize vacant buildings and cannot be used to address vacant lots, despite the fact that recent research shows that vacant lots are more directly associated with increased violence in north St. Louis.351

Local stakeholders working on addressing community violence should coordinate with residents and city leaders to ensure that existing Prop NS resources are being leveraged as much as possible to address vacant buildings most associated with instances of serious violence. There must also be additional resources allocated specifically for both remediation of vacant buildings (as opposed to just stabilization) and of vacant lots, which are totally excluded from the structure of Prop NS at present.

St. Louis Mental Health Board

There are several taxpayer-funded revenue streams implemented by the St. Louis Mental Health Board (MHB) that overlap significantly with risk factors for community violence that relate to mental and behavioral health. 

The first is the Community Children’s Services Fund (CCSF), which is supported by a property tax approved by St. Louis voters via ballot initiative in 2004 and expanded in 2020 through another ballot initiative, Proposition R.352 The goal of the program is to improve the quality of life, stability, and well-being of children from birth through age 18 living in the City of St. Louis by investing in “accessible, high-quality behavioral health and prevention services,” through a competitive annual grant process that relies on extensive community input.353

The other is the Community Mental Health Fund (CMHF), which was approved by voters via ballot initiative in 1994, and dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals 18 or older who have mental health and/or substance use disorders.354 Through a parallel competitive grant process to CCSF, MHB invests in “accessible, high-quality behavioral health and substance abuse recovery services” for St. Louis residents.355

Combined, these programs generate approximately $12.5 million each year, which is distributed by MHB. Although a new grant application process is being launched in 2022, the yearly grant process for both CCSF and CMHF generally involves a community meeting in December, where MHB staff share strategic priorities and logic models created with public input.356 This is followed by a short application process in January, with several months of additional application development and technical assistance available to applicants—with final applications due in April, and award decisions made in May. 

Several organizations working at the intersection of mental and behavioral health and community violence are already being supported by MHB, including Better Family Life and Places for People, among others. The MHB budget also supports a number of strategic initiatives including support for the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission, which is described above in detail and plays a central role in coordinating efforts to address community violence in the St, Louis region. More information for interested organizations is available on the MHB website.357

Federal Funding Allocated by the City of St. Louis

There are several federal funding streams that allocate resources directly to localities and leveraging these opportunities to address community violence is a matter of local policy and advocacy. This includes the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grants program and the Department of Justice’s Byrne JAG programs, which are discussed in the following sections.

Community Development Block Grants

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Entitlement Program provides annual grants to states and also directly to eligible cities to “develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment, and by expanding economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons.”358 The City of St. Louis is an entitlement city under CDBG, so although this program provides funds to the State of Missouri, those funds are allocated to other parts of the state. 

For the City of St. Louis, CDBG funds—which for federal FY21 were $18.7 million—are distributed by the Community Development Agency (CDA), based on a five-year strategic plan created with public input and designed to identify short-term and long-term community needs in areas including housing, economic development, infrastructure, and public services.359 The current plan covers 2020 to 2024, and includes a key objective of “Suitable Living Environment: Availability & Accessibility,” which states that program funds will be invested to, among other things, “Expand public safety and crime prevention activities, including improved street and pedestrian lighting (where possible) and the funding of crime prevention initiatives.”360 In addition to substantive priorities, there are also geographic priorities, with four “Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Areas” all located in the northern part of the city, which is disproportionately impacted by poverty and violence. These areas are given priority consideration when CDA is making funding decisions.361

CDBG funds are awarded by CDA in a yearly competitive grant process. In 2021, the solicitation was posted in July, and CDA hosted a number of public meetings to discuss priorities, take questions, and provide technical assistance to potential applicants, with proposals then due in early September.362 The solicitation emphasized that “because crime prevention and reduction strategies are priorities for the City and because crime prevention and offender reentry services were identified by the community as a priority during the Consolidated Plan process, CDA is actively seeking proposals in these areas and may fund several programs.”363

As a result of this priority and the public input process by which CDBG is administered, this program presents an opportunity for the City of St. Louis to support local organizations working with populations at high risk engaging in violence, especially those with an emphasis on housing stability and employment.

Byrne JAG

As discussed in more detail below in the federal funding opportunities section, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (Byrne JAG), is a federal formula grant awarded yearly to state and local governments to support crime prevention efforts. This funding is for a wide array of allowable purposes, giving local leaders large discretion in determining how to use it.364 As recently as 2020, when the city had $391,000 available through Byrne JAG, the Department of Public Safety’s policy has been to continue funding a program targeting properties with high numbers of reported nuisances, and a pair of programs serving young people at high risk of being involved in gang activity, with the objective of increasing “the number of new and regular youth assisted, youth successfully completing programming, and youth receiving job referrals.”365

Given the flexibility of these funds, there is an opportunity for the Department of Public Safety to leverage Byrne JAG to support strategies—including those recommended in this report—that are focused on providing intervention services to those at the highest risk of engaging in serious violence.

State Funding Opportunities

Our state funding opportunities chart lays out the below information in a spreadsheet.

There is an unfortunate lack of state-level grant programs to specifically support local community violence reduction efforts in Missouri. The majority of opportunities identified by the Giffords team in this space are actually federal funds that are passed through state administering agencies, such as the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) assistance grants. 2022 presents an opportunity to help address this imbalance at the state level. In January, Governor Parsons announced a record-setting $47.3 billion budget for FY23, representing a more than one-third increase in proposed spending from the prior fiscal year, supported by a $3 billion revenue surplus and historically high levels of additional relief funds from the federal government.366

Leveraging this opportunity will require advocacy in Jefferson City, which is why Giffords recommends the creation of a statewide community violence coalition. With just two cities—Kansas City and St. Louis—representing more than 65% of statewide homicides, a strategically targeted investment in a small number of localities could make a significant difference. The state budget process begins with a months-long planning period that culminates with the governor releasing a proposed budget at the annual State of the State address.367 Both chambers of the legislature work on individual budget bills and then meet in a Conference Committee in April or May to reconcile any differences in proposals. The governor then has until July 1 to make line item vetoes, veto, sign, or allow the budget bill to become law without his or her signature. If there are any vetoes, the General Assembly will meet in September to consider any veto overrides, which requires a two-thirds vote.368

Giffords analysis of state funding streams revealed that there are only a small number of grant opportunities for community-based violence prevention and intervention organizations in Missouri. It’s noteworthy that this review identified only a single state-funded grant program specifically for the purpose of preventing violent crime, with an associated investment of just $500,000 for the entire state.  

In comparison, the State of Pennsylvania invested $24 million in 2021, supplemented by an additional $15 million of federal ARPA funds in January 2022, for the specific purpose of addressing community violence through its Violence Intervention & Prevention program (VIP).369 Unlike the Missouri programs discussed above, the VIP investments are open to a variety of community stakeholders, are strategically focused on the areas with the highest levels of gun violence, and allow for larger maximum awards (up to $2 million) over a longer performance period of 24 months.370 This is a state-level grant structure that has many of the key elements of success of state violence reduction programs identified in Giffords’s 2017 report, Investing in Intervention: The Critical Role of State-Level Support in Breaking the Cycle of Urban Gun Violence. Missouri state leaders should implement a similar program to provide effective support to its localities most impacted by community violence.

Until this recommendation becomes a reality, there are a limited number of state opportunities that could be leveraged by organizations doing community violence reduction work, in particular a small number of federal grants being administered by state agencies. These opportunities are located primarily in the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Economic Development. Each opportunity is detailed in the state funding chart that accompanies this report and includes information such as grant name, description, eligible entities, application timing, links to prior solicitations, and the specific recommendations from this report that are most relevant. The end of each recommendation section detailed above in this report also cross-references the most relevant grant programs.

State-Funded Grant Programs

The very few state-funded programs that are specific to violence reduction have not been funded or implemented in a manner that will maximize their impact. The Local Violent Crime Reduction Program was created in 2021, but has a number of severe limitations, including its small overall funding amount ($500,000 for the entire state for FY22), low maximum award caps ($25,000), and, despite language suggesting the grant would support “community crime prevention/crime reduction strategies, gang-related activity prevention, [and] gun violence prevention,” the only allowable expenses ultimately approved by the Department of Public Safety were “technology and equipment” for law enforcement agencies.371 Moreover, the grant performance period is only four months (which is not an adequate timeframe to implement an effective violence reduction strategy), community-based organizations were not eligible to apply, and the application window was only 14 days—far shorter than most grants and not sufficient time for applicants to develop a thoughtful violence reduction plan.

Also passed in 2021 was a piece of legislation, Senate Bill 57, that created and funded two public safety programs: one to fund a stress-management program for law enforcement officers, and the other to support community organizations in high-crime areas.372 The Economic Distress Zone Fund Grant (EDZ), as implemented in 2021, supports 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations that provide “services” to residents in “areas of high incidents of crime and deteriorating infrastructure for the purpose of deterring criminal behavior.”373 As with the Local Violent Crime Reduction Program, however, the EDZ suffers from a number of severe limitations, including its small size ($500,000 in total funding), short performance period of six months, and narrow window of time in which nonprofit organizations could apply for funding—just 11 days (the opportunity opened on October 18, 2021, and applications were due October 29, 2021).374 Although the grant is narrowed geographically to seven cities and villages including the City of St. Louis, it is not strategically focused on violence or supporting any particular form of “services,” but rather on any program that could “deter criminal behavior.” This is not likely to support effective programming. Nor is there funding for vital complementary functions such as evaluations to measure impact, the provision of technical assistance, and capacity-building for grant recipients. 

One of the most relevant state-funded programs identified by the Giffords team is the Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) State Services to Victims Fund (SSVF),375 which for FY22 (applications were due October 20, 2021) provided $1.8 million in funding to public and not-for-profit private agencies that provide services free of charge to eligible victims of crime.376 In the last round of funding, eligible victims were Missouri residents who were the victim of a crime involving “the threat or the use of force,” and who were not the “perpetrator or a principal or accessory involved in the commission of the crime.”377

Of note, the program is strategically limited to supporting victims of violence, the performance period is a full year, the application window was a month, and allowable costs include direct services, emergency services, crisis intervention counseling services, and advocacy for victims of crime, as well as training for staff and volunteers in the field of victim services. Given the strong connection between violent victimization and future violence, discussed in detail above, this is an important investment. However, the potential impact of this otherwise well-designed program is limited by the relatively small total funding amount.

Two other state-funded opportunities that may help support community violence prevention and intervention organizations are run out of the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED). While not focused on services to reduce violence, the Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) and the Youth Opportunities Program (YOP) both provide extra tax write-offs for individuals who make charitable donations to organizations—generally, although not exclusively nonprofits—that are engaged in community support work. For the FY22 NAP grant, for example, the department prioritized “projects providing job training, education, and those located in previously underserved areas of the state,” and the solicitation noted that other project types “include crime prevention, community service projects, and revitalization of community-based buildings and areas,” all of which fit within many of the recommendations made in this report.378 The YOP solicitation gave priority to applicants proposing to “decrease the number of at-risk youth committing crimes and violent acts” and applicants doing work in areas with a “higher incidence of crime, violence, and poverty.”379

In FY22, $12.6 million in state tax credits was awarded to organizations, with a maximum credit allocation of $350,000, and a total of $5.8 million in tax credits of YOP. According to the department website, the YOP application deadline was February 15, 2022, and the FY23 cycle for NAP is expected to open in March when the new application and guidelines become available. The DED conducts free and publicly available application workshops periodically during the year to assist organizations in preparing an application.380

State-Administered Federal Grant Programs

The remaining opportunities discussed here are federal programs that are administered by state agencies. So while increasing funding is a matter of federal advocacy, the manner in which these funds are spent can be influenced by advocacy at the local and state level, including through relationship-building with relevant agencies.

Missouri Department of Social Services

The Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS) is the state administering agency for the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) State Assistance Grants. It awarded approximately $34 million in grants for the most recent contract period covering October 2021 to September 2022 to eligible public and non-profit agencies providing services to victims of crime.381 Eligible entities must meet a list of criteria, including: 1) demonstrating a record of providing effective services to crime victims, 2) matching 25% of their award from non-federal and non-state sources, 3) using volunteers in the provision of services, 4) assisting victims in seeking crime victim compensation benefits, and 5) providing free services to crime victims.382 At least 10% of a state’s total VOCA assistance grants must be awarded to serving victims of crime in “underserved communities,” and DSS includes “victims of violent crime (including victims in high-crime areas, survivors of homicide, and victims of physical assault)” in its definition of “underserved.”383 

For organizations addressing community violence by providing services to survivors of violence, VOCA assistance grants present an important funding opportunity, but one that has onerous requirements for both applying for and maintaining funding. There are a variety of helpful resources available to provide guidance to groups seeking this funding, including a VOCA application toolkit and checklist by Equal Justice USA, and a VOCA advocacy guide by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, among others.

In addition to supporting individual grantees, as documented in Giffords’s 2020 report, America at a Crossroads: Reimagining Federal Funding to End Community Violence, a number of states are leveraging VOCA to specifically fund statewide networks of hospital-based violence intervention programs (HVIPs), including Virginia, which allocated $2.45 million in funding for this purpose,384 and New Jersey, which launched a network of 8 HVIPs with a $20 million investment in 2019.385 The Missouri Department of Social Services should consider implementing a similar program to support HVIPs around the state. 

DSS also administers the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), which is a formula grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. In Missouri, these funds support a network of 19 Community Action Agencies that help “create, coordinate, and deliver programs and services to low-income Missourians across the state.”386 The types of services supported include addressing housing insecurity, employment, and health for individuals whose income are below 125% of the federal poverty level. The designated Community Action Agency for the City of St. Louis is People’s Community Action Corporation, which provides a range of services from case management to employment training.387 According to the CSBG State Plan, People’s Community Action Corporation is slated to receive approximately $1.4 million per year in federal FY22 and FY23.388 The CSBG State Plan is created by DSS with public input, which may provide community violence stakeholders an advocacy opportunity to improve how responsive the program is to those at high risk of engaging in violence.

Missouri Department of Public Safety

The Missouri Department of Public Safety (DPS) also administers a number of federal grants that touch on community violence, or could if the department chose to move in that direction. As an example, DPS is the state administering agency for the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (Byrne JAG), which is a federal formula grant that gives states funding to improve public safety each year based on their population and crime rates. Missouri received $4.5 million in Byrne JAG funding in federal FY21,389 which DSP administered through a competitive solicitation with eligible applications limited to “multi-jurisdictional drug task forces.”390 

As Giffords pointed out in the America at a Crossroads report, this is a relatively common use of Byrne JAG funds, although not a strategy that is supported by convincing evidence.391 Nothing prevents DPS from restructuring its Byrne solicitations to encourage more effective strategies that are specifically focused on addressing serious violence. “The statutory language of Byrne JAG explicitly allows funds to support purpose areas including ‘crime prevention and education,’ ‘drug treatment,’ ‘mental health,’ and ‘crime victim’ programs,” concludes the Crossroads report. “While nonprofit agencies cannot directly apply for Byrne JAG, state and local government applicants may partner with community-based organizations and pass funds through to them as subrecipients.”392 As with DSS and VOCA, this kind of policy change is a matter of advocacy and awareness-raising with DPS leadership and staff.

A DPS program that does not require policy change to be leveraged by organizations working on community violence is the Title II Federal Formula Grant, which is designed to help “serve juveniles who are at-risk or involved in the justice system, the professionals and lay persons who work with those juveniles.”393 Missouri’s current Comprehensive Three-Year Strategic Plan approved by DOJ, requires all applicants to work in one or more of the following program areas: community-based alternatives to incarceration and institutionalization including “for youth who need specialized intensive and comprehensive services that address the unique issues encountered by youth when they become involved with gangs.”394 Moreover, “Community-based, youth serving agencies and organizations with strong collaborative relationships with their local juvenile justice systems are encouraged to apply.” In federal FY21, $700,000 in total funding was available statewide through this program, and projects are for a one-year period, but eligible for up to two, one-year extensions, for a total of three years.

Also worth mentioning is the DPS-administered Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) for State Prisoners Program, which distributed $620,000 in the most recent grant cycle with the objectives to: “1) Enhance the capabilities of states and units of local and tribal governments to provide residential substance abuse treatment for incarcerated inmates. 2) Prepare individuals for reintegration into communities. 3) Assist individuals and communities through the reentry process by delivering community-based treatment and other broad-based aftercare services.”395 This is a grant that the City of St. Louis would need to apply for, and could be used to bolster reentry services for individuals at high risk of engaging in violence upon their release, as discussed above.

Missouri Department of Economic Development

Finally, the Department of Economic Development (DED) administers the Missouri Community Service Commission (MCSC), which provides federal funding for applicants to “recruit, train, place, and supervise AmeriCorps Members who will serve anywhere from 100 to 1,700 hours in a community with the goal of alleviating or eliminating a defined community need.”396 There was $9 million in total awards available in 2021 through this program, with individual awards ranging from $50,000 to over $1,000,000 for an up to three-year performance period. Eligible applicants included community-based and faith-based organizations and the solicitation indicated priority for areas including “Geographic areas of the state that are currently underserved…Racial justice programming…[and] Returning citizens/incarcerated individuals programming,”397 all of which have significant overlaps with several of the recommendations made in this report.

While there are some existing state-level funding opportunities, the State of Missouri presents more of an opportunity for intentional organizing and advocacy in order to expand investments in community violence reduction strategies and to better leverage federal funding for those purposes. This would be the ideal role for a statewide community violence coalition, discussed at Recommendation #4.

Federal Funding Opportunities

Our federal funding opportunities chart lays out the below information in a spreadsheet.

The Biden/Harris administration has taken unprecedented steps to provide federal support to local efforts to address community violence. As a result, a host of grant programs across a number of major federal agencies—from the Department of Labor to the Department of Health and Human Services—are now prioritizing applicants that propose to implement community violence intervention (CVI) strategies that focus on working with individuals at the highest risk of engaging in violence. The administration also created a CVI Collaborative, a network of 16 cities across the country including the City of St. Louis that are leveraging federal dollars to build up their violence prevention infrastructure.

Each of these opportunities is discussed below, starting with the unique opportunity presented by the American Rescue Plan Act. 

American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funds

The largest and most time-sensitive federal funding opportunity for addressing community violence in the City of St. Louis comes from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). ARPA is a $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief bill signed into law by President Biden in March 2021. The bill makes multiple investments in state and local infrastructure, schools, and public health efforts. Part of ARPA directs hundreds of billions of dollars in more flexible federal aid and relief directly to states, cities, and counties. State and local governments started receiving ARPA funds in May of 2021, and can spend these funds for eligible purposes through the end of 2024, so this is a current and time-sensitive opportunity for stakeholders in the City of St. Louis.398

ARPA uses even broader language than prior pandemic-relief bills and authorizes state and local governments to use relief funds to “respond to the public health emergency” of Covid and its broader economic harms. The law explicitly authorizes use of these funds to backfill cuts made to government services during the pandemic, provide aid to nonprofits, and support essential workers and entities that employ essential workers (such as street outreach workers, and community safety, public health, and behavioral health professionals).399 The Biden administration has clearly signaled that investing in community violence intervention is a critical national priority for responding to 2020’s unprecedented spike in homicide, the continued rise in violence in 2021, and longstanding inequities in health and safety that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.400

The US Department of the Treasury has issued guidance specifically permitting the use of ARPA funds to “facilitate access to resources that improve health outcomes,” including “evidence-based community violence intervention programs to prevent violence and mitigate the increase in violence during the pandemic.”401 The Department of Education also released guidance clarifying that ARPAs $122 billion in resources for State educational agencies (SEAs) and local educational agencies (LEAs) through the ARP’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, can be used for strategies to reduce community violence.402 ESSER and related APR funds “may be used to implement CVI strategies, which address students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic development and are especially important in the context of the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on historically underserved groups of students.”403

The Department of Labor also released a public notice in January 2022, emphasizing that ARPA funds may be used by states and localities to address the relationship between job insecurity and community violence. “The Department of the Treasury has designated community violence intervention strategies as a permissible and encouraged use for ARPA state and local funding,” states the notice.404 “These funds can be used for many employment-related services, including to scale up wraparound services for crime victims, youth, formerly incarcerated persons, and individuals and households facing economic insecurity due to the pandemic.” This underscores the fact that ARPA funds can be used to address many of the various systems that touch on the complex issue of community violence, from employment to education to healthcare.

A similar analysis was released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, examining the intersection of community violence and housing instability, substance abuse, and economic instability, among other issues, and highlighting examples of HUD funding being used to address violence around the country.405 The HUD guide “identifies evidence-based strategies to mitigate and reduce community violence and provides suggestions on how such activities could be funded with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) or Community Development Block Grant CARES Act (CDBG-CV) resources.”406

ARPA dollars are separately allocated to cities, counties, and states, and jurisdictions across the country at all of levels government have invested relief funds to directly address community violence, including Baltimore ($50 million);407 Washington DC ($59 million);408 Multnomah County, where Portland, Oregon is located ($4 million);409 and states such as Wisconsin ($45 million),410 Illinois ($250 million),411 and Pennsylvania ($15 million).412 

This list includes the City of St. Louis, which, as discussed above, used its initial allocation of ARPA funds to address community violence. The city’s initial appropriation of $112 million of ARPA funds included a $5.5 million investment in “community-based solutions to violence such as Cure Violence,” as well as $5 million for the expansion of a community responder response model “designed to divert calls for clinical help away from the police department, thereby freeing up officer time to combat violent crime,” and a $4.7 million investment in youth jobs and programming.413

Despite these important investments, a number of gaps remain. Fortunately, the City of St. Louis still has more than $370 million in unallocated ARPA funds, which presents a tremendous opportunity to invest in these recommendations to significantly bolster the city’s violence reduction ecosystem. One of the few downsides of ARPA funds is that they are one-time and only available until the end of 2024, so city leaders and other relevant stakeholders must also plan for the longer-term sustainability of any programs or services that are implemented or enhanced with ARPA dollars.

There is opportunity at the state level as well: as of November 2021, Missouri had only appropriated $344.6 million of the $1.81 billion received through ARPA. Given the scope of community violence in Missouri, state leaders can and should follow the example of states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that have allocated ARPA funds specifically to bolster local violence reduction efforts.

Given the tremendous need to address the community violence that has spiked in St. Louis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, clear direction from the federal government that ARPA funds can and should be used for this purpose, and both the magnitude and flexibility of the opportunity, Giffords recommends that city and state leaders consider earmarking ARPA funds for the express purpose of supporting community violence reduction strategies, including the recommendations presented in this report.

Prioritizing Community Violence in Existing Federal Grant Programs

In terms of additional resources for St. Louis stakeholders to specifically address community violence, another major federal opportunity comes from the Biden/Harris administration’s executive actions, taken in 2021, ordering a variety of federal agencies to prioritize community violence intervention strategies in existing grant programs. As Giffords discussed in detail in a 2020 report, America at Crossroads: Reimagining Federal Funding to End Community Violence, prior to this action almost all federal funding to address community violence came through the Department of Justice, with the vast majority of those funds reserved for use by law enforcement. The way federal investments were structured did not reflect the multi-faceted nature of community violence and the need to leverage a variety of public systems—from public health to employment to public housing—in order to effectively address violence.  

To its credit, the Biden-Harris administration acknowledged the need to chart a new course with respect to federal funding and community violence. “Today, as part of a package of initial actions to reduce gun violence, the Biden-Harris Administration announces historic investments in community violence intervention to combat the gun violence epidemic,” declared a White House statement.414 As part of these actions, “Five agencies are making changes to existing federal funding streams across 26 programs to direct vital support to CVI programs as quickly as possible.”

In addition to the Department of Justice (DOJ), those five federal agencies are the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Department of Education (DOE). To assist stakeholders in the City of St. Louis with identifying and leveraging the new opportunities presented by this change in federal policy, Giffords has created a comprehensive chart of federal grants that can be leveraged for the specific purpose of addressing community violence. 

This information is organized by federal departments, and includes relevant information such as the grant name, description, eligible entities, application timing, links to prior solicitations, and the specific recommendations from this report that are most relevant. The end of each recommendation section detailed above in this report also cross-references the most relevant grant programs.

For at least some grants, the timing information included for each funding source should help give St. Louis stakeholders a general sense of when applications will need to be prepared in order to meet likely deadlines in 2022 and beyond, although the timing of certain grants depends on the timing of the appropriations process. In addition, Giffords staff have identified specific language giving priority consideration to CVI strategies. Finally, the federal funding chart indicates grants that have been or are currently being leveraged by entities in the City of St. Louis. 

A number of federal grants that may not have been a good fit for addressing community violence in the past are now likely to give priority consideration to applicants pursuing violence reduction efforts in the City of St. Louis. As a concrete example, the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program now gives specific priority consideration to “community-based interventions targeting gun violence as part of their BCJI strategy,” and specifically lists “violence interruption programs” and “hospital-based violence interventions,” as examples of CVI strategies that will receive priority consideration.415

Moreover, this program also gives priority to “applicants that demonstrate that the individuals who are intended to benefit from the requested grant reside in high-poverty areas or persistent-poverty counties.” With severe poverty in the areas of St. Louis most impacted by community violence, as discussed in detail above, applicants proposing to implement CVI strategies in those communities will receive additional priority. Given the purpose of this program and priority given to CVI strategies, Giffords identified Recommendation #5 (Expand Cure Violence) and Recommendation #6 (Expand Life Outside of Violence) as the most pertinent to this particular funding stream.

As another example, DOJ’s Smart Policing Initiative grant program now specifically calls for project proposals that “increase an agency’s ability to effectively investigate fatal and nonfatal shootings/aggravated assaults that are driving factors in a community’s violent crime issues, and support the victims and witnesses of these crimes…[a]dopt and test information sharing, crime analysis, or technology to support the implementation of Community Violence Intervention Initiative (CVI) strategies…[and/or] adopt and test the Cardiff Violence Prevention Model, and evaluate its implementation and effects regarding police operations and violent crime hot-spot identification.”416 In addition, this grant now gives priority to applicants in high-poverty areas, and those “proposing to implement CVI strategies.” This is why the Giffords team identified Recommendation #10 (Implement Programs to Improve Homicide and Non-Fatal Shooting Clearance Rates); Recommendation #12 (Problem Analysis and Shooting Review); and Recommendation #1 (Expand the VPC, specifically, for purposes of this grant, the VPC’s Cardiff Committee) as the best fit. 

As Giffords discussed in the Crossroads report, even before the announcement of the Biden-Harris administration’s executive actions on CVI, a number of states and localities were finding creative ways to leverage federal funds to support community-based and evidence-informed violence reduction strategies. Oakland, California, for example, used a grant from Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) to fund its version of group violence intervention,417 the State of New York leveraged Victim of Crime Act (VOCA) funding to expand its state-funded street outreach program, and the Commonwealth of Virginia allowed Byrne JAG funding to support community-based approaches to public safety. Similar opportunities exist in Missouri, and St. Louis stakeholders should continue to engage with local and state entities that pass through federal funds. With many federal formula grants, while the funding comes from the federal government, the decision-making power actually rests with local and state officials. 

Accessing funds through programs like PSN, VOCA, and Byrne JAG is a matter of local and state advocacy. At the state level, for example, because of a policy determined by the Missouri Department of Public Safety, Byrne JAG funding is currently limited only to “multi-jurisdictional drug task forces,” meaning no funding can go to community-based organizations, which is a missed opportunity to more effectively address serious violence.418 As another example, VOCA assistance grants are administered by the Missouri Department of Social Services and provide direct support to nonprofit entities that are serving victims of violent crime, including St. Louis’s Life Outside of Violence program.419 Since agency policy is not an obstacle as it is with Byrne JAG, expanding VOCA assistance grant funding opportunities is more an issue of awareness-raising and capacity-building for qualified local entities. The chart created by Giffords is intended to make relevant funding information more accessible to such stakeholders. 

As a result of the Biden-Harris administration’s executive actions, a variety of new CVI-related resources are being offered by federal agencies, in addition to the grant opportunities discussed above. The Department of Labor, for example, issued guidance in January 2022 to “local workforce boards, American Job Centers (AJCs), workforce development partners, and grantees” in order to provide information on “supporting community violence intervention (CVI) strategies.”420 This notice explores “opportunities to increase implementation of CVI strategies through workforce readiness, training, and development programs,” and identifies specific Department of Labor programs that may be leveraged to enhance local violence reduction efforts. 

In addition, an ongoing webinar series jointly produced by the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Education, along with the White House Domestic Policy Council brings together national experts to discuss various aspects of the CVI field.421 The first four webinars in this series have covered: 1) Evidence-based Theory and Research on CVI;422 2) Place-based Approaches to CVI;423 3) How to Implement CVI Strategies within Communities;424 and 4) Community-Centered Evaluation Principles.425

Build Back Better and FY22 Investments

Also relevant to St. Louis stakeholders is the fact that $5 billion in federal funding to support local community violence intervention initiatives was included in the Build Back Better Act, which passed the House in November 2021, but has since been unable to move through the Senate. This historic funding would allocate $2.5 billion to the Department of Justice and $2.5 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services to implement grant programs, provide technical assistance, and support for the field of community violence intervention and prevention. 

In addition to the $5 billion included in the Build Back Better Act, there are also significant funding increases to address community violence contained in the general appropriations bills for federal fiscal year 2022, which are still working their way through the congressional process. Both the House and Senate FY22 appropriations bills include $115 million for the CDC’s Community and Youth Violence Prevention program, of which $100 million is to “support community-based violence interventions that focus on those most at risk of being victims or perpetrators of violence,”426 as well as $100 million for a new Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative at DOJ to support communities “in developing comprehensive, evidence-based violence intervention and prevention programs, including efforts to address gang and gun violence, based on partnerships between community residents, law enforcement, local government agencies, and other community stakeholders,” with priority to be given to communities with the highest total numbers and per-capita rates of homicide.427 Finally, both bills earmark $10 million specifically for youth programming to address community violence.

Medicaid

In April 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services organized a webinar and toolkit to educate states on how they can use Medicaid to reimburse certain community violence intervention programs, like hospital-based violence interventions.428 That same year, Connecticut and Illinois became the first two states to direct their Medicaid systems to directly reimburse violence prevention professionals for their services.429 

Critically, the Connecticut bill, HB 5677, instructed the state’s medicaid agency to “amend the Medicaid state plan to make community violence prevention services available, to the extent permitted by federal law, to any Medicaid beneficiary who has: (A) Received medical treatment for an injury sustained as a result of an act of community violence, and (B) been referred by a certified or licensed health care provider or social services provider to receive community violence prevention services from a certified violence prevention professional, after such provider determines such beneficiary to be at elevated risk of a violent injury or retaliation resulting from another act of community violence.”430 This newly enacted legislation is still being implemented in both states, but it likely to create a significant new funding stream for violence prevention professionals in the community violence space.

As a Medicaid expansion state,431 Missouri has the option to similarly increase funding for the field of community violence prevention workers (with a large portion of costs covered by the federal government), which could be done via legislation or through agency action. Giffords and national partner organizations like the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention are available to provide more information on this policy to relevant stakeholders.432 Although there are opportunities to offer reimbursement for a whole range of services, the most likely beneficiary of Medicaid coverage are violence prevention professionals working in a hospital setting, such as those employed by Life Outside of Violence in the St. Louis region.  

Congressionally Directed Spending (Earmarks)

For the first time in many years, congressional leaders brought back a funding mechanism called “Congressionally Directed Spending,” also known more colloquially as “earmarks.” For Fiscal Year 2022, this process involved members of the House and Senate submitting requests for community projects from a series of federal accounts,433 several of which overlap with issues of relevance to community violence. Giffords has tracked the inclusion of more than $46 million of earmark requests in the House and Senate FY22 appropriations bills for community-violence related projects, including a $601,700 request by Representative Cori Bush to expand the capacity of the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission, including additional access to behavioral health professionals for those at-risk of exposure to violence and individuals referred through the Gun Violence Response Network.434

All earmark requests for FY2022 are still pending the finalization of the congressional appropriations process as of the publication of this report in early 2022. However, these funding opportunities could continue to be available in future years, and stakeholders should continue to seek earmarks to specifically address community violence through outreach to representatives in both the House and Senate.

The advantage of this funding is that it is flexible and the application process is far less rigorous compared to other federal funding opportunities. However, because this funding is at the mercy of an unpredictable federal appropriations schedule and each award will be one-time and for one year in duration only, this should not be viewed as a sustainable funding source. 

The White House’s Community Violence Intervention Collaborative

Launched by senior White House staff in June 2021, the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative is a 16-city network designed to “help communities assess their existing public safety ecosystem, identify gaps, and build the capacity to expand programming that saves lives and provides needed services to communities impacted by gun violence,” by leveraging national experts and federal agencies to provide training and technical assistance to member cities.435 

Each of the sixteen cities has pledged a combination of ARPA funds and other sources of public funding to support initiatives to address community violence. The technical assistance team supporting the collaborative is anchored by Hyphen, and includes Cities United, Community Based Public Safety Collective, Health Alliance for Violence Intervention (HAVI), and the National Institute of Criminal Justice Reform.

The City of St. Louis is a participating member in the CVI Collaborative,436 and has Cities United as its lead technical assistance provider.437 Cities United areas of emphasis for the 18-month collaborative project period will be assisting with building political and community will for long-term support of community violence intervention and prevention work, supporting the development of an implementation plan that guides the overall work, and supporting organizations on the ground—especially grassroots organizations with less formal infrastructure—with training and technical assistance to build their capacity to address the needs of their target populations. In addition to the direct support from CU, the collaborative gives St. Louis access to some of the top experts in the field and to both public and private funding opportunities. City leaders should prioritize and seek to capitalize on this unique opportunity.

Missouri Foundation for Health MoCAP Program

For nonprofit organizations and government agencies that are seeking grant funds to support “health and prevention services,”438 the Missouri Foundation for Health (MFH) offers its MoCAP Program, free of charge. MoCAP provides both educational resources,439 including a useful list of federal funding opportunities,440 and, in qualifying circumstances, direct technical assistance with the application process for federal and national funding opportunities.441 The types of entities that can qualify for services include community health centers, local public health agencies, local nonprofits, and state agencies within the MFH service area, which includes the City of St. Louis.442

Since 2010, MoCAP has supported more than 780 proposals and over $356 million in funding has been secured for Missouri organizations. Interested organizations may apply for assistance online at the MFH website and do not need to be current grantees of MFH in order to use MoCAP services. This is an excellent resource for nonprofit organizations and government agencies in the City of St. Louis that are looking to leverage some of the competitive federal grant programs identified in this report.

Funding Opportunities Charts

Conclusion

2022 will be a critical year for the City of St. Louis. With a 25% reduction in homicides from 2020 to 2021, it is one of the few American cities with momentum on its side. City leaders and stakeholders have a unique opportunity to build on the progress made in 2021, and the Giffords team hopes this report provides a concrete plan for additional steps that need to be taken to do just that, as well as a useful roadmap as to how this important work could be funded. 

For any St. Louis stakeholders that have questions or need additional information about any of the information discussed in this report, we encourage you to contact Giffords. We remain committed to helping the people of St. Louis to permanently disrupt the cycle of violence that has plagued them for far too long. 

The Giffords team would also like to thank the Missouri Foundation for Health for its support of this project. We also extend a sincere thanks to all of the St. Louis community members who contributed their time, energy, and wisdom to this report. We share your vision of a St. Louis defined not just by the absence of homicides and shootings, but by the presence of wellbeing, opportunity, and justice for all.

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The gun safety movement is on the march: Americans from different background are united in standing up for safer schools and communities. Join us to make your voice heard and power our next wave of victories. 

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  2. Etienne G. Krug et al., ed., “Chapter 1: Violence — a global public health problem,” World report on violence and health, World Health Organization, 2002, https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/en/chap1.pdf.[]
  3. “St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Administrative Review, Findings and Recommendations,” Teneo Strategy LLC, December 21, 2020, https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/archives/mayor-krewson/documents/upload/Teneo-Assessment_SLCity_PD-Police-Administrative-Study_FINAL-12-21-20.pdf.[]
  4. Bureau of Justice Assistance, US Department of Justice, “Community Violence Intervention (CVI) Webinar Series Part 1: Evidence-based Theory and Research on CVI,” YouTube video, July 7, 2021, https://youtu.be/RgDWrnV_vFA.[]
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  12. Id.[]
  13. Hurubie Meko, “Food insecurity linked to gun violence. Urban farms in St. Louis work on a solution,” Missouri Independent, June 27, 2021, https://missouriindependent.com/2021/06/27/food-insecurity-linked-to-gun-violence-urban-farms-in-st-louis-work-on-a-solution/.[]
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  18. Id.[]
  19. Nancy Cambria et al., “Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide,” Washington University in St. Louis, 2018, https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/sites.wustl.edu/dist/3/1454/files/2018/06/Segregation-in-St.-Louis-Dismantling-the-Divide-22ih4vw.pdf.[]
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  29. Faye S. Taxman, “Violence Reduction Using The Principles Of Risk-Need-Responsivity,” Marquette Law Review 103, no. 3 (2020), https://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5453&context=mulr; OJP Diagnostic Center, “Diagnostic Analysis for the City of St. Louis, Missouri: Executive Summary,” March 2017, https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1iOFJYeNheUmZbbRHF_leLxO0zE38CRqg.[]
  30. Youth Violence Prevention Partnership, “Safe and Thriving St. Louis: 2018-2023 Strategic Plan,” 10-11, https://www.stlareavpc.org/_files/ugd/afc6b1_66598e82765b4d4e8b821497e011be5d.pdf.[]
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  32. Id.[]
  33. Youth Violence Prevention Partnership, “Safe and Thriving St. Louis: 2018-2023 Strategic Plan,” https://www.stlareavpc.org/_files/ugd/afc6b1_66598e82765b4d4e8b821497e011be5d.pdf.[]
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  36. Id. at 12.[]
  37. Bureau of Justice Assistance, US Department of Justice, “Community Violence Intervention (CVI) Webinar Series Part 1: Evidence-based Theory and Research on CVI,” YouTube video, July 7, 2021, https://youtu.be/RgDWrnV_vFA.[]
  38. Id. at 92.[]
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  50. Rebecca Rivas, “‘The fight has to change’: Why Ferguson activists ditched police reform,” Missouri Independent, May 3, 2021, https://missouriindependent.com/2021/05/03/the-fight-has-to-change-why-ferguson-activists-ditched-police-reform/.[]
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  62. Alan Greenblatt, “Can a Segregated City Get Serious About Equity?” Governing, July 21, 2021, https://www.governing.com/now/can-a-segregated-city-get-serious-about-equity.[]
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  67. Id.[]
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  76. Id.[]
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  78. Id. at 5.[]
  79. Center for Policing Equity, “Saint Louis Metropolitan Police Department: National Justice Database Digital Report,” September 23, 2021, https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/mayor/documents/upload/FINAL_St-Louis-Metro-City-Report-PowerPoint-print-version-3.pdf.[]
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  127. Id.[]
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  391. Brittany Nieto and Mike McLively, “America at a Crossroads: Reimagining Federal Funding to End Community Violence,” Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, December 17, 2020, https://giffords.org/lawcenter/report/america-at-a-crossroads-reimagining-federal-funding-to-end-community-violence/.[]
  392. Id.[]
  393. Missouri Department of Public Safety, “Notice of Funding Opportunity: FY22 Title II Federal Formula Grant,” August 16, 2021, https://dps.mo.gov/dir/programs/jj/documents/titleii/FY22-TItle-II-NOF-Guidelines.pdf.[]
  394. Id.[]
  395. Missouri Department of Public Safety, “Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) for State Prisoners Program Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO),” 2020, https://dps.mo.gov/dir/programs/cjle/documents/rsat/2020a-nofo.pdf.[]
  396. Missouri Department of Economic Development, Missouri Community Service Commission, “Notice of Funding Opportunity,” September 14, 2021, https://showmeservice.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/MCSC-AmeriCorps-2022-2023-NOFO-9-14-21.pdf.[]
  397. Id.[]
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  399. Id.[]
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  403. Id. at 3.[]
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  406. Id.[]
  407. Emily Opilo, “Baltimore earmarks $50 million in federal relief funding for violence prevention,” Baltimore Sun, October 26, 2021, https://www.baltimoresun.com/politics/bs-md-ci-baltimore-arp-violence-prevention-20211026-2mmnb7etnfejlczcd5zftqgakm-story.html.[]
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  409. “Multnomah County Board approves historic $2.82 billion budget,” Multnomah County, June 3, 2021, https://www.multco.us/multnomah-county/news/multnomah-county-board-approves-historic-282-billion-budget.[]
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  430. Id.[]
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  438. To define “health and prevention services,” the Missouri Foundation for Health uses the World Health Organization definition: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” “MoCAP Frequently Asked Questions,” Missouri Foundation for Health, last accessed February 3, 2022, https://mffh.org/the-foundation/funding-opportunities/mocap/mocap-faq.[]
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