Reducing Street Violence With 'Interrupters'

Solutions Journalism Network

In the debate over de-funding police – the argument that cities could divert some of what is spent on policing to other types of service providers – a common counterargument starts with, "What about violence?" The type of interpersonal violence that claims the most victims is gun violence on city streets. It's also the source of much alarmist news coverage, along with politically and racially driven notions of what causes such violence and what can be done about it. As it turns out, one of the most promising approaches to reducing street violence is work that's done with little or no involvement of the police, thanks to a growing roster of cities investing in the work.

This approach goes by a number of names, including street outreach or violence interruption. It is a community-based solution, meaning the work is done by community members instead of police. And it narrowly targets the relatively small numbers of people responsible for a disproportionate share of community violence. The leading organization behind this model, Cure Violence, was founded in Chicago by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, who took what he learned about halting the spread of infectious diseases and applied it to the spread of community violence and whose work gained notoriety with a startlingly intimate portrait of three of his outreach workers in the 2012 documentary The Interrupters.

The front-line work is done by people often referred to as "credible messengers," because their common background in gangs and prisons lends them the street credibility they need to learn about likely acts of violence before they occur; to de-escalate these conflicts through mediation strategies; and to act as caseworkers to connect people at risk of violence (either as likely shooters or victims, often both) to the social services and counseling that will reduce their risk. While the approach has compiled a mixed record of effectiveness, the number of studies supporting its effectiveness continues to grow, particularly when the work is paired with other evidence-based violence interventions and when it is sustained through persistence and adequate resources. While the strongest evidence of effective anti-violence interventions still argues for keeping particular policing strategies in the mix, violence interrupters have earned a prominent place at the table.

To show the violence-interrupter approach, this collection provides:

HISTORY AND CONTEXT in Ted Alcorn's article, focused on New York, and Tina Rosenberg's, focused on Chicago;

CLOSE-UP VIEWS of the work, particularly in Pascal Sabino's story about the negotiation of a treaty between Black and Latinx gangs in Chicago, Bobby Allyn's story from Philadelphia, and the report from Milwaukee by Ashley Luthern and Sydney Czyzon; and 

NUANCE in the way the work blends with complementary interventions, which Rikha Sharma Rani showed in Richmond, California.