By Aqeela Sherrills, published on The Crime Report
The surge in shootings over the last two years has been accompanied by increased media coverage, public concern, and government efforts. But what often gets lost in the headlines is the fact that these shootings have been concentrated in neighborhoods which have disproportionately suffered gun violence for decades.
For the people who suffer most from gun violence, the problem has worsened. It’s not new. And experience has demonstrated that additional policing is not enough to stop the cycles of violence.
Even police know we can’t arrest our way out of this problem.
In many communities, including the one where I grew up, gun violence is an epidemic. In fact, my numerous personal experiences with gun violence—namely losing my own son to a shooting—are what led me to devote my career to community violence intervention (CVI), an evidence-based public safety approach that’s been around for decades, and has proven to reduce gun violence by treating it as a public health issue.
CVI is intended to serve as a complementary strategy to policing. Law enforcement is there to enforce laws. CVI practitioners are there to perform the intervention, mediation and healing required to reduce violent crime over the long term.
But CVI cannot become a durable part of the public safety system and reach its full potential without the government buy-in and resources that reflect the skilled, demanding, and crucial work that it is.
The White House Community Violence Intervention Collaborative (CVIC) is a first-of-its-kind initiative to do just that.
Launched last summer, CVIC is a historic investment in CVI. With $50 million in federal funding and the power of a White House mandate, CVIC is implementing a comprehensive, evidence-based training and technical assistance (TTA) program to strengthen and scale CVI infrastructure in 16 jurisdictions across the country.
52 CVI Groups Around the Country
To make this already historic initiative even more successful, CVIC is working with 52 Black- and Brown-led community-based CVI groups to participate in the TTA program, putting these investments directly within reach of the folks who’ve been doing this work for decades.
We have five larger national TTA providers leading the program to help these mostly small, grassroots groups build the programmatic, organizational, and administrative capacity to take their work to the next level, as well as lay the groundwork to expand and sustain the CVI field so we can work to create true public safety in communities across the country.
The CVI model is based on the understanding that nobody knows a neighborhood like the people who live there, and nobody is better equipped to anticipate, intervene in, and deal with the aftermath of gun violence than those who have been caught up in it themselves before finding CVI.
The method’s success is rooted in hiring and training residents—mostly ex-convicts, former gang members, and others who have been on the frontlines of violence—to cultivate true public safety in their communities, which is only possible because CVI practitioners come to the table with credibility, intuition, and insight that can’t be taught.
When combined with specialized training, these skills allow them to undertake the intricate, sustained and frequently dangerous tasks of monitoring sources of conflict.
That includes identifying and reaching out to individuals at risk for becoming involved in gun violence, mediating conflicts, stepping in before a dispute escalates into a shooting, and—when a shooting does occur—ensuring that all involved get the support and attention critical to preventing retaliation and promoting healing.
CVI is difficult, life-saving work that, due to longstanding underinvestment in the communities in which it takes place, often goes under-supported. Part of what makes CVIC so groundbreaking is that it’s working to change that.
Our TTA program is designed to further professionalize CVI, including curricula and tools focused on standardizing fieldwork and client engagement protocols, developing and sustaining a funding base, setting up systems for compiling and managing data, and establishing and maintaining meaningful connections with local governments.
In one of its most important aspects, our TTA program aims to ensure that CVI practitioners are recognized for what they do by ensuring that they receive basics like fair compensation, as well as job specific resources like mental health care.
At the end of the day, there’s no quick fix for gun violence.
CVI is a long-term approach to reducing shootings in communities that have been bearing the brunt of violence and crime long before this latest surge. When it comes to addressing the root causes of gun violence, we know—and law enforcement agrees—that the most effective solutions involve equipping neighborhoods with the tools to intervene in violence rather than relying on police to do work that they are simply not trained to do.
CVI is all about investments—in individuals, in communities, in taking on the complex, cyclical traumas that saddle our families and neighborhoods.
In creating CVIC, the Biden administration has recognized that while these investments take time and commitment to pay off, they represent the only path to lasting public safety.
The goal is not just the absence of violence, but the presence of well-being—because ultimately, that’s what every community deserves.
Aqeela Sherrills serves as Advisor to the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative. An expert on victim services and community-based public safety, Sherill has advised Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark, NJ since 2014, where he built out the city’s community-based public safety initiative.