BEYOND MODELS: Exploring Key City Capacities for Sustainably Reducing Community Violence

Why We Exist

Community violence prevention is an emerging field of public safety work focused on reducing and preventing urban gun violence. Yet, despite growing awareness of evidence-informed approaches and historic levels of investment, few cities have been able to sustainably reduce community violence at the city level. With support from The Pew Charitable Trust, CPSC worked with a diverse range of field experts to identify key capacities that may play essential roles in reducing community violence at the city level and over time.

Our team began by combining findings from research across a range of disciplines and interviews with leading subject matter experts to identify key capacities that were likely to play important roles in the ability of cities to sustainably reduce community violence.

The six capacities we identified are:

  1. Political governance and public sector leadership
  2. Data-informed problem analysis
  3. Cross-sector collaboration on a shared strategy
  4. Effective operational management
  5. Robust violence reduction infrastructure
  6. Sustainability planning and institutionalization

Key Capacities Visual Overview

Exploring the Impact of Key Capacities on Violence Reduction in High-Risk Cities

To test our hypothesis about these capacities, we explored the role of each capacity in seven cities selected for having a history of high gun crime rates and significant experience with violence prevention efforts: Baltimore; Boston; Cincinnati; Los Angeles; New Orleans; Oakland; and Philadelphia. This second stage of the study surfaced the following findings:

  • Cities with more key capacities appeared to be more successful in reducing violence in the near and long term;
  • Higher levels of effective political governance corresponded with more effective operational management, which appeared to play a crucial role in cities' ability to reduce violence;
  • Sustained funding, a clear theory of change, a strategic focus on the highest-risk population, and organizational support were associated with an effective CVI ecosystem;
  • Problem-oriented, data-driven, collaborative policing appears to play an important role, operationally and politically;
  • The challenge of scaling programs in larger cities is significant, but can drive creative adaptation when supported by robust management structures;
  • Sustainability and institutionalization appear to depend heavily on stable political governance and effective management structures.

These findings have significant implications for violence prevention policy. Cities may need to pay greater attention to building these capacities relative to adopting violence prevention models; the need for additional research, evaluation, and technical assistance focused on capacity building in these areas; the importance of effective political governance at the city level, and the need to build public and program management capacity in U.S. cities specific to applied violence prevention.

Why some cities succeed in sustainably reducing community violence while others fail remains a pressing question for our society. This research and practice effort opens up possibilities for how policymakers, researchers, and funders can further develop the promise of this important emerging field.

Future Directions

  • In partnership with the Crime and Justice Policy Lab at The University of Pennsylvania, we applied this framework to the efforts of three major cities since 2020 to explore the potential role of the capacities and continue to build the framework. This three city case study will be available soon.
  • With support from the Joyce Foundation, CPSC is collaborating with a range of Chicago-based CVI organizations and leading scholars, to continue to develop and inform the key capacity framework with insights from Chicago’s field-leading work in CVI and performance management.

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