Understanding Key Capacities for Community Violence Intervention: Insights from CPSC Co-Director Reygan Cunningham at the CVI Conference

The Community Violence Intervention Conference by Giffords brought together experts, researchers, and practitioners to discuss the current state of research, evaluation, and implementation of Community Violence Intervention (CVI) strategies. Among the notable speakers was Reygan Cunningham, Co-Director of the California Partnership for Safe Communities (CPSC) and former Director of the Oakland Ceasefire Strategy. In Plenary Panel three, “CVI Research and Evaluation: Opportunities, Challenges, and Implications for Policy and Practice,” Reygan shared insights on CPSC’s ongoing effort to identify the key capacities necessary for cities to sustainably reduce community violence, work undertaken with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Understanding the Current State of CVI Research: 

The fundamental question facing the CVI field: Many cities have funded and adopted a variety of evidence-informed CVI program models, but relatively few cities have sustainably reduced community violence at a city level – why is that? 

In her comments, Reygan emphasized the need to expand the field’s focus from individual CVI models or programs to effective management and governance of city-wide strategies. Many cities have attempted various CVI models simultaneously with mixed or limited success. This observation led CPSC – in collaboration with many leading experts in the CVI field – to study and seek to identify key capacities that cities require to achieve sustainable reductions in gun violence. 

To identify these key capacities, CPSC drew upon available research (from both the public administration and public safety fields); city-specific formal evaluations; public records of violence reduction efforts; city-level violence trends, and diverse national experts and local stakeholders’ insights through in-depth interviews. Together, these preliminary six capacities may provide a comprehensive framework for cities seeking to combat gun violence effectively: 

  1. Political Governance and Public Sector Leadership: Cities need a political champion who publicly commits to reducing gun violence, establishes a strategy, and holds stakeholders accountable. 
  2. Data-informed problem analysis/problem definition: By using data to identify the places where violence is hyper-concentrated as well as the specific people and social networks most impacted and most likely to be involved in future violence, city and community actors can focus intervention efforts where they will be most effective in saving lives and reducing harm.
  3. Cross-Sector Collaboration and Shared Strategy: Successful CVI strategies involve collaboration and coordination between various stakeholders (community activists, law enforcement, mayors, CVI organizations, the private sector, and others), each playing a defined role in a shared strategy seeking to reduce violence in the near-term. 
  4. Effective operational management: Often overlooked, research and experts in the field emphasize that having a skilled management team and devoted management process (e.g. a theory of change, performance indicators, devoted management meetings) are essential components of an effective violence reduction strategy. Cities may pursue violence reduction strategies, but if they don’t align management incentives (both within and outside of government) and structures with evidence-informed approaches; it is unlikely to be effective or sustainable.
  5. Violence Reduction Infrastructure – CVI & Effective Policing: While cities are complex, and many factors play a role in community violence, two components of city infrastructure are most central to efforts to prevent and reduce violence: 
  • Cities need to develop CVI ecosystems with clear goals, sustainable funding, supportive infrastructure and accountability systems so that CVI workers and organizations can pursue this critical work safely and effectively.
  • Police departments must make an organizational commitment to focus on reducing gun violence as a top priority; use data analysis to focus on those at the very highest risk of violence; build relationships with the community and service partners to address violence, and conduct focused enforcement operations when necessary. This often requires significant organizational change.
  1. Sustainability Planning and Institutionalization: Permanent funding streams, process and impact evaluations, incorporation into city policies, and shared governance models with community participation are crucial to sustainably reducing gun violence over time. Cities that have taken these steps appear to be more successful in sustaining their strategies and reductions in violence over time. 

The Role of Political Governance and Public Sector Leadership: 

Reygan noted that, surprisingly, political governance and public sector leadership, as well as effective operational management, are often overlooked in CVI literature and the current policy conversation. However, their impact on reducing gun violence is significant in both the short and long term. This was a common point of emphasis across national experts, local violence reduction leaders and CPSC’s analysis of seven cities violence reduction efforts 

In conclusion, Reygan Cunningham’s participation in the Community Violence Intervention Conference shed light on key capacities that may be necessary for cities to reduce community violence effectively. These preliminary results invite us to think about expanding the focus of the field beyond what programs and models should be funded to also focus on how local governments understand and manage this very difficult public problem over time. Reygan shared that the final results will be ready in the fall of 2023.