Strategy overview

  • Community connections to stop violence: Community-led violence prevention initiatives seek to reduce crime, especially gun violence and homicides, by cultivating relationships between community members and those at high risk for being involved with violence. Community-led violence prevention initiatives often include some combination of violence interruption; mentorship, case management, and counseling services; and paid transitional employment. While police may serve as partners for some models, they do not serve as the lead actors within the initiative.
  • Identifying those at risk: For nearly all community-led violence prevention programs, stopping violence before it starts demands precisely identifying those at the highest risk of participating in or being subject to violence. Some programs rely on staff with existing knowledge and relationships to identify and engage with high-risk individuals, while others use data from the criminal justice system (or other sources). Many programs also seek to engage with victims of recent shootings or those recently released from prison. Most initiatives focus on engaging young men between the ages of 16 and 25.
  • Interrupting violence: Many initiatives incorporate violence interrupters, who are often community members with strong roots in areas experiencing violence. Violence interrupters are typically full-time employees of social service agencies or community-based organizations and are tasked with building relationships with high-risk youth, detecting emerging conflicts, and de-escalating conflicts before they turn violent.
  • Strengthening relationships: Some violence prevention programs take a comprehensive approach to engaging those at a high risk for violence. Services provided may include formal mentorship programs, case management, and evidence-based counseling (such as cognitive behavioral therapy).
  • Transitioning to the legal economy: Another component of many violence prevention programs includes workforce development programming, like work readiness training, career coaching, and transitional jobs that pay competitive salaries. This type of service is often delivered after or alongside counseling and related support services

Three different community-based violence prevention models that have been rigorously evaluated multiple times demonstrated positive results in reducing violence and increasing education attainment. However, research is necessary to demonstrate consistent, long-term positive results.

  • Four independent evaluations of the Cure Violence model found that the program was consistently associated with large reductions in violence in intervention areas, along with increased rates of employment, educational attainment, and drug treatment among participants.
  • A rigorous evaluation on initial impacts of READI showed reduced participation in shootings and homicide and increased rates of employment among participants. However, arrest rates for other violent crimes did not decrease.

  • A 2021 implementation evaluation of Roca found the program was associated with reductions in recidivism and drug use, along with increased employment rates.

Before making investments in this strategy, city and county leaders should ensure this strategy addresses local needs.

The Urban Institute has developed an indicator framework to help local leaders assess conditions related to upward mobility, identify barriers, and guide investments to address these challenges. These indicator frameworks can serve as a starting point for self-assessment, not as a comprehensive evaluation, and should be complemented by other forms of local knowledge.

The Urban Institute's Upward Mobility Framework identifies a set of key local conditions that shape communities’ ability to advance upward mobility and racial equity. Local leaders can use the Upward Mobility Framework to better understand the factors that improve upward mobility and prioritize areas of focus. Data reports for cities and counties can be created here.

Several indicators in the Upward Mobility Framework may be improved with investments in community-led violence prevention. To measure these indicators and determine if investments in these interventions could help, examine the following:

  • Safety from crime: Reported property crimes per 100,000 people and reported violent crimes per 100,000 people. These data are available from the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

  • Safety from trauma: Number of deaths due to injury per 100,000 people. These data are available from the National Center for Health Statistics’ Mortality File and the CDC’s WONDER database.

  • Just policing: Number of juveniles arrested per 100,000. High rates of juvenile arrests provide a strong indicator of overall system involvement and over-policing. These data are available from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Data Explorer.

  • Center lived experience: When staffing a violence prevention initiative, individuals with lived experience similar to those at high risk for violence are often most effective at building long-lasting relationships with potential participants. Beyond serving as credible messengers to participants, these staff members can also help shape program design and outreach strategy.
  • Use multiple pathways for engagement: A foundational aspect of violence prevention is identifying those who are at high risk and cultivating relationships with them. To determine who should be considered at a high risk for participating in violence, successful programs develop robust referral systems (such as from community members and criminal justice partners) and through internal predictive data analysis.
  • Invest in persistent, long-term relationship-building: Building a relationship with high-risk individuals, especially to the point of securing commitments to workforce development training, often requires a long-term approach of consistent, unwavering engagement. This approach includes the expectation that some initial participants will leave the program and must be re-engaged, that some will participate in violence while enrolled, and that behavioral changes may take several years.
  • Deliver and design the program with partners: Evidence-based violence prevention initiatives typically include multiple partners. A community-based partner with deep knowledge of and strong reputation within the neighborhood often leads outreach, while the police department and justice system agencies (such as the Department of Juvenile Services or the Department of Probation and Parole) can provide key data on high-risk areas and safety guidance.
  • Set clear safety protocols: Preventing violence often means engaging with individuals or groups at a high risk for participating in violence. To ensure the well-being of program participants, staff members, partners, and community members, develop a clear set of safety protocols and procedures. This can include providing off-site or private work space for participants who have received threats; monitoring interpersonal relationships and de-escalating when necessary; and developing dynamic safety profiles alongside program participants to help measure when risks of participating in violence increase or decrease.

Evidence-based examples

Detects and interrupts potentially violent conflicts by deploying trained, credible violence interrupters and outreach workers into communities
Supportive neighborhoods
Clinic- or school-based short-term intervention program for youth who have been referred by juvenile justice, mental health, school, or child welfare systems
Stable and healthy families
Connecting at-risk youth to mentors who promote safe and healthy behavior
High school graduation Supportive neighborhoods

Evidence varies across specific models

Intensive intervention for serious juvenile offenders in which a small team of therapists work with youth offenders and their families regularly
Elementary and middle school success High school graduation Stable and healthy families
Intensive 2-year program combining transitional jobs with cognitive behavioral therapy, case management, coaching, and other support services
High-quality employment Supportive neighborhoods
Four-year intervention focused on addressing trauma, lowering involvement in criminal activity, and increasing employment
High school graduation High-quality employment Stable and healthy families Supportive neighborhoods