Calls for a larger community role in improving safety have become prominent in contemporary conceptions of criminal justice reform. Rather than relying only on police and the legal system, community efforts promote a larger role for local residents and organizations in both the definition and production of safety. The organizers of these efforts often view the aim of their work as not just reducing crime but also reducing racial inequality in crime and criminal justice involvement by increasing a community’s capacity, through the community’s own methods of decision making, to determine what safety is and how it is achieved.
This chapter builds on findings from Part I of this report by exploring ways that community members, community-based organizations, and community representatives (formal and informal) can help to minimize the likelihood of contact with the criminal justice system among racial and ethnic minority groups and mitigate the harm of that contact when it does occur. The chapter highlights opportunities and strategies for strengthening the capacity for community organization in ways that build collective efficacy while mitigating harms associated with racial inequalities in criminal justice.
Although the evidence base from causal research designs is not large, we seek to identify community strategies that hold promise as a means to reduce racial inequality in a variety of ways. Community interventions are typically place-based and preventive. Notable examples have emerged through the efforts of activists and organizers in Black, Latino, and American Indian communities who view violence—whether at the hands of community members, intimate partners, or criminal justice authorities—as
a key dimension of racial inequality. For example, the successful prevention of retaliatory gun violence and homicide would reduce harm overall while also narrowing racial gaps in violent offending, violent victimization, and criminal justice contact. Such strategies typically involve intervention by community residents rather than police, offering the possibility of reduced police contact, particularly for young men who are the focus of intervention efforts.
Some community strategies also target “root causes”—the physical environment and economic opportunity, for example—that are related to the legacy of historical racial inequities and racial inequalities in victimization, offending, and community well-being. For example, community-led efforts at reducing levels of lead exposure, as well as efforts to green vacant lots and turn them into small public spaces in communities that have historically seen disinvestment, can lead to reductions in crime and greater collective efficacy in those communities (Cui et al., 2022; Sampson, 2022). Finally, local community safety efforts are often framed as projects of empowerment that aim to expand the control of local organizations or community residents over their own neighborhoods; see Box 6-1 for a discussion of community-driven response through mutual aid programs.1
At the most basic level, community safety is concerned with the security of persons and property. Threats to safety include both interpersonal violence in families and within communities and harms perpetrated by the criminal justice system itself (see Chapter 4). To this end, community safety is concerned with buffering people, especially young people, from interpersonal violence of all forms and from unwarranted surveillance and violence at the hands of criminal justice officials. From this perspective, community safety is centered on capacity building and non-coercive social controls, not merely crime fighting.
A community can be involved in the production of safety in at least two ways: by taking a leading role in the definition and production of safety, and by providing oversight and accountability for the criminal justice agencies. This chapter assesses the state of the literature on collective efficacy and neighborhood social organization, including “bottom up” approaches that seek to build informal social controls and cohesion among residents in the community. It then reviews several community initiatives for defining and producing safety and assesses their implications for reducing racial inequality in the criminal justice system. The main efforts reviewed include systems of accountability for law enforcement and
1 Recent efforts to develop community-driven and survivor-centered approaches to safety have roots in strategies developed by sex workers, historically marginalized women, and queer people of color who found themselves as either targets of or otherwise outside the protection of traditional forms of law enforcement. See Richie (2012) and Ritchie (2017).
community organizations, community-based anti-violence initiatives, and crisis-response and community-driven programs to reduce the harms of system involvement. Finally, this chapter discusses the definition and measurement of safety and norms around crime, the criminal justice system, and community-based solutions.
In many cases, community-driven initiatives are locally organized and independent of any government involvement. In some cases, they are organized and funded by municipal or county government, often in close collaboration with local organizations. Due to their local character, community initiatives vary enormously in their implementation and in the environments in which they operate. Considering this heterogeneity, the committee draws some general principles that might effectively be adapted to local conditions, with the goal of reducing racial inequality in the criminal justice system. These principles include centering and respecting the needs and experiences of both crime survivors and people
who have caused harm, while acknowledging these two identities as not mutually exclusive.
The chapter also addresses potential unintended consequences of community-driven interventions for crime and racial inequality and the need to build systems of accountability. The committee characterizes programs or practices as “promising” if they approach the work in ways that are known to build informal social controls and cohesion among residents in a community. Further evaluation is needed to determine whether or how such programs/practices do so and the impact of these programs/practices on producing safety and mitigating racial inequalities.
The discussion of community-driven approaches in this chapter focuses on urban areas and, to a lesser extent, tribal lands. In the case of tribal communities, we are concerned with the role that local residents and organizations can play in strengthening Indigenous systems of accountability and redemption and the role of tribal members, representatives, and organizations in mitigating harms done to victims and perpetrators when tribal, state, and federal justice systems intersect. More research is needed to explore the applicability of community-driven approaches described in this chapter to more suburban or rural settings.
One of the first challenges is to clarify what is meant by “community” in the context of crime and criminal justice policy. A prior National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study on community-based interventions to advance health equity defined community as “any configuration of individuals, families, and groups whose values, characteristics, interests, geography, and/or social relations unite them in some way” (the National Academies, 2017, p. 50). “Community” may thus be applied to a particular geographic area, such as a village, town, or city. But within geographic areas, there may be multiple distinct communities (or, perhaps, sub communities, such as ethnic, racial, and religious communities). In this chapter, we focus primarily on geographic communities, such as neighborhoods in a city, suburban communities, small cities, and tribal communities.
Across communities and over time, different governance structures come into being, each structure amplifying some voices and suppressing others. The choice among governance structures thus has significant consequences in terms of outcomes. A complicating issue is the resulting specialization of distinct functions, accompanied by distinct methods, approaches, and professional identities, that arise within a particular geographic space. When it comes to the criminal justice system, specialization and the siloes it creates out of different policy domains can obscure the influence of public health, economic security, education, and family on offending and
victimization. People affected the most need to have a voice in how the systems of public safety and punishment work. They experience the failures of the system and can inform policy making and reform efforts since they have traveled the system’s breadth.
Further compounding these “horizontal” divisions among communities in each geographic space is a vertical division between local, state, and federal communities of similar definition whether they are based on matters of public health or public safety. Is the best way to address social issues like racial inequality in the distribution of public services and goods a federal (i.e., national) leadership/initiative? Or is it best addressed through state or local capacity building? Within this context of both horizontal and vertical differentiation, focusing attention on community well-being or wellness as essential to public safety can prevent the narrowing of focus to professional/disciplinary boundaries, since community well-being arises from a wide variety of factors. Public health researchers typically include socioeconomic indicators of health and wellness in definitions of the term. For example, community well-being is the combination of social, economic, environmental, cultural, and political conditions identified by individuals and their communities as essential for them to flourish and fulfill their potential (Wiseman and Brasher, 2008, p. 358).2
As introduced in Chapter 3, the theory of collective efficacy is based on a “bottom up” approach to community anti-violence, grounded in informal social controls and cohesion among residents in the community rather than in “top-down” law enforcement by the state (Sampson et al., 1997). Researchers have measured collective efficacy by asking community residents questions such as: How likely is it that your neighbors would take action if children were skipping school? What about if there was a fight in the neighborhood? How much do residents trust their neighbors? Are people willing to help their neighbors?
Although causation is always difficult to estimate in observational studies, research results in the United States tend to show that among neighborhoods that are otherwise similar, including in prior levels of crime, those with higher collective efficacy tend to have lower rates of violence (Lanfear
2 Although some institutional domains may be preferred over law enforcement—for example, in producing community well-being and wellness—it is important to acknowledge that all social institutions in the United States are influenced by the historical forces identified in Part I of this report. Without attention to these histories and lingering impacts, any institutional response runs the risk of reproducing or exacerbating preexisting racial inequalities.
et al., 2020; Maxwell et al., 2018; Pratt and Cullen, 2005; Morenoff et al., 2001; Sampson et al., 1997). Collective efficacy is also relatively stable over time, and it predicts lower crime after adjusting for community characteristics like concentrated poverty, racial composition, and traditional forms of neighbor networks, such as friend/kinship ties. Further, the more heterogeneity there is in norms of collective efficacy in a neighborhood, the more crime that neighborhood tends to experience (Brunton-Smith et al., 2018). However, evidence from reciprocal models and trajectories of collective efficacy and crime, and studies from outside the United States, both yield more mixed and sometimes null results (see, e.g., Wickes and Hipp, 2018; Sampson, 2012, pp. 173–177; Steenbeek and Hipp, 2011; Mazerolle et al., 2010).
As Bell (2021, p. 33) has argued, the theoretical framework and measurement strategy of collective efficacy theory has the advantage of forming the basis of an alternative set of metrics for public safety outcomes. Rather than starting with the long-held assumption that the police and official crime statistics should be the primary objects of inquiry, community-based theories like collective efficacy focus on alternative forms of social control and peacekeeping efforts rooted in a broader conceptualization of safety and, at its most general level, human flourishing (Bell, 2021). There is emerging (though incomplete) evidence on the success of localized efforts to promote informal social controls and build community capacity, especially among minority youth, absent the police (see discussion below). In an era when alternatives to the criminal justice system are being demanded, such efforts deserve further scrutiny in future research and evaluation.
A challenge, then, is to address such structural conditions and increase collective efficacy without unintended consequences and to identify community-driven interventions that reduce crime and racial inequality without undue reliance on the criminal justice system. This involves understanding how community action can create conditions that foster collective efficacy, and how collective efficacy may be undermined by violence, the harms of system contact, and racial inequalities generated by increased vulnerability to the system. Yet very few, if any, experiments exist that test collective efficacy or community social organization efforts, especially those that take into account reciprocal relationships with crime or that seek to address racial inequities. An additional challenge is that community crime prevention is hard to implement in the areas that need it the most—poor, unstable neighborhoods with high crime rates—and participation levels tend to fall off once interventions are removed. Efforts to reduce crime are most likely to succeed if they are embedded in more comprehensive programs for neighborhood stabilization that local residents support, but most interventions are single-site or time-constrained. Interventions that are externally imposed and simply try to reduce crime in the short run
without confronting durable aspects of a neighborhood’s vulnerability are, unsurprisingly, highly susceptible to failure (John Jay College Research Advisory Group on Preventing and Reducing Community Violence, 2020; Branas and MacDonald, 2014; Hope, 1995; Skogan, 1988).
As Bell (2021, p. 35) puts it, “There has never been a robust, well-funded, and consistently supported network of community organizations that engage in violence reduction and public safety efforts.” Whether the limited track record of community interventions in building community capacity and reducing crime and racial disparities is due to a failure of theory or a programmatic failure of stable implementation is therefore unclear, but on balance there is enough evidence to recommend a program of new research and evaluation. It is important to note that, comparatively considered, substantially more resources have been devoted to criminal justice programs despite the similar absence of clear evidence of their effectiveness.
The data on persistent and compounded inequality also point to the need for sustained community interventions in order to provide a fair test. Durable investments in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods that match the persistent and longstanding nature of institutional disinvestment that such neighborhoods have endured over many years can take many forms (Sharkey, 2018). Community-based safety efforts such as Advance Peace; Chicago’s Rapid Employment and Development Initiative; Safe Streets; Communities That Care; and Portland, Oregon’s Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) all share the goal of reducing violence through informal mechanisms of control and local organizational partnerships. While the evidence is mixed, some of these efforts offer strategies that deserve further testing and evaluation (Urban Labs, 2022; Bell, 2021; John Jay College Research Advisory Group on Preventing and Reducing Community Violence, 2020).
While community residents are central to the definition and production of safety—city representatives like the police or housing officials cannot do it all—local nonprofit organizations are also crucial. Sharkey and colleagues (2017), for example, examine national data and find that community-based organizations that fought against rising crime in the 1990s were responsible for a significant portion of the crime drop in subsequent years. This finding is important because it suggests that it is not a single program but the general strategy of community organization that is most effective in improving safety (see also Sampson, 2012, Chapter 8).
Further research on collective efficacy and community-based organizations is especially needed in lower-income communities, where residents,
especially racial minorities, are disproportionately burdened with both interpersonal and criminal justice violence. A promising idea is to build upon organic community-care work by giving residents and local organizations a greater stake in their communities, possibly through “community shareholder tasks,” where residents are supported for contributing to public safety and community improvement (Jones, 2018; Sharkey, 2018). Community shareholder tasks that might foster collective efficacy include (1) organizing community supervision of leisure-time youth activities, (2) parent/guardian supervision and involvement in after-school and night-time youth programs, and (3) adult-youth mentoring systems and forums for parental acquaintanceship (Bell, 2021; John Jay College Research Advisory Group on Preventing and Reducing Community Violence, 2020; see also Jones, 2018; Anderson, 1999).
When addressing problems of violence, which most often involve young people, it is especially important to center community-based efforts on capacity building, not simply the punitive objectives of crime fighting (Jones, 2018). In short, there are promising signs that community-based organizations, as well as community-building work on the part of residents, play an important role in improving the quality of life in minority neighborhoods, reducing crime and criminal justice contact, and reducing racial inequality. This role should be further investigated (Bell, 2021).
Federal or large-scale interventions are also needed to support and evaluate such efforts—local collective efficacy is not enough. In many cities, programs such as Choice Neighborhoods and Promise Neighborhoods are, to date, relatively small-scale and unevaluated (Sharkey, 2018), but they may prove useful in informing the next generation of place-based interventions (Whitehurst and Croft, 2010). Educational reforms and support for healthy child development in high-risk, poor communities are also crucial to these efforts, as seen for example in the implementation of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City (NY; Dobbie and Fryer, 2011). Moreover, initiatives to provide permanent, affordable housing for diverse low-income people, such as the Bay Area Community Land Trust, are also important for creating social environments in which collective efficacy might grow.
In this section, we review community-driven initiatives aimed at defining and producing safety and assess their implications for reducing racial inequality in the criminal justice system. The main efforts reviewed include:
- Creating systems of accountability for both law enforcement and community organization efforts;
- Community-driven anti-violence initiatives and crisis response; and
- Community-driven efforts to mitigate the harms of system involvement.
Initiatives in these areas are non-criminalizing interventions or responses that aim to improve safety in localities while minimizing harmful interventions of the police or other criminal justice agencies.
Interventions in neighborhood ecology and local social service efforts are also community-driven approaches with similar goals, and they are discussed in more detail in Chapter 7. This section examines how community members take a leading role in providing safety and reducing racial inequality. In this role, community actors and institutions take on a function that is complementary to some of the goals of law enforcement (e.g., reduction in violent crime) but with more independence than has historically been the case in collaborations between law enforcement and the community (Gascón and Roussell, 2019; Jones, 2018).
The capacity of community action to promote safety and reduce racial inequality has a long history. In American Indian communities, traditional dispute resolution mechanisms predate modern law enforcement and criminal court systems. Indigenous approaches often reflected what are now called “restorative justice” principles, in which offender and victim are joined by other members of the community and the focus is on helping the offender and repairing the harm done to the victim and to the community (Yazzie, 1994).
Various forms of community action have aimed to couple local knowledge of social problems with local empowerment, as far back as the 1930s with the Chicago Area Project, whose goal was to empower communities to reduce crime and enhance local well-being; including the work of Black churches that acted as social service providers in the civil rights era; as well as the Community Action Programs established under the War on Poverty. There is also a documented history of government efforts to undermine community empowerment among marginalized groups in the United States. The federal government used federal and state criminal jurisdiction to undermine Indigenous justice systems (Rolnick, 2016a; Washburn, 2006a). This was especially acute in the 1960s and early 1970s, when such groups were labeled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement as threats to law and order (Bloom and Martin, 2013).
In the scientific literature, research on neighborhood social organization, community-based organizations, and resident collective efficacy has also emphasized informal social controls enacted under conditions of social trust and shared expectations. Providing organizational resources and harnessing the power of citizens have been hypothesized to enhance safety.
Many of the community interventions described in this chapter operate in the shadow of pervasive law enforcement and criminal court systems. Some interventions focus on reducing the harm done by those systems by reducing contact between community members and police, by making police accountable to the community, or by providing support to reduce the long-term harm of criminal system involvement. Others operate in tandem with formal systems by diverting individuals away from law enforcement or formal court proceedings. When compared to the principles of control, confinement, and retribution that animate formal criminal systems, many of the community approaches described in this chapter are premised on fundamentally different understandings of justice and safety. However, the transformative potential of most community-centered efforts is limited by government investment in formal systems.
American Indian tribal communities are uniquely situated in this regard because, as sovereign governments with criminal jurisdiction over their territories and their people, tribes have greater authority than other communities to define and shape local criminal systems. Indeed, modern tribal criminal systems are characterized by ongoing efforts to reconcile formal American models of safety and justice with Indigenous approaches to safety and justice.3 An Indigenous justice system is one that incorporates that community’s customary approaches to safety, justice, and conflict resolution. While each system is unique, Indigenous approaches generally incorporate non-adversarial approaches, holistic treatment, and a rejection of punishment in favor of accountability, healing, and repairing harm to the community. As such, Indigenous approaches have served as models for restorative practices in other communities.
In some communities, Indigenous justice systems operate parallel to formal criminal systems (Melton, 2005). For example, the Navajo Nation’s Peacemaking Program, hózh óji naat’aah, originated as a way to incorporate customary Diné dispute resolution practices into the Navajo Nation’s judicial system (Nielsen and Zion, 2005), but it was bifurcated from the courts in 2012 out of concern that formal Anglo-American court rules were changing its core principles (Peacemaking Program of the Judicial Branch of the Navajo Nation, 2012). The current program is voluntary and accepts referrals from both courts and non-court sources. A non-judicial
3 This reconciliation is critical because federal support of tribal criminal jurisdiction has typically required that tribal courts resemble state and federal courts. For example, recent legislative expansions of tribal jurisdiction require that tribal courts operate according to an adversarial model with due process protections based on the U.S. Constitution (Riley, 2016). Federal grant funding for tribal governments has also heavily favored American approaches, including construction of detention facilities and support for police training (Rolnick, 2016b).
peacemaker—a “community leader whose leadership depends on respect and persuasion and not a position of power and authority”—hears from offenders, victim, relatives, and other affected community members (Zion, 1998). Peacemaking is based on Navajo justice concepts, including an emphasis on healing and a “horizontal,” or non-hierarchical, process (Gross, 1999; Zion, 1998; Yazzie, 1994).
In other Indigenous communities, formal systems are structured to divert individuals into traditional courts (the National Academies, 2021b, pp. 6–7). For example, several tribal governments operate Healing to Wellness Courts, specialty courts that serve adults, juveniles, and/or families referred from formal courts for drug- or alcohol-related behaviors, usually as part of a diversion or plea agreement (Flies-Away et al., 2014). While similar to drug courts in non-Indigenous communities, the Wellness Court model has been developed by Indigenous communities specifically to serve their people. Since the introduction of federal grants to support tribal Wellness Court development, beginning in 1997, the use of Healing to Wellness Courts has expanded in tribal communities. Healing to Wellness Courts are supported by a community of tribal justice experts who have refined the Healing to Wellness approach (Cordero et al., 2021; Garrow et al., 2018; OJJDP, 2017; Flies-Away et al., 2014; Flies-Away and Garrow, 2013; Gottlieb, 2005; Riggs, 2002).
These courts “utilize a non-adversarial approach, integrating traditional concepts of healing and community involvement toward healing, rather than punishing, their addicted tribal members” (Flies-Away et al., 2014, p. 10). For many tribes, Healing to Wellness Courts have been a cornerstone of their efforts to expand alternatives to detention and incarceration (Flies-Away et al., 2014). Though little formal evaluation is available, a 2005 evaluation of four Wellness Court programs found a statistically significant effect of intervention for adults but not for juveniles (Gottlieb, 2005). Tribes have increasingly adopted a family court model that enables entire families, including juveniles and adults, to be treated together (Gottlieb, 2005).
Other tribes exercise their jurisdiction primarily through an Indigenous system, while federal and/or state courts exercise limited jurisdiction to formally prosecute some offenders and offenses. For example, the State of California exercises criminal jurisdiction over Yurok Territory under a federal law called Public Law 280.4 In building its own system, the Yurok have disinvested in incarceration and directed financial resources to a restorative system, including a Wellness Court. Through an agreement with the state, Yurok tribal members may be removed from the state court system and redirected into the tribe’s system (Clarren, 2017).
While their precise character and their relationship to formal systems varies, research on Indigenous approaches to justice highlights key principles. According to Melton, Indigenous justice approaches differ significantly from Anglo-American court systems.
Conflicts are not fragmented, nor is the process compartmentalized into preadjudication, pretrial, adjudication, and sentencing stages. These hinder the resolution process for victims and offenders and delay the restoration of relationships and communal harmony. All contributing factors are examined to address the underlying issues that precipitated the problem, and everyone affected by a problem participates in the process. This distributive aspect generalizes individual misconduct or criminal behavior to the offender’s wider kin group, hence there is a wider sharing of blame and guilt. The offender, along with his or her kinsmen, are held accountable and responsible for correcting behavior and repairing relationships. (Melton, 2005, p. 110)
Hand and colleagues (2012, p. 452) contrast Indigenous systems with Anglo-American criminal systems: “whereas the former seeks to reduce crime through punishment, restorative justice seeks to re-establish balance and harmony within each individual affected by an offensive act, within the perpetrator as well as the victim and the community.”
Due to their emphasis on community definitions of safety, healing, and restorative practices, Indigenous-led efforts to reform criminal and juvenile systems offer alternative approaches to traditional models of criminal justice that deserve evaluation (Braithwaite, 2000). For example, many non-tribal courts have adapted a practice called Family Group Conferencing, a restorative justice program for juveniles and families based on traditional Māori approaches (Rolnick, 2021). More research is needed to determine how to measure success under such an approach and whether specific models deliver on their goals. As with any community-based approach, a particular Indigenous system will not be immediately transferrable to another community (Indigenous or otherwise).
Moreover, to the extent that these principles are based on a relationship between individual and community that is unique to small, kinship-based Indigenous communities, or to the extent they rely on shared religious beliefs and commitments, they may not be readily transferrable to non-Indigenous communities (Goldberg, 1997).5 They do suggest, however, that local, community-centered approaches may be better able to ensure safety and justice, particularly for marginalized communities, than top-down outsider approaches.
5 The practice of non-Indigenous communities adopting Indigenous approaches has also been criticized because of potential negative impacts on the communities and the practices (Moyle and Tauri, 2016; Tauri, 2014).
A historic imbalance of power between law enforcement and the community that privileges the paradigm of law enforcement (especially concerning how problems are defined and the tools available to solve problems), along with law enforcement mistrust of the community, help to explain why community-driven approaches to police accountability can face strong resistance from police unions, local police, and even the community they serve (Gascón and Roussell, 2019; Jones, 2018). Cid Martinez noted to the committee, “How can we expect police to protect and serve the very communities that they are supposed to care for?” (the National Academies, 2021b, p. 8). Yet, community-driven approaches to police accountability can play an important role in building collective efficacy and trust in government more broadly. Such efforts are an important part of an ecosystem of accountability (the National Academies, 2018).
Community organizations have led efforts to analyze police budgets and explore alternative public expenditures to promote safety. Such community-led efforts propose increasing investments in community-based programs and other initiatives that aim to improve public safety at relatively low cost. For example, Oakland (CA) created a task force to create a roadmap for what it would look like to shift a portion of its law enforcement budget toward community-based programs. Since the creation of that task force, the sustained increase in murder rates has shifted local politics surrounding this issue, with several local city officials critically reconsidering this proposition. The Oakland City Council embraced a holistic approach—one that includes prevention, intervention, and concentrating on crime’s root causes, as well as an adequately staffed police department (Har, 2021).
Community organizing in Chicago (IL) also led to the first-of-its-kind reparations for police torture. Chicago activists succeeded in 2002 in getting a state special prosecutor appointed to investigate the torture by police of more than 100 African-American men in Chicago through the 1970s and 1980s. Local community-led organizations called for the passage of the Illinois Reparations for Police Torture Victims Act, the establishment of a Chicago-based Center for Torture Victims and Families, and the appointment of an Illinois Innocence Inquiry Commission to adjudicate the innocence of torture victims. Such efforts seek to acknowledge past harms and pursue accountability and redress while also implementing political education efforts intended to prevent future harms (Hagan et al., 2022).
Civilian review boards are another example of accountability efforts. Citizen review was revived in the early 1970s as urban Black Americans gained more political power and as more political leaders came to see the need for improved police accountability (Finn, 2001). Most oversight procedures have come into existence after a high-profile case of alleged police
misconduct (usually a shooting or other use of excessive force), often involving White officers and suspects from racial and ethnic minority groups. A 2001 report from the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs reviews approaches and implementation strategies for civilian oversight, in addition to their potential costs and benefits (see Finn, 2001).
In 2021, the Council on Criminal Justice’s Task Force on Policing published Policy Assessment on Civilian Oversight, in which it reviewed a variety of models and the potential merits of civilian oversight. In this assessment, the task force concluded that rigorous empirical research on the impact of civilian oversight and the relative merits of different models does not exist, and that other research has yielded mixed findings about the ability of civilian oversight to reduce excessive use of force and other forms of police misconduct (Council on Criminal Justice, 2021). Specifically, the report notes many methodological problems, including failure to account for other policy changes during the research period. The result is a characteristically mixed message: civilian oversight has promising aspects and is helpful as a matter of public relations and transparency, but robust empirical evidence evaluating its effectiveness at reducing police misconduct or the use of force is lacking (the National Academies, 2022c). While potentially promising, additional testing and evaluation are needed.
In 2021, the United States recorded the highest number of mass killings in nearly 50 years. Most mass killings, in which four or more persons are killed not including the perpetrator, involved people who knew each other: family violence, retaliatory street violence, or workplace violence. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of mass killings has continued to increase along with other forms of violence, including homicides in general and fatal shootings by police. A spike in gun violence in urban settings following the start of the pandemic, and in the wake of uprisings over the police murder of George Floyd, has drawn particular attention from media, policy makers, and politicians. Reflecting the local heterogeneity of violent crime, rates of lethal gun violence have since dropped in some cities that saw increases in 2020, while other cities have seen additional increases.
These recent patterns indicate a large increase in serious violence concentrated in Black and Latino communities. Addressing the persistent problem and concentration of gun violence in historically marginalized communities in the United States requires evidence-informed approaches grounded in an informed understanding of both the historical harm done by the criminal justice system over time as well as the documented impacts of criminal justice interventions on interpersonal and in particular lethal violence (see Chapter 8 for a more detailed discussion of criminal deterrence
approaches). Such approaches took root years prior to recent increases in gun violence and provide promising models for community-driven and non-coercive models of gun violence prevention, especially in cases of retaliatory gun violence involving youth. These models can co-exist with other strategies for reducing gun violence, especially legislative efforts that have shown promise in regulating the supply of the most lethal firearms (see Chapter 7 for discussion of other approaches to gun violence).
In this section, we address the prevention of harm inflicted by interpersonal forms of violence and predatory victimization, including what is traditionally described as “street violence” and intimate partner violence. Community-based anti-violence initiatives recognize that the risk of involvement in serious violence, both for victims and for perpetrators, is distributed unevenly across the population. Individuals who are most likely to cause serious harm to others and face the highest risks of victimization are likely to be embedded in social networks that are highly exposed to violence. The networks themselves are located in social contexts of demography and neighborhood ecology in which serious violence tends to be most prevalent. Those who face the highest risks are likely to be highly marginalized. That is, they are “likely to be chronically alienated, disconnected, and distrustful of traditional structures and systems of support” (John Jay College Research Advisory Group on Preventing and Reducing Community Violence, 2020). At least since the 1980s, “the community” has been called on to participate with police in crime-fighting efforts, especially gun violence in urban settings. The current chapter focuses on community-based anti-violence initiatives, while Chapter 8 examines initiatives that involve coordination between community groups.
Community outreach or street outreach offers one proposed way of positively intervening with those at greatest risk of serious violence, although evaluations to date of street outreach programs provide mixed evidence of their effectiveness. Since the programs depend on the development of trusting relationships, often in the face of threats to safety, successful implementation can be difficult to achieve. In the sections that follow, we describe three violence prevention programs that have drawn great interest in recent years: Operation Ceasefire, Cure Violence, and Advance Peace. While the committee notes that only preliminary evidence of the programs’ effectiveness is available, this section highlights some key components across programs that emphasize the building of community capacity to advance safety and reduce harm and inequality associated with criminal justice involvement.
Operation Ceasefire, first fielded in Boston in the 1990s, provides a model of police-community initiatives that rely on the “focused deterrence”
of a small number of people identified as being at high risk of serious violence (Braga et al., 2001). Focused deterrence refers to the strategy to deter criminal behaviors by focusing on the consequences of participation in criminal behavior as well as the benefits of not participating in criminal behavior. For this, the community and the police work together with those at high risk of engaging in violence (RAND Corporation, 2022).
Operation Ceasefire is a program where law enforcement collaborates with identified community leaders to work with individuals most involved in violent activity, in neighborhoods across the country, to reduce gun violence. While the program typically relies on a zero-tolerance message for shootings, recently it has made more of an effort to provide resources and services to those targeted by law enforcement and has placed a greater emphasis on the importance of police departments acknowledging and apologizing for past racial harms. While there have been some successful results from Operation Ceasefire and other programs modeled after it, there are still major drawbacks to this type of collaboration with law enforcement, as it can exacerbate already present disparities and exploit already vulnerable populations (Jones, 2018).
Operation Ceasefire and Cure Violence are programs that attempt to stop the transmission of violence following a model that public health interventions use to curb epidemics (Corburn et al., 2020). Cure Violence initially began as a branch of Operation Ceasefire in Chicago; it later became Cure Violence as the organization changed the program to not involve the use of law enforcement. Several studies have shown success in both of these programs in reducing urban gun crime (Braga et al., 2018; S.A. Delgado et al., 2017; Corsaro and Engel, 2015). Some of the key focused deterrence strategies involve community mobilization, street outreach, and partnerships among frontline staff in police, probation, corrections, and social services sectors. This model sees gun violence as a learned, transmissible behavior, one that can be interrupted through the training of community partners and local “credible messengers” to detect and interrupt conflict. This promotes safer and healthier behaviors and life directions among high-risk individuals and builds healthy social norms (Cure Violence Global, 2021); see Box 6-2 for a more detailed discussion of credible messengers.
The Cure Violence model uses three strategies to stop violence:
- Detect and interrupt potentially violent conflicts. Violence interrupters are a new category of health workers who prevent violence by identifying and mediating potentially lethal conflicts in the community and following up to ensure conflict does not reignite.
- Identify and treat individuals at the highest risk. Outreach workers help those at the highest risk to steer them away from violence by speaking to them in terms familiar to them, discussing the costs of using violence, and helping them to obtain support and social services (e.g., education, job training, drug treatment) to foster long-term behavior change and changes in life course.
- Mobilize the community to change norms. Workers engage community leaders, local business owners, residents, faith leaders, and particularly individuals at high risk to shift the messages, expectations, and norms around violence for the long term (Cure Violence Global, 2021).
An additional key piece to this strategy is the use of credible workers. Public health outreach regularly employs workers who share the same background and come from the same neighborhood as those who are the most at risk for violence. Cure Violence hires and trains violence interrupters and outreach workers who already have the trust of community members and are able to influence and change behavior. The program’s perspective is to view people who use violence as potential “patients” who are in need of a health-based intervention, not punishment. This allows the
program to operate with an understanding that social networks and social relationships matter when it comes to influencing the behaviors of those most likely to be involved in violence.
Using this model, one solution to the problem of violence may be capacity building at both the individual and the community levels, and the delivery of services that rely on a network of community members and street outreach workers who work to strengthen both the individual capacity of community participants and the community’s infrastructure. In contrast, programs that rely on the external threat of a punitive response from law enforcement run the risk of weakening a community’s infrastructure by legitimizing targeted forms of law enforcement and removing individuals from the community via arrest and incarceration (Jones, 2018). Community outreach and violence interruption programs vary in their implementation, investment, and management strategy, and further research is needed to understand these contextual and implementation factors and their potential for reducing racial inequalities in crime and victimization.
Advance Peace is a community outreach model that was created to interrupt gun violence and has been implemented in a number of cities, including Richmond and Stockton in California. While it was partly inspired by the Cure Violence model in Chicago, Advance Peace (also known as the Richmond model) is unlike the traditional Operation Ceasefire model. Instead of collaborating with law enforcement, its programs operate in parallel with them, thereby maintaining a separation between law enforcement officers and participating individuals.
The focused deterrence approach and the Advance Peace model both begin with a similar premise: that a large share of the risks of serious offending and serious victimization are concentrated among a small number of young people who are known to the police (Kennedy, 2011). The two differ in important ways on how to address this. Operation Ceasefire-style programs that partner with law enforcement typically demand change within a short window of time—if someone engages in criminal activity again, they are severely punished. By contrast, the Advance Peace model operates from an engagement paradigm, one that is informed by an appreciation of the time that relationship-building takes. Advance Peace makes an investment in the lives of youth most vulnerable to becoming perpetrators or victims of violence. Perhaps the most significant distinction is that, instead of a focused deterrence framework, Advance Peace relies on the concept of “the beloved community.” It is a program that is based on engagement and encouragement instead of the threat of incarceration (Jones, 2018).
Another key difference between the Advance Peace–style programs and many other violence-intervention models is that Advance Peace workers are city employees. The founding director of the program in Richmond (CA), DeVone Boggan, elevated the status of street outreach workers by creating a new classification for city employees that would leverage the mark of an official criminal record for applicants. Preferred qualifications for the outreach positions would include past experience of incarceration and a felony gun charge. The “Neighborhood Change Agents,” as they are officially categorized, must also be familiar with the neighborhoods in which they intervene. They are unionized. Their jobs come with benefits and, in general, a level of stability that other intervention models lack (Jones, 2018).
Although the Advance Peace program focuses solely on gun violence and interrupting violent retaliation, its approach is holistic in nature. Specifically, it views the young people it works with as at-risk people rather than criminals. The approach relies not on law enforcement to change behavior but on the motivating and transformative nature of mentoring relationships. These relationships are centered not just on accountability but also on respect, dignity, love, care, and compassion. The change agents are trained to meet young people where they are and to push them to expand their geographical and psychological boundaries. The program uses an 18-month fellowship (called a LifeMAP) that is not mandated by any law enforcement agency. The fellowship has seven components:
- The development of a life management action plan;
- Access to multiple healthy adults;
- Connection to social services;
- A LifeMAP milestone allowance that is paid after six months of participation in the program;
- Transformative travel experiences (e.g., to colleges or international travel);
- Access to an elder circle; and
- Job preparation (a component that has been added since the start of the program) (Jones, 2018).
Programs organized around these sets of practices show some promise in preventing the involvement of participants in future gun violence and reducing harm done by the criminal justice system, though these results remain mixed and vary based on the program, location, and time frame of the evaluation. These programs invest in capacity building and in people and relationships, providing opportunities to build community safety and prevent criminal justice involvement. For example, an evaluation of the
Advance Peace program’s impact in Stockton (CA) from 2018 to 2020 showed a 21 percent reduction in gun homicides and assaults as compared to the 2015–2018 averages. The majority of the street outreach fellows in the Stockton program were Black, with 32 percent previously incarcerated. Of those fellows, 71 percent had no new arrests during the course of the program (Corburn and Fukutome, 2021). In 2020, Advance Peace Sacramento intervened in 84 firearm incidents, which saved an estimated $36.5–84 million (Corburn, 2021a), and Advance Peace Richmond intervened in 28 firearm incidents, which saved an estimated $12.2–28 million in deaths and injuries (Corburn, 2021b).
Such initial findings and evidence from ethnographic research suggest that encouraging investments in capacity building, not simply crime fighting, may be promising. These investments made in people and relationships, not just programs, may be more sustainable in the long run (Jones, 2018; see also Anderson, 1999). Of course, a closer examination of the implementation and contextual factors that influence program effects is needed, as initial findings from the Safe Streets program in Baltimore (MD), which is based on a Cure Violence model, show an association with significant increases in violence in three locations in the city (Buggs et al., 2022; Webster et al., 2018, 2013). These findings may also suggest that program modifications are needed to achieve significant reductions in firearm violence, as the initial potentially positive effects of the program may have attenuated over time. Prior studies found that the Safe Streets program increased youth’s preferences for nonviolent conflict resolution (Milam et al., 2016) and was associated with increases in preferences for nonviolent responses to interpersonal conflicts (Milam et al., 2018). The Cure Violence model has also been associated with reductions in youths’ willingness to use violence to settle conflict (S. Delgado, 2017), improved confidence in police (Butts and Delgado, 2017), and increased confidence in a community’s ability to reduce firearm violence (Picard-Fritsche and Cerniglia, 2013).
Other anti-violence programs exist outside of these three popular models, shaped to target other specific needs. One example is hospital-based violence interruption programs, in which social service providers make contact with victims of violence in the hospital setting and work to meet an individual’s basic needs and to prevent retaliation (see the National Academies, 2019b). Many of these programs partner with community organizations to incorporate social services into the medical care offered in the hospital setting, hiring members of the community who are able to best treat and relate to those they serve. Results of effectiveness in future violence prevention are suggestive but inconclusive due to the lack of scale in the evaluations currently available (the National Academies, 2019b; Strong et al., 2016). This is also true regarding effectiveness for reducing future criminal justice contact (Shibru et al., 2007; see Chapter 7, Box 7-3).
Historically, rates of domestic violence, including intimate partner violence, have disproportionately impacted marginalized and vulnerable populations. In the 25 years leading up to the start of the pandemic, rates of intimate partner violence, like rates of serious violence overall, steadily declined along with racial disparity (Raphael et al., 2019). However, during the pandemic, rates of intimate partner violence spiked (see, e.g., Piquero et al., 2021). Analyses of municipal reporting from Los Angeles and Indianapolis (IN), for example, reveal an increase in intimate partner violence incidents in the period immediately following the declaration of social restrictions in response to the pandemic, as compared to the period immediately prior (Mohler et al., 2020). Rosenfeld and Lopez (2021), using data across 13 cities, find that roughly the same number of domestic violence incidents occurred in the first nine months of 2021 as the year before; however, the authors note that these data should be interpreted with caution.
Intimate partner violence is a risk factor for criminal justice involvement among victims, who come into contact with the system as “offenders.” The processes that transform victims into offenders are the criminalization of women’s survival strategies; entrapment into crime by abusers and by gender, race, and class oppression; and enforcement through coercive laws, immigration policies, social welfare policies, and law enforcement practices. For example, some women are coerced to engage in crime by battering partners or by partners’ financial abuse, some are arrested for defending themselves against abuse, and others are arrested for not protecting their children from domestic violence (Gilfus, 2002). Interventions that focus solely on enforcement and punishment of the offender (and often victims) exacerbate racial inequalities in the criminal justice system and more broadly.
Like community-led efforts for preventing gun violence, community-driven responses to intimate partner violence seek to address the mechanisms that drive these processes. New Hour for Women and Children, for example, addresses the intersection of intimate partner violence and criminal justice system involvement by providing incarcerated women who are survivors of domestic abuse with a variety of services, including reentry programming, parenting and wellness guidance, and support for those who have babies while incarcerated (the National Academies, 2021a).
These issues are particularly acute for Indigenous people, particularly those living in Indian Country, who are vastly under-protected by police. Murder is the third-highest cause of death for Native American and Alaska Native women, and the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is drastically undercounted. For example, in 2016, 116 cases were reported by the Department of Justice, while the National Crime
Information Center reported that the actual number was 5,712 (Lucchesi and Echo-Hawk, 2018). Several organizations highlight the role that the community can play in strengthening Indigenous systems of accountability and redemption and the role of tribal members, representatives, and organizations in mitigating harms done to victims and perpetrators when tribal, state, and federal justice systems intersect.
Sovereign Bodies Institute (SBI) is one example of a community-based, survivor-led organization that provides support services to Indigenous survivors of violence and the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.6 SBI builds on Indigenous traditions of data gathering and knowledge transfer to create, disseminate, and put into action research on gender and sexual violence against Indigenous people.
SBI works to give the community more power and emphasizes the importance of having third-party advocates that can build trust with those that have been impacted and uplift those that can be an authoritative advocate for people in the system, as well as having larger roles for independent community-based advocates. The organization’s governance is unique in that it is survivor led. SBI has a Survivors’ Leadership Council that is comprised of Indigenous survivors of trafficking and survival sex work. The council advocates for victims and survivors, provides peer support to movement leaders who are survivors, and creates a platform for survivor voices, so that the world can learn from them directly. SBI and the Survivors’ Leadership Council advocate for the importance of giving the community more power, having third-party advocates who can build trust with impacted people, and having meaningful roles for independent community-based advocates (the National Academies, 2021b).
One critical component of justice that can be practiced by all justice system stakeholders is deep, authentic, collaborative, and genuine listening. As an example, SBI facilitated this type of authentic listening in a circumstance where a sexual assault survivor felt unsafe with local law enforcement. In that case, the district attorney agreed to send investigators to meet with the survivor, listen to the story, explain the process, and answer questions. This type of deep listening is healing and conveys humility, service, generosity, and a survivor-centered sense of justice (the National Academies, 2021b). SBI reimagines the justice system as truly serving communities by putting the most vulnerable at the center of the conversation, focusing on healing the hurt individual, addressing the root causes of the crime, and addressing the impact on the community.
6 Two-spirit people are traditionally Native Americans who are “male, female, and sometimes intersexed individuals who combine [gender identities] of both men and women with traits unique to their status as two-spirit people.” See https://www.ihs.gov/lgbt/health/twospirit/ for more information.
Some jurisdictions are searching for ways to expand behavioral health diversion to earlier points in the criminal justice system process in order to reduce system contact and to connect people to services sooner. An example is 911 dispatch diversion, which connects people in a behavioral health crisis to mental health professionals rather than to law enforcement; this ensures the individual is connected to needed social services. Mental Health First: Community First Response Oakland (M.H. First) is an example of a community-driven model for non-police response to mental health crisis. M.H. First operates a weekend hotline with the aim of interrupting and minimizing the need for law enforcement in mental health crisis first response by providing mobile peer support, de-escalation assistance, and non-punitive and life-affirming interventions.7 Additionally, one study conducted in Denver (CO) that diverted mental health emergency responses from law enforcement to health care providers found a 34 percent reduction in nonserious crimes, with no impact on serious crimes (Dee and Pyne, 2022).
Other communities have adapted non-punitive responses and diversionary models for mental health crisis. Houston, for example, implemented its Crisis Call Diversion (CCD) program in 2015 in response to a steady increase of mental health crisis calls to 911. Working with the Houston Emergency Center and the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, the police department determined that a high percentage of these calls could be more effectively resolved by quickly connecting callers to mental health professionals rather than dispatching police officers or emergency medical services (EMS) personnel. CCD now includes the Houston Fire Department (which joined the collaboration in 2017) and uses embedded professional telecounselors within the 911 call center to help link people to non-emergency services when a call does not require police or EMS (Houston Police Department, 2021). In 2020 alone, CCD diverted 2,116 calls from the Houston Police Department and Houston Fire Department, and the program resulted in an estimated $1,666,732 annual savings to first responders (Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2021; Houston Police Department, 2020). Similarly, CAHOOTS, a program in Eugene (OR), has shown success in diverting behavior health crisis and related calls from the Eugene Police Department. These responders answer some calls from 911 that have been rerouted to them, as well as answer calls made directly to them. The diversion rates for CAHOOTS calls from the Eugene Police Department are between five and eight percent (Eugene Police Crime Analysis Unit, 2020). In Tucson (AZ) where crisis line staff are embedded within 911 dispatch to divert appropriate calls to the crisis line, 80 percent of calls are able to be
resolved over the phone. Of the remaining calls, the majority are resolved by a mobile crisis team in the community (Balfour et al., 2020). In addition to the community-run M.H. First, the City of Oakland is also establishing its Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland program that is informed by the CAHOOTS model, which is targeted to help the people most impacted where they are with obtaining the referrals for assistance they need.8
Taken together, these approaches seek to reduce formal interaction with the criminal justice system and address health and behavioral health needs through other systems, including community services. As discussed in Chapter 4, increased exposure to criminal justice surveillance and enforcement among poor and racial and ethnic minority groups and decision making in key phases of the system reinforces and exacerbates racial inequality within and outside of the system. As such, diversionary programs, at the outset, have the potential to be preventive and reduce further racial inequalities.
As discussed in Chapter 4, the harms of contact with the criminal justice system are amplified among historically marginalized groups. Community-driven efforts seek to mitigate individual and intergenerational harm and to increase the capacity of the community to seek redress for harm.
One group most at risk of intergenerational harm from the criminal justice system are the approximately 10 million children and young adults in the United States who have had a parent incarcerated at some point in their lives. Recent estimates indicate that over 40 percent of all Black children have caregivers who have been charged with felonies, and nearly 20 percent have caregivers who have been imprisoned. Figures are similarly high for Native Americans (Finlay et al., 2022b).
Organizations like We Got Us Now exemplify a more general approach to disrupting intergenerational harm by amplifying the issues that children of incarcerated parents face through leadership by people who have been directly impacted by incarceration. The organization runs an “actionist” leadership program, which trains children who are directly impacted by parental incarceration to become leading subject matter experts committed to reforming the criminal justice system in their communities. We Got Us Now also builds public awareness; for example, the organization highlights the fact that incarcerated people who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower
recidivism rates. It also uplifts the resiliency and ingenuity of the families of incarcerated people and uses encouragement, empowerment, and support to help families thrive (the National Academies, 2021a, p. 4).
Transitions Clinic Network (TCN), a national consortium of more than 40 primary care centers that serves the primary health care needs of individuals returning from incarceration (Shavit et al., 2017), is another example of a community-led organization working to mitigate the harm of the criminal justice system. TCN programs include interdisciplinary primary care teams with community health workers with personal histories of incarceration. In a randomized controlled trial (RCT), participants in the TCN program in San Francisco had 51 percent fewer visits to the emergency department in a year compared with those who were assigned to receive expedited primary care in safety net systems (Wang et al., 2012). TCN participation also impacts future criminal justice contact, specifically being associated with lower rates of returning to prison for a parole or probation technical violation and fewer incarceration days compared with the control group (Wang et al., 2019). The involvement of previously incarcerated people is particularly critical to the TCN’s success.
Many of the community-led efforts discussed above are designed as non-punitive interventions for reducing contact with the criminal justice system, and thus reducing racial inequality, though many lack rigorous evaluation. A major barrier to the expansion of effective community solutions and continued innovation is the mismatch between what may be the most promising solutions and the knowledge base that is available for communities to draw on. In seeking “solutions,” some jurisdictions and decision makers prioritize the use of experimental methods of evaluation, especially randomized controlled trials (RCTs), to inform policy-related decisions (the National Academies, 2017). The RCT, often regarded as the “gold standard” of scientific methods, has numerous strengths when applied in the right circumstances. However, it may not be an optimal or practical approach for evaluating multifaceted social programs, such as community-based programs for safety.
The RCT method may be insufficient for evaluating community programs for a number of reasons (Nagin and Sampson, 2019), including that they may be infeasible, expensive, or, in certain cases, ethically unadvisable (the National Academies, 2019a). The community programs discussed in this chapter exist in complex and variable public systems and community contexts that involve social interactions. These contextual factors are not simply variables to be controlled for purposes of experimental design. Rather, they determine how program services develop, how community
members make use of programs, and what outcomes are possible (Goodman et al., 2018; Blamey and MacKenzie, 2007). Furthermore, such community programs are intentionally responsive to variable local community needs, values, strengths, and limitations. The services provided in a particular community are influenced by the specifics of local politics and cultural practices, civil and criminal justice systems, transportation systems, and the availability and quality of public and affordable private housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, educational opportunities, and services for children and families (Goodman et al., 2018). Therefore, an RCT-based study of one program may have limited general applicability. A program based in another substantially different community context could not implement the RCT-evaluated model and expect similar success (Hess and Henig, 2008). An overemphasis on RCTs may result in a widening disparity between research and practice over time. That is, promising programs for which RCTs are appropriate will continue to be researched, highlighted, and disseminated, and will therefore improve. Promising programs not amenable to RCTs, in contrast, will receive less research funding, will be less highlighted, and will have far fewer opportunities to advance (Goodman et al., 2018; Whitesell, 2016).
In addition, there is a need to broaden the research paradigm for community safety programs to be more inclusive of other research methods. For example, researchers can employ methods from public health, sociological, and qualitative and participatory action research with directly impacted people. Moreover, the incorporation of lived experience through the participation of directly impacted people in research design and evaluation is critical, as they are often excluded from public policy making and yet have direct knowledge of how existing systems cause and fail to prevent harm.
Part of these efforts would include taking seriously the input of community members in the definition and production of safety. To do so, researchers will need to create a better science of assessing the nature of those members’ viewpoints. As we have noted, researchers have measured norms of informal control, social trust, and views on the criminal justice system by leveraging community surveys and what has been termed the “ecometrics” of community measurement (Raudenbush and Sampson, 1999). Drawing on the longstanding success of systematic measurement of individual properties, known as psychometrics, ecometrics focuses on metrics for assessing social ecologies, such as community surveys that aim to provide systematic data on whole neighborhoods. There is no such thing as a monolithic community, and we know historically that some voices have been silenced in marginalized communities. In others, the loudest voices are
not necessarily representative. In one recent study, increased heterogeneity in the viewpoints of residents on collective efficacy was an important predictor of higher levels of crime (Brunton-Smith et al., 2018).
Taking heed of what community members want is not risk free nor does it necessarily imply agreement. “Defended” communities, for example, have in the past sought to keep out members of racial minority groups, often through vigilante forms of violence (Suttles, 1972). Independent of “what works,” or even prior to considering what works, there is a need for an ongoing measurement system, ideally across entire cities, to assess and monitor the views of community residents and organizations, with a focus on racial equality rather than social exclusion.
Moreover, contemporary calls to involve the community in problems that are typically the primary domain of law enforcement need to acknowledge and address the limitations and unintended consequences of efforts to involve “the community” in this work, including how such collaborative efforts may privilege certain voices over others and exacerbate preexisting political fault lines and expose efforts that contribute to personal interests rather than the broader public good. Corruption and lack of accountability are age-old issues that have long bedeviled criminal justice agencies like the police. Indeed, much has been written about past corruption in policing, and the recent crisis of criminal justice in the United States has unsurprisingly led to calls for increased accountability mechanisms for the police and other agencies of formal social control. These are needed, as Chapter 8 discusses further.
Although a similar history of corruption does not exist with regard to community organizations, a parallel need nonetheless exists when setting up funding sources, resource allocation, and evaluation metrics for community-based efforts to address crime outside the purview of criminal justice. For example, a leading anti-violence community organization in Boston was recently indicted on federal fraud charges of misuse of funds for personal gain (Murphy et al., 2022). These may be the rare cases, but political legitimacy and public trust require transparency and accountability mechanisms across the board. Because community organizing efforts have historically been underfunded and in an ad hoc way, it is perhaps understandable that accountability mechanisms have taken a back seat.
We therefore recommend an integrated system of ongoing data collection and analysis sharing, transparency in methods, and accountability in assessing community-based interventions to promote human flourishing and collective efficacy as a means of addressing crime and violence. As one review puts it, existing research has “data blinders” that result from the fact that too much of the knowledge base for reducing violence depends on studies that measure public safety with data generated by law enforcement and subsequent processing within the criminal justice system (John Jay
College Research Advisory Group on Preventing and Reducing Community Violence, 2020, p. 21).
RECOMMENDATION 6-1: Cities and localities should partner with researchers to implement an ongoing system of data collection and omnibus surveys that would provide data on the views of resident safety and develop reliable and valid measures of the full range of residents’ viewpoints.
This measurement tool needs to be representative and designed to capture the full spectrum of racial diversity of community populations and for a broad representation of the cities or other areas in question. Although limited in geographic scope, an example of an approach rooted in community ecometrics of the sort recommended is “NeighborhoodStat,” developed by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in New York City. Its approach to community social organization and data collection centers the views of residents themselves and interactions with city decision makers. COMPSTAT became famous in New York City for prioritizing the collection and mapping of crime statistics by the police and using official metrics. NeighborhoodStat flips the script by prioritizing a community-based, problem-solving process grounded in the belief that public safety cannot exist without the public.9 It is an acknowledgment that safe and thriving neighborhoods require resident leadership, community and government support, and resources to produce sustainable change. To support that goal, NeighborhoodStat employs a series of local meetings that engage residents in sharing, analyzing, and using data to identify public safety priorities and implement solutions.
Importantly, the kinds of neighborhood data collected by NeighborhoodStat include nontraditional measures like housing and food insecurity, trust, environmental hazards, and perceptions of safety. These data are provided by the community and can be analyzed or viewed by community members and discussed in meetings involving city decision makers. An example of how what the community values can lead to concrete efforts different than simple crime metrics is seen in the example of vacant homes and environmental toxins. Residents appear to be keenly aware of the numerous costs to the degradation of neighborhood environments and toxic inequalities like lead exposure. Vacant homes are a strong correlate of crime rates and residents have demanded their remediation. One recent study suggests that collective efficacy leads to lower crime in part because of its influence on the built environment, specifically fewer vacant homes (Lanfear, 2022). Collective efficacy can also lead to efforts to reduce lead in the environment
and green vacant lots, with potentially important crime reduction effects (Branas et al., 2018; Kondo et al., 2018). Because toxic inequalities are disproportionately concentrated in Black, Latino, and Native American communities, more so than poverty (Sampson, 2022), reductions in them are a mechanism for reducing racial inequalities in crime. These pathways are examined in more detail in Chapter 7. The point here is that neighborhood social organization and the physical environment are connected and need to be integrated into the kinds of data that we consider. Crime statistics are but one measure of the health, well-being, and flourishing of communities.
Finally, when the public is allowed to express their opinions, however divergent they may be, and those views are measured systematically over time and made public, public trust will arguably be enhanced. Similarly, the communities on the receiving end of interventions deserve access to information about community-based organizations in terms of their intervention effectiveness, spending of resources, and accountability mechanisms when public trust is violated. Just as criminal justice agencies are subject to scrutiny and need to earn their legitimacy through just social actions, so too do community-based organizations and citizens.
Investments for community capacity appear promising in some cases, but additional research on implementation and contextual factors driving effects are needed, as results are heterogeneous across studies and locations. Such investments need to be paired with accountability mechanisms for spending to ensure evaluations to measure outcomes are conducted and resources are shared appropriately across and within communities.
CONCLUSION 6-1: Building healthy communities and reducing crime require investments in community capacity to define and advance safety and reduce harm and inequality associated with criminal justice involvement.
Expanding the type of evidence from which we judge the success of these programs is critical for innovation, and investments in this type of research and evaluation is needed to continue to identify promising solutions and approaches to such a complex problem as racial inequality. Capacity building and investments made in people and relationships, not just programs, may be more sustainable in the long run.
RECOMMENDATION 6-2: Given some suggestive but incomplete results from a burgeoning literature on community-based anti-violence and related initiatives, federal and state agencies should explore the
significant expansion of community-driven pilot programs that are fielded in combination with strong evaluation strategies.
The aim of such an initiative would be to expand community capacity to implement local strategies for safety together with a robust model for policy learning. Such efforts at each individual site would ideally be led by local community representatives and organizations. A lead agency could provide funding and oversight as well as field the pilots in a coordinated way to facilitate collective learning and accountability across sites; and given the sometimes burdensome nature of conducting such rigorous evaluation, federal and state agencies and philanthropic organizations could make investments to support such efforts, so that the burden is not on communities. For example, investments could link communities with academic institutions to partner and apply for grants and conduct evaluations, such as efforts like the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification.
In addition, many Indigenous communities rely on traditional systems of accountability, justice, and healing. Because of their emphasis on community definitions of safety, healing, and restorative practices, Indigenous-led efforts to reform justice systems suggest potentially promising models, though evaluations of such programs and models is especially limited.
RECOMMENDATION 6-3: In order to better understand the potential for Indigenous approaches to be transferred to other communities (Indigenous or otherwise) and the potential for such models to reduce racial inequalities, federal agencies and philanthropic organizations should support research examining and evaluating tribal models of justice. Such evaluations may need to attend to conceptions of success to ensure that outcomes are aligned with community needs and priorities.
Any investments in community initiatives will need to acknowledge and address the limitations and unintended consequences of efforts to involve “the community” in this work, including how such collaborative efforts may exacerbate preexisting community fault lines. A need for accountability for community-based efforts, like criminal justice responses, exists when setting up funding sources, resource allocation, and evaluation metrics for community-based efforts to address crime outside the purview of criminal justice. Finally, taking seriously the input of community members in the definition and production of safety is needed, and to do so, researchers will need to create a better science of assessing the nature of those community members’ viewpoints.