More money for West Side violence prevention can make communities safer

Violence intervention programs are fairly new and though few have been tested, some show promise. We’re hopeful that expanding community programs in Humboldt Park, Garfield Park, Austin and Little Village can curb shootings and save lives.

SHARE More money for West Side violence prevention can make communities safer
A man takes a selfie with three young people in a park.

Rayqwan Alexander, 32, an outreach worker at the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, takes a selfie with kids at an outreach event in West Garfield Park on Sept. 14, 2023.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The latest uptick in funding for community-based violence intervention programs is a testament to the pressing urgency, felt by many Chicagoans, to keep shootings and other crime from spiraling out of control.

After more than 70 people were shot — at least eight of them fatally — between Friday night and Monday morning and a 7-year-old boy gunned down Tuesday, even the most cynical people might feel a sense of ease and relief at the news that violence prevention efforts would be expanded in four West Side neighborhoods with a mix of public and private money.

The four communities — Humboldt Park, where a mass shooting happened after midnight Monday, Austin, Garfield Park and Little Village — certainly need the help: One in five shootings in Chicago take place in those communities. And violence prevention programs currently only reach 20% of those who could benefit. Still, lives have been saved, noted Kathy Cullick, director of the North Lawndale Collaborative, a coalition of organizations that have coordinated anti-violence efforts in the West Side neighborhood.

“Any progress we make in the community is making a dent,” Cullick said.

Editorial

Editorial

Violence intervention leaders and workers rightfully celebrated the additional money for anti-violence programs Monday. It’s encouraging that business leaders have stepped up, as Bob Boik, vice president for public safety at the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, pointed out that they’re nearing their $100 million goal to finance expansion of the programs in the four neighborhoods.

If intervention programs can work on a larger scale in those communities, it will make sense to expand the strategies even further to other neighborhoods wracked by shootings. So it’s a hopeful sign that “Scaling Community Violence Intervention for a Safer Chicago,” or SC2, will also try to ensure that the money is spent wisely. Organizers are looking for a research partner to track the programs’ effectiveness.

As we stressed in an editorial two years ago, and again last year (in giving kudos to street outreach “peacekeepers” and to billionaire James Crown, the late businessman who urged fellow CEOs to step up with money for anti-violence efforts): We need to know what methods work and which ones don’t, to make the best use of resources.

Violence intervention programs are fairly new, and very few have been tested. The minimal research out there shows mixed results.

“Simple, scalable, and cost-efficient programs, such as sport-based initiatives, appear to have more empirical support than other population-based approaches to violence prevention,” while those “aimed at early childhood” do not, researchers in the United Kingdom concluded in a study published earlier this year.

The Peacekeepers program, which has outreach workers in over 30 communities in Chicago and the suburbs to mediate disputes that could escalate into violence and serve as a safety-enhancing presence on the streets, shows promise: 94% of communities served by peacekeepers experienced a decline in shootings, with so-called “hot spots” experiencing a 35% drop, between July 1 and Dec. 3, 2023, according to a report from Northwestern University.

Also, a 2022 University of Chicago study found that men enrolled in READI Chicago, an anti-violence outreach program that targets high-risk men on the South and West sides, were far less likely to be arrested for a violent crime and nearly 20% less likely to be shot compared with men who weren’t participants.

Last year, Northwestern University researchers similarly concluded that while short-term members of Chicago CRED experienced benefits, the “alumni” who completed the full 24-month community violence intervention program were the most successful: They were 73% less likely to have an arrest for a violent crime two years following enrollment compared to their peers who didn’t participate in the program.

The analyses offer hope that Chicago can turn a new leaf against gun violence.

However, there is also a danger that praise for anti-violence initiatives can be premature. A 2022 Better Government Association investigation revealed that the city was overstating its recently launched Community Safety Coordination Center’s accomplishments in reducing crime.

“Taking undue credit for crime reduction and boasting in generalities about success, with little hard evidence, creates a false sense of safety and jeopardizes the public’s trust,” we wrote at the time.

Violence prevention programs can work. The key is to have them continually evaluated and critiqued by outside, independent researchers.

Our lives depend on it.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines. Send letters to letters@suntimes.com

More about the Sun-Times Editorial Board at chicago.suntimes.com/about/editorial-board

The Latest
Curly? Steak? Waffle? Crinkle cut? There is cause for debate around which particular french fry is best.
Bowman returns to an official NHL post for the first time since 2021, when he resigned as Hawks GM during the sexual assault scandal.
Utah’s capital city was the only candidate for 2034 after the Olympic committee gave Salt Lake City exclusive negotiating rights last year.
Around 5:20 a.m., state troopers responded to a rollover crash in the eastbound lanes of the Eisenhower just east of the Tri-State Tollway, Illinois State police said.