New violence prevention effort begins in Louisville

October 30, 2020

Mayor Greg Fischer and United States Attorney Russell Coleman joined community leaders, police, members of the city’s business and non-profit community, Metro Council and the state today to announce a new approach to violence prevention in Louisville that works by directly engaging those most intimately involved in and affected by violence.

Called Group Violence Intervention (GVI), the approach leverages an intentional collaboration among law enforcement, social service providers and community members, who collectively co-sign and deliver the anti-violence message.

A basic tenet of the model is that many neighborhoods have had long and negative experiences with harmful and unequal treatment by the criminal justice system. In these areas, residents don’t feel protected by law enforcement – rather, they feel historically overpoliced and under-protected. GVI is an explicit departure from this, starting with recognition that a community is fundamentally healthy and resilient, and a new approach is necessary to keep every member of the community alive and free.

Developed by Professor David M. Kennedy of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, the success of GVI hinges on the partnership’s ability to correctly and effectively deliver the message that everyone needs and deserves to be safe; there is a very small number of people at extremely high risk for violent victimization and violent offending; and GVI is designed to keep them safe, alive, and free.

GVI puts together an intense focus to support those at-risk residents in their daily lives, communicate community norms in support of everyone’s safety and success, and when necessary, create swift, certain, and legitimate sanctions for violence.

Kennedy and his team first implemented the GVI model in Boston in 1996-97, resulting in a 63 percent drop in youth homicides, which became known as the “Boston Miracle.” The GVI approach has since been used successfully in cities large and small with positive results: a 42 percent decrease in gun homicide in Stockton, Calif., a 44 percent reduction in gun assaults in Lowell, Mass., and a 41 percent decrease in group-involved homicides in Cincinnati.

“As we work to reimagine public safety in response to the cries across our city and our nation, we know that violence prevention does not begin with law enforcement; it must start with community engagement and support services,” said Mayor Fischer. “GVI begins by addressing violent offenders and acknowledging that we have failed them. We must do more to provide them with options to keep themselves safe and free, which results in a safer city for us all.”

Mayor Fischer stressed GVI is only one tool in the city’s violence prevention efforts, which range from projects within the Office for Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods, an expanded Office for Youth Development, as well as law enforcement partnerships like a recent task force announced to address carjackings.

David Kennedy and Paul Smith of John Jay helped explain how the GVI model works:

  • Violent street group members on parole or probation or who have been identified as subject to additional enforcement are called into meetings as a condition of their continued release. There, they are met with three sets of participants.
  • The first group they meet with includes law enforcement officials, including prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Commonwealth and County Attorney’s Offices. That group explains the violence being committed is enough to result in federal and local prosecution.
  • Second, they meet with social service providers who describe what services are available to them, as part of an acknowledgement that these offenders are among the most vulnerable members of our community, and we have not done enough to protect and support them. Often, Kennedy and Smith said, group members are traumatized and scared of becoming a victim of violent crime themselves; traditional social services have been inadequate to meet their needs.
  • The key component making the model unique and effective is the third group who meets with those called in – residents of the street group members’ own communities – clergy, ex-offenders and families of victims of violent crime. These residents describe the real and graphic consequences of violence in their own neighborhood and insist that the street group members stop the violence.

GVI is designed to prevent violence via transparency and clarity, avoiding the need for actual enforcement if possible. But group members will be advised ahead of time what will happen if they commit further violent acts.

With more than 130 homicides and nearly 500 shootings so far in 2020, Fischer and Coleman said, local law enforcement knows the groups that are both driving and being victimized by a tremendous amount of the violence in Louisville.

“We must better protect the entire community. Our historic levels of murders and shootings in Louisville evidence that what we’re doing isn’t working; GVI has a long history of saving lives in cities large and small,” U.S. Attorney Coleman said. “The strategy is not law enforcement offering a deal. Rather, this is a strategy that promises violence will be met with a group-targeted approach – not targeting the community, but coming after the gang in a way that these groups haven’t been used to, IF they continue to be violent.”

GVI is a promise to do better by limiting enforcement action as much as possible, and when it is used, it is with a scalpel approach, he said – focusing it on the groups who persist in shooting and killing.

Both the Mayor and U.S. Attorney stressed that Friday’s announcement is only a first step. Social Service partners and community member committees to direct the project are being developed and will begin meeting regularly next month.

For more information on the initiative or to find out how to get involved, contact Jessie Halladay, who is serving as project manager for this effort, ensuring collaboration and communication between all partners, as well as regular public updates on the effort. She can be reached at [email protected].

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