Group Violence Intervention program offers Philadelphia shooters a way out

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — After Sunday’s South Street shooting added urgency to Philadelphia’s gun violence crisis, the city continues to seek solutions.

Group Violence Intervention (GVI) is an evidence-based approach. The program reduces gun violence by working within social networks to deter groups from shooting. It identifies individuals and groups involved in violent activity and targets them for social services to help them break the cycle of violence, as well as increased consequences if they pull the trigger.

“We notify these people like, ‘Hey, I know who you are, I know what you did,'” said Erica Atwood, who oversees the city’s office of violence prevention that runs GVI. “‘Here are the options: you continue down the path you’re going on and you’re going to land right in the criminal justice system. But here’s an opportunity to take advantage of the social services, supports and diversion programs that are out there.'”

The program connects participants with behavioral health supports, employment opportunities, and other needed resources. Its focus, according to Atwood, is “not just jobs, but how do we take care of people who are looking for a sense of belonging — that’s why they’re in these groups — and how do we give a positive sense of belonging, positive care and concern, so that they do no harm or are harmed.”

Since its launch in August 2020, GVI has identified 598 applicants for the program, attempted 1,191 personalized notifications, and established 302 direct contacts with applicants as well as 239 collateral contacts with their family members. Applicants identified by GVI were arrested six or more times on average. Their median age is 19 and 96% of them are black men.

The program meetings, called “calls”, give candidates a way out of street life and a warning that violence will not be tolerated.

“We want to be able to tell you that we value your life, you don’t need that kind of life on the streets, we have services for you,” said Dr. Caterina Roman, professor of criminal justice at the University. Temple who evaluated a previous implementation of the GVI model in Philadelphia. “Do you need emergency housing? Do you need job training? Do you need access to certain jobs? Let us help you.”

Arguments and retaliation are common causes of gun violence in the city, motivating more than half of shootings in a recent sample cleared by the Philadelphia Police Department.

To reduce these incidents, GVI identifies brewing conflicts between groups and warns those involved that resolving their clashes with gun violence will trigger harsh law enforcement action.

“You create an expectation that there are consequences, but there are also benefits to not engaging in shooting behavior,” said Dr. Ruth Abaya, head of the Department of Health’s injury prevention program. Philadelphia Public Health.

In the current abortion implementation, 147 people are receiving case management, 104 of these participants are receiving additional services and 89 of them have been linked to employment. The average age of those who accepted services is 24, and all of these individuals are black. Thirty-two percent of those who accepted services had shot victims prior to their engagement with GVI; After their first engagement, only 3% were victims of a firearm.

The GVI model has been effective in reducing shootings in some Philadelphia neighborhoods where it was implemented in 2013 through a program called “Focused Deterrence,” run by the District Attorney’s Office and the Philadelphia Police Department. Over a two-year period, areas targeted by the program saw a 35% decrease in shootings, while similar non-targeted areas saw shootings increase by 6%.

However, when Roman and other Temple University researchers analyzed gang-level shooting results, their findings were mixed. Of the 14 gangs targeted, nine experienced reductions in shootings, one experienced no change, and four experienced increases in shootings so large that they outweighed the positive effects on other gangs.

According to Roman, gangs that didn’t change or had an increase in shootings tended to be younger, bigger, and more active on social media than gangs that saw a reduction in shootings.

“That’s where the data comes in, where we go back to law enforcement and say, ‘We need to focus on those three groups that aren’t changing their behavior,'” Roman said. “We think there is a message that reaches bands, but not all bands.”

It’s also important to consider the potential harms of any interventions, Roman added. She noted that critics of the previous program claimed it targeted people who had already given up on their violent lifestyle, including one who missed his degree because he was arrested for a past violation.

Evaluation of the current implementation of the GVI is ongoing, with University of Pennsylvania researchers hoping to complete research on the program’s effects later this year or early 2023. According to Atwood, early indicators suggest that the program works.

“The outcome that we’re starting to see is reduced engagement with the justice system and law enforcement with those people we identify, engagement in positive employment and activities, reduced recidivism for some of the people who have remained engaged, ongoing contact with our social workers,” Atwood said.

For now, the program is growing: this exercise, it will quadruple its case manager complement from three to 12, expand to all police divisions and host at least five group calls. But ultimately, Atwood hopes GVI will be successful enough to be eliminated.

“How can we ensure that we have a system where I am not needed? Atwood asked. “It’s my vision.”

Learn more about gun violence in Philadelphia, the communities it affects, and local solutions — and submit your own ideas for stopping the shooting — at

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