Taking a Look at the Programs Preventing Gun Violence in PhillyBy Tara Nurin |
What difference does one day make? On September 21st, executives and staff at more than 50 Philadelphia organizations will attempt to prove that one day can make a big difference indeed as they engage the public in Peace Day Philly.
Designed to cultivate global peace one local activity at a time, the weeklong event encompasses everything from documentary screenings and intercultural concerts to drawing contests, soccer tournaments, panels on topics like peace and public health, and Buddhism-inspired mindfulness walks.
Founded last year to correspond with the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, the initiative is organized by a team of volunteers led by founder Lisa Parker who expects participants and partners to forge new relationships.
But while a project like this is undeniably ambitious, does it — along with dozens of other grassroots programs — produce any impact on gun crime? In a city that suffered the highest per-capita murder rate among big cities in 2011, with gun deaths accounting for more than 80 percent of them, it’s a question that needs to be asked.
The answer, like most, depends on whom you ask.
“You can always say, ‘What’s the point,’ or ‘It’s all talk,’” says Lisa Parker, Peace Day Philly’s founder. “But you can see how it starts to create a spin, and anecdotal evidence shows our work is making a difference.” Lisa says two such organizations that doubted the viability of her mission last year are now two of her biggest supporters.
The nationwide National Night Out (NNO) program similarly works on the premise that crime can be reduced when members of communities and neighborhoods know one another. “Neighborhoods are like little networks of eyes and ears,” says Matt Peskin, executive director of the National Association of Town Watch, which produces NNO. “But when you don’t know your neighbors, if there’s a strange van in a house down the street, you won’t know it’s a strange van.”
With 37 million people participating in 15,000 concurrent block parties attended by members of the police force this past August, the Wynnewood-based NNO program is one of the best recognized anti-crime efforts in the U.S. But like Peace Day Philly, measures of its success are complicated to quantify and even more laborious to find. So where are the hard numbers on community-based gun-violence prevention projects?
“I’m not aware of any evaluations of (these) types of initiatives.The idea that these events would have a measurable impact on violence rates is implausible at best, impossible at worst,” emails Dr. Tomislav Kovandzic, a faculty member at University of Texas – Dallas who teaches courses on gun control and crime measurement. “In order for these events to have an impact on gun violence rates they would have to reduce gun ownership/carrying among high-risk individuals in the community or deter criminal gun owners from carrying and/or using guns in violent encounters. (These) events (and for that matter gun control in general), while well intentioned, are unlikely to succeed in accomplishing either of these goals.”
However, a very few do exist for somewhat similar programs. Crimesolutions.gov, an NIJ-operated website designed to inform readers about what works in criminal justice, reports more even results from a 2008 study of a multi-faceted Chicago program that, among other tactics, engaged city residents and members of the clergy in trying to change the attitudes of individuals identified as being at high-risk for involvement in gun crimes. The study concluded that while the “CeaseFire” program likely reduced the number of gun homicides in just one of the seven neighborhoods evaluated, it seems to have contributed to the reduction of overall shots fired in four neighborhoods and the number of actual shootings in three.
A blog spearheaded by a local photojournalist is also gaining traction – if not measurable results – of late. Working off the mission, “Seeking solutions to the epidemic of homicide by gunfire in Philadelphia,” guncrisis.org’s team of journalists posts daily self-generated news stories and photographs about gun violence in the city and attempts to solve it. Viewing the gun crisis as a public health problem, editor Jim MacMillan describes his plan this way: “We will study the landscape and the roots of the crisis, seek the individuals and organizations working to disrupt and intervene, and expand the community of citizens who refuse to rest until we make a difference.”
Meanwhile, the International Association of Chiefs of Police considers community involvement to be one of its primary tools in combatting gun violence. According to a series of gun-prevention recommendations the association drafted in 2007, “Regular communication and sustained partnerships with community members provide the support law enforcement officers need to combat gun violence.”
The association also explicitly encouraged police brass to reduce the number of guns on the street by attempting to influence public policy. In Philadelphia, the police department has an ally in CeaseFirePA, a state-wide group that takes its fight against easy gun access not to the street but to the halls of justice and lawmaking. CeaseFirePA eschews National Night Out-style community rallies in favor of rallying citizens to sway judicial decisions and legislative processes by attending sentencing hearings for gun-brandishing convicts and contacting their state representatives to enact stricter sentencing laws and regulations that limit gun purchases.
Though this local organization, like the others, lacks the data to track its success with hard numbers, it instead chooses to measure its victories with prison terms imposed and Harrisburg bills passed.
“We need communities to ask for specific action instead of just talking about the injustice of it all,” says executive director Max Nacheman. “What happens is all these people have rallies and candlelight vigils and though they’re absolutely appropriate and inspiring, the only thing worse than a tragedy is not making sure it doesn’t happen again.”blog comments powered by Disqus