By Mary Velan
New Haven, Connecticut, launched Project Longevity in 2011 after the city reported a record-high 34 homicides in one year. The gun violence reduction strategy is based on the theory of deterrence and requires cooperation among New Haven police, social services and community members to be successful. Project Longevity is part of a statewide initiative to reduce violence and is supported by the National Network for Safe Communities initiative. The Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies found Project Longevity directly impacted a significant decline in gun violence in New Haven.
What Is Project Longevity?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Project Longevity is a comprehensive initiative designed to reduce gun violence in Connecticut’s major cities – starting with New Haven. Project Longevity uses a strategy that has shown violence can be reduced dramatically when community members and law enforcement join together to directly engage with these groups and clearly communicate a community message against violence, a law enforcement message about the consequences of further violence and an offer of help for those who want it. To accomplish this, law enforcement, social service providers and community members are recruited, assembled and trained to engage in a sustained relationship with violent groups.
In 2011, Project Longevity was launched in New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport – all funded by federal, state and local sources.
A critical component of the Project Longevity strategy is the “call-in,” a face-to-face meeting where partners engage group members and deliver certain key messages. First, that group members are part of a community, that gun violence is unacceptable and that the community needs it to end. Second, that help is available to all who will accept it in order to transition out of the gang lifestyle, and that social service providers are standing by to assist with educational, employment, housing, medical, mental health and other needs. Third, that any future violence will be met with clear and certain consequences. The next time a homicide is traced to any member of a violent group, all members of that group will receive increased and comprehensive law enforcement attention to any and all crimes any of its members are committing.
Project Longevity is based on the Group Violence Reduction Strategy developed by the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. The research behind the strategy, which was first implemented in Boston as “Operation Ceasefire” in the mid-1990s, has found that violence in troubled neighborhoods is caused predominantly by a small number of people who are members of street gangs, drug crews and other identified groups. These groups, whose members typically constitute less than 0.5 percent of a city’s population, often have little organization, hierarchy or common purpose, and commit violent acts primarily for personal reasons, not to achieve any economic gain or other advantage. The Group Violence Reduction Strategy, which also has been deployed in areas of Chicago, Cincinnati, Providence, R.I., and elsewhere, has resulted in a 40 to 60 percent reduction in group-related homicides in certain neighborhoods. After Project Longevity is established in Hartford and Bridgeport, the program may be deployed in other Connecticut cities if research and data analysis of a city’s homicide rate determine that the model offers an appropriate solution to gun violence .
The organizational structure of Project Longevity in New Haven includes a Governing Board, Strategy and Implementation Team, Research Team, Law Enforcement Team, Community Service Provider Team and Community Engagement Team, all of which meet regularly. Project Longevity’s Governing Board includes: U.S. Attorney Fein, Governor Malloy, State Senator Toni Harp, State Representative Toni Walker, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, New Haven Alderperson Jorge Perez, New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington, Court Support Services Executive Director William Carbone, Connecticut Department of Correction Commissioner Leo Arnone, Director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice David Kennedy, and Yale University’s Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander.
Since it’s launch in 2011, researchers have found Project Longevity to be a successful violence deterrent. Project Longevity operates under the theory that gun violence is hyper-concentrated in high-crime neighborhoods driven by a small population of active offenders. Therefore, the program focuses law enforcement, social services and community attention on a specific group of community members that are most likely to be victims or perpetrators of gun violence. These at-risk individuals have access to help and resources to prevent future violence and increase safety if the violence stops.
Yale researchers compared the rate of shootings among the targeted populations before and after the start of Project Longevity. The researchers found the project is associated with a reduction of almost five gun incidents per month. In 2011, New Haven recorded 34 homicides and over 11 shootings. Three years into Project Longevity, New Haven reported 12 homicides and 55 shootings in 2015. The findings suggest focused deterrence can positively impact gun violence reduction and should be included in public safety procedures in cities across the country. New Haven’s success with the program demonstrates the feasibility of focused deterrence in boost community safety while keeping law enforcement action focused on those responsible for the violent crimes.
Group Violence Intervention
The National Network For Safe Communities defines group violence intervention as a strategy that brings together law enforcement, social services and community members to focus an antiviolent message on highly active street groups. Through group violence intervention, communities can educate an at-risk population on the options outside of violence and offer to help those who want to take a different path. The face-to-face meetings help build trust between the community and participating organizations to encourage long-term life changes.
Group violence intervention works to:
- Reduce peer dynamics in groups that promote violence by creating collective accountability
- Foster internal social pressure that deters violence
- Establish clear community standards against violence
- Offer group members an honorable exit from committing acts of violence
- Provide a supported path for those who want to change
Over the past several years, group violence intervention has generated significant results in cities across the country including:
- 44 percent reduction in gun assaults through Project Safe Neighborhoods in Lowell
- 34 percent reduction in homicides in Indianapolis
- 27 percent reductions in shootings among notified violent groups in Boston
- 63 percent reduction in youth homicide in Boston
- 42 percent reduction in gun homicide through Stockton Operation Peacekeeper in Stockton
See what Alicia Caraballo, from the New Haven Public Schools, has to say about Project Longevity: