How South Bend is Seeking Answers to Violence

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South Bend shares strategies and lessons learned in keeping on track with group violence intervention, improving efforts and creating impact with those at highest risk for violence.

The South Bend Group Violence Intervention (GVI) started in 2014 when a group of community and city leaders came together to find an evidence-based strategy for reducing gun violence in South Bend.

Beginning then, more than 30 partners united around the common goal of stopping gun violence and keeping South Bend’s highest risk citizens alive and out of prison. Partners include law enforcement, government, education, social support, healthcare and faith-based agencies. Importantly, this group sees themselves as working together on a strategy (long term way of doing business), not a program (temporary fix). Over time, GVI has been built into processes, policies and organizations in South Bend.

After a particularly rough spring in 2014, South Bend launched its GVI and saw a relatively quiet summer. Shootings began to rise again in 2016 and 2017, but subject matter experts believe that things may have been even worse without group violence intervention. After a difficult year in 2017, criminally assaulted shootings decreased 23.5% from 2017 to 2018. Overall, though there are year-to-year variations in shootings, the processes and relationships rooted in GVI give the city a strong foundation for addressing these tragedies and preventing the next one.

How our community’s program works, the role our police department plays, and our top takeaways on implementing the group violence intervention strategy, are below.

What is GVI?

GVI is based on a model developed by David Kennedy, director of the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The South Bend group of community leaders, social service providers and law enforcement liked a few things about GVI:

  • Functions as a partnership among law enforcement agencies, service providers and the community
  • Focuses on directing resources to those at highest risk of involvement in gun violence
  • Demonstrated success in other cities

GVI promotes a multifaceted approach to violence, while focusing resources on groups, which have been demonstrated to drive the majority of gun violence across cities. The strategy relies on the term “groups” rather than “gangs” because violent groups drive gun violence whether or not they are organized enough to meet the legal definition of a gang.

GVI relies on direct communication with those most at-risk for involvement in gun violence. This occurs in two primary forms. Call-ins are a group communication that typically occurs two to three times per year and in which about 20 to 25 individuals at-risk for gun violence receive the GVI message. Community members are present for this meeting, which also includes service providers and law enforcement. Custom notifications are individual communications that happen on an as-needed basis in order to prevent and interrupt cycles of violence, and ensure that individuals have access to information and supportive resources before making a decision.

GVI requires that community members, service providers and law enforcement agencies communicate directly with representatives of these groups to share the message “we’ll help you if you let us, we’ll stop you if you make us.” The promise that we communicate has three components:

  • Community members provide a credible, moral message against gun violence
  • Service providers deliver a range of services that meet the needs of this population and provide an honorable exit for those who want it
  • Law enforcement ensures that groups that continue to drive violence in the city will receive coordinated and swift attention in order to make the community safer
How the Group Violence Intervention Works in South Bend

The South Bend Police Department is one of the key partners in South Bend’s GVI. The department’s Strategic Focus Unit is responsible for the day-to-day work of GVI. The unit also works closely with the Investigative Bureau and Patrol Division to incorporate GVI across the department.

Day to day responsibilities for group violence intervention by South Bend PD include:

  • Participating in call-ins and custom notifications to ensure that group members know ‘We’ll help you if you let us, we’ll stop you if you make us.’ Law enforcement contributes to these conversations alongside social service and community partners whenever possible, and convey the social service and community messages when partners cannot be present.
  • Organizing and analyzing intelligence and data around gun violence and the groups driving it in the city in order to drive strategy and decisions about resource allocation.
  • Referring at-risk individuals to a street outreach team who can provide support and resources to those interested in another way of life.
  • Identifying groups that continue to drive violence, creating a strategy, and executing on an enforcement action in coordination with other law enforcement partners.

Over time, the city has also taken an increasingly active role in project management for the strategy. The project manager helps to ensure continuous improvement and effective collaboration between all partners.

The city has allocated funding to support innovations within the strategy, such as providing funding to Goodwill Industries of Michiana to help support the launch of a street outreach team. The team, Stand Against Violence Everyday, known as S.A.V.E. for short, works in schools and the community to help the GVI partnership better reach those individuals at highest risk. They are often present on the scene of shootings, form relationships with at-risk youth, collaborate with community members on peace walks and other events and have conversations directly with those who are caught up in gun violence. This team, which has been active for a little over a year, is already helping to break cycles of retaliatory violence in South Bend.

Eatch the March 2018 WNDU, an NBC local affiliate, report:

Three Lessons on Group Violence Intervention

As we continue to grow and improve, we have learned a few lessons that apply to not only reducing gun violence, but to tackling any complicated social issue.

  1. Nurture city to city relationships – At least once a quarter, a group of leaders convenes to discuss progress, challenges and priorities for South Bend GVI. This group is full of busy people who have a million places to be on any given day, but they show up consistently and fully, and they allocate staff and resources to support GVI on a daily basis. They are ready to have the hard conversations that are necessary to do this work. No matter their differences, this group shares the common goal of making South Bend better, and they are committed to working together as the best way to achieve this. 
  1. Learn from your peers and adapt for your city – One of the greatest things about GVI is the network of cities convened by the National Network for Safe Communities that are working to address the same challenges, implementing a similar model while innovating and building on it. Leading up to and following the launch of our street outreach team in 2018, we leaned heavily on our partners in cities like Stockton, California, and Detroit who were already experienced in offering this service. While we learn so much from other cities and are always ready to offer our own lessons to cities getting started with group violence intervention, it’s also important to take the next step and engage on these learnings with your local partners. Be rigorous and reflective about what works in your community and how things might need to be tweaked to work for your community’s unique context. 
  1. Never stop improving – South Bend GVI regularly undergoes implementation reviews, both internally and with support from their technical assistance advisors at the National Network for Safe Communities, to make sure that we are on track with all core components of the strategy and to identify ways that we can improve. We’ve also worked hard to create a collaborative environment in which partners communicate openly with one another about challenges and work together to identify and implement improvements.
Outcomes and Impact

Impact on High Risk Individuals

Relationships are what allow us to build and sustain a coordinated, ever-evolving effort to address one of the greatest challenges in our city.

While strong relationships across sectors and organizations are both a very positive outcome of GVI in South Bend and the ‘oil’ that keeps the motor running, perhaps the most important indicator is what we hear from those who are most at risk of shooting or being shot.

Does our message, our strategy, resonate with them? While we don’t get through to everyone, many participants tell us that the honest, real message – with elements of hope and help and also a clear explanation of the consequences for those who continue to drive violence in our city, is exactly what they needed to hear.

For the past several call-ins, most of the participants stayed after to eat and mingle with community members, to talk about what they need and how their life is going. It is normal that over half of those individuals connect with our support and outreach team at Goodwill Industries, and many of engaged participants go on to accept social services or to refer a friend who they perceive are in need of violence intervention.

In 2018, Goodwill Industries launched its street outreach team, SAVE, which allows South Bend GVI to be more responsive to shootings, support those who are most at risk and prevent instances of retaliatory violence. SAVE is strengthening relationships with key partners by collaborating with schools and faith leaders to reach those most at risk for violence and multiply impact.

Sustaining & Increasing the Impact of GVI

Because GVI is a long-term strategy, and not a program, we will continue to evolve to keep up with the latest best practices and to stay aligned both with what our community needs and what we know works to reduce violence.

Law enforcement continues to adopt new technologies and tools to make the community safer and identify those who are most at risk. For example, this year the South Bend Police Department hired a social network analyst, who can map out the organization of groups so that we identify the most connected, influential people in each group to help us spread the GVI message.

South Bend will continue to work with GVI partners and peer cities through the collaborative National Network for Safe Communities, building best practices together.

About the Author

Danielle Fulmer is currently the Human Resources Business Intelligence Manager for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. She was formerly the Director of Business Analytics at the City of South Bend. During this time, she provided strategic and project management support for the South Bend Group Violence Intervention. In both of these roles, Danielle’s focus has been on helping government organizations become more effective, efficient, and data-driven.

Access our previous coverage of this group violence intervention initiative:

Goals for 2019 and Beyond, By South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Read related coverage of local government strategies to reduce violence:

Yale Finds New Haven Deterrence Strategy Reduced Gun Violence

3 Tactics Cities are Using to Drive Down Crime

 

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EfficientGov seeks expert insights to share with civic leaders. The views and opinions expressed in our guest columnist articles are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position or opinion of EfficientGov.