Preventing Violence in Our Community

The Philadelphia Eagles Have the Right Idea: Preventing Violence in Our Community

In January, the Philadelphia Eagles launched a campaign centered around preventing firearm violence in Philadelphia, citing poverty and unemployment as contributors to violence. They’re not wrong. Socioeconomic status is linked to multiple types of violence.

This campaign comes as an Eagles player was indicted on rape and kidnapping charges after record high numbers of Philadelphia homicides in 2021 and 2022. Most of these homicides involved a firearm.

Locally, homicides in Mecklenburg County have spiked in recent years. There was a 45% increase in gun-related assaults between 2019 and 2020.


The Bad Part

Firearm violence is a hot topic nationally. In 2020 and 2021, the rates of firearm homicides in the U.S. were the highest they’ve been since the 1970s (2022 estimates aren’t available yet). Recent research suggests that unemployment during the Coronavirus Pandemic may be one contributor to increases in violence.

Communities of color were disproportionately impacted by unemployment in COVID-19’s labor market. Even in non-pandemic times, communities of color unequally experience poverty. Socioeconomic inequity is a key driver of the disproportionate burden of violence on communities of color.

Domestic violence and violence against women also surged during pandemic lockdowns, in the US and globally. One U.S. study reported an 8% increase in domestic violence following lockdown orders. In Mecklenburg County, the rate of domestic violence calls to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) and the Hope Line increased by about 5%, then returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Exposure to potential trauma such as violence, especially at a young age, can lead to a variety of negative outcomes later in life. Exposure to violence during childhood can also perpetuate cycles of violence.

The Good Part (This Part is Not Always Reported)

These violent trends are bleak. But these spikes emerged alongside the pandemic after decades of dramatic decreases in violent crime overall. For example, firearm homicides decreased by 41% between 1993 and 2018.

Taken together, these trends suggest that as pandemic-related problems fade, so might some conditions that support violence. In Mecklenburg County, there has been a decrease in overall violent crime since a peak in 2020, although incidence counts for 2022 were still higher than years prior to 2020.

Unfortunately, some of these pandemic-related conditions, like inflation and consequent economic hardship, may take years to overcome. And if patterns from previous economic crises hold true, they will have a disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx communities. The complexity and size of these challenges is daunting and often we default to fixing individuals to address challenges that are more complex and systemic.

Researchers, practitioners, and policymakers who focus on violence prevention have made strides, however, learning what works to prevent violence. And as this learning is disseminated, communities are slowly adopting and integrating best practices in prevention.

Prevention in a Nutshell

We can use a hypothetical case study to understand how a framework used by prevention and public health advocates can help us see multiple paths for prevention. Picture an adolescent named John. He was born without any predisposition to being violent, but his parents fight frequently about affording their home, and sometimes one of his parents threatens to use their gun. This parent was allowed to keep the gun even after the police visited for a domestic violence incident. His other parent tells John that violence is not acceptable and taught him red flags in relationships. In middle school, John started to sneak his parent’s gun into school to show his friends who thought it was cool, but there were too many students in his class for his teacher to notice.

Let’s use the social ecological model to see where prevention could have or could still take place.

The social ecological model is a framework used by many researchers and practitioners to better understand how social environments can influence humans. The model originated from the Ecological Systems Theory, attributed to developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner.

Briefly, the model views problems like violence as being influenced by:

  • individual factors (e.g., biology, history, income)

  • relationships (e.g., friends, partners, family),

  • community-level factors (e.g., schools, neighborhood settings),

  • and societal-level factors (e.g., cultural norms and various policies).

The model also shows that these levels interact with one another.

Here’s the model as applied to John’s situation:

Social Ecological Level Examples from John’s Story Prevention Opportunities
  • Born without predisposition to violence
  • Exposed to violence
Even though John isn’t naturally inclined to be violent, exposure to violence can have bad outcomes. A program or counselor that teaches healthy coping mechanisms would be helpful at the individual level.
  • Parent teaches red flags in relationships
  • Peers think guns are cool
One of John’s parents learned about red flags in a community program for parent-child relationships and is sharing this information with John, which may help with prevention. However, a program focused on peer norms may be helpful in the school.
  • Parents fighting about affordable housing
  • High student to teacher ratio
There were several community-level factors influencing John’s life and potential outcomes. A community could implement affordable housing strategies and distribute resources to better support schools lacking educators.
  • Violent parent allowed to keep gun
  • Unwritten example: zoning practices are often harmful for creating affordable housing

There are limited legal protections before a partner is charged for domestic violence-related crimes or a protective order has been issued.

Many families are cost burdened with living expenses given the current state of affordable housing in the US. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous families are disproportionately cost burdened.

Researchers have identified effective violence prevention strategies at each of these levels.

Preventing violence requires work within and across each of these levels to achieve wide-scale change. This takes time, money, strategic planning, and capacity.

Violence Prevention in Our Community

The Charlotte Region is implementing state-of-the-art approaches to violence prevention. Here are some highlights related to primary prevention, or prevention that happens before any violent incidences take place. Disclaimer: this list only includes major initiatives.

  1. Mecklenburg County recently initiated its Office of Violence Prevention—the first in North Carolina. The office released their comprehensive violence prevention plan last October (2022). The plan is focused on community violence, which often includes assaults, shootings, and crime-related incidents such as robbery. The plan was developed with over 400 community members’ input about local violence, which is reflected by the community-engaged and collaborative approach to prevention outlined in the planning document.

  1. The City of Charlotte is implementing the SAFE Charlotte Initiative. SAFE Charlotte is a multi-faceted initiative that aims to improve structures and policies related to community safety. The four elements of the approach include data analysis, changes in policing, a violence intervention framework, and supporting the Corridors of Opportunity.

  1. As a part of SAFE Charlotte, The City of Charlotte adopted Alternatives to Violence, a violence prevention program that uses the Cure Violence model. Cure Violence is currently one of the strongest models for preventing community violence based on research and evaluation reports. The model consists of three major components: (1) connect with high-risk individuals, (2) interrupt potentially violent situations, and (3) change community norms related to violence.

There are multiple rating levels when experts review evidence for effectiveness at prevention.

  • Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development rated Cure Violence as having inconclusive evidence.

  • Other organizations have rated Cure Violence as “promising.”

The Charlotte Urban Institute is currently conducting an evaluation of Alternatives to Violence, and the city has already voted to expand the program.

  1. There’s a lot of data to use. Most specifically related to violence, the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County partnered for the Community Violence Data Dashboard. This comes from Charlotte Open Data. Here are two other data resources:

    • Charlotte Regional Data Trust—there’s a review process in order to get this data. The data trust enables researchers to link data for individuals across various local systems, such as schools and corrections.

    • The Quality of Life Explorer shows different indices across neighborhoods, such as proximity to low-cost healthcare.

    • The Opportunity Compass visualizes 33 indicators of economic mobility.

    • Community Support Services will be releasing an updated domestic violence report in the near future.

  1. The Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage is implementing domestic violence-related primary prevention work in local schools.

Moving Forward

Our community has all of the plans and ideas in place necessary to reduce violence and create a thriving region.

Challenges that may emerge include:

  • Securing funding for prevention initiatives and their evaluations for effectiveness

  • Coordinating and collaborating across the various initiatives to optimize outcomes

  • Transforming policy and structural problems (think: approval for affordable housing in high-opportunity communities)

  • Obtaining and maintaining stakeholder buy-in

But maybe we can get the Carolina Panthers on board.

Special thanks to Elyse Hamilton-Childres for providing information related to domestic violence unavailable online.