Gun violence in New York City spiked significantly during the first two years of the pandemic, and as the city continues its effort to bring violent crime down to pre-pandemic levels, it’s turning not just to the police force, but to an alternative to traditional policing — the Crisis Management System. The operation recruits volunteer community partners that can mediate conflicts on the streets and interfere with potentially violent situations before they occur.
“In order to be successful in this work, it’s a collaborative effort. It’s a joint effort between community and government and just making sure community based organizations that are doing violence prevention work and are a part of the crisis management system, that our voices are always heard and brought to the table,” said Camara Jackson, founder of Flatbush-based Elite Learners, one of the city’s community-based partner organizations.
Reports from the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety noted that while the pandemic caused a spike in gun violence cases, they saw historic lows in gun violence across the city before the pandemic began, specifically in areas with CMS programs and violence interrupters.
Date from the Gun Violence Archive revealed Brooklyn saw five mass shootings in 2019. Additional reports from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice showed citywide shootings increased between January and July of 2019. That number nearly tripled from January to July 2020, with nearly 60 shootings reported on average per week in July 2020. Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, East New York, and Brownsville were among the neighborhoods with the highest numbers of shootings reported in summer 2020.
According to ONS, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice connects CMS volunteers with Cure Violence Global, the creators of the model which CMS follows, to receive active violence emergency response training and coaching needed to properly mitigate neighborhood conflicts.
The New York City Council and de Blasio administration launched the NYC Crisis Management approach in 2014 with 50 community-based organizations.
The team at Elite Learners even receives annual training from the city’s Department of Health and other city agencies to refresh their skill set, Jackson told Brooklyn Paper.
So far the Elite Learners “has seen a tremendous amount of success” with crimes down over 30% in the areas they work in, including parts of Flatbush and Brownsville. Data from the NYPD showed the precincts where Elite Learners violence interrupters were present saw a decrease in robberies and murders from 2020 to 2021.
The founder credits the positive outcome to the valuable use of governmental support and community members as mentors.
Their work has garnered support from Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who believes reducing gun violence requires a comprehensive approach that includes both law enforcement responses and preventative work from grassroots organizations.
“Violence interrupters play an integral part in the overall strategy to reduce shootings and I fully support them,” the DA said in a statement to Brooklyn Paper. “My office partners with several of these community-based organizations on referrals to diversion programs and mentorships opportunities, flagging local disputes that can benefit from local intervention and offering support to crime victims.”
He said some crimes have declined this year due to the work of Cure Violence initiatives.
“Shootings and homicides in Brooklyn are trending down this year, building on an approximately 20% drop in these categories last year, and I am convinced that the work of our violence interrupters has played an important role in these ongoing improvements in public safety,” Gonzalez said.
Citywide, shootings and murder are down about 12% compared to September 2021, according to NYPD data. In the Brooklyn South Patrol, though, which includes precincts from Park Slope to Coney Island and East New York, murder is up, and gun crime is down only slightly.
One interrupter program, Operation H.O.O.D. (short for Operation Help Our Own Develop), focus on mentoring young adults in the area. They use their office to provide a safe environment for the youth with a computer space, office area and a game room.
Since Elite Learners began in 2016, volunteers with the group said they have discovered many contributors to gun violence — including lack of adequate housing situations, employment opportunities and access to food. Jackson says they also found young people were getting into more trouble as they were traveling to and from school.
To combat this, leaders implemented the safe passage program where they place violence interrupters at the perimeters of the schools and local hangout spots to ensure the students are protected. The plan of action has now been adopted by many education centers in the surrounding areas, Jackson said.
“It’s effective communication. It’s about noticing and being aware of your surroundings,” she said. “So what we want to do, we want to keep an ear on the street, we want to know what’s happening in the community before it actually happens. That’s why we hire individuals from the community that we’re serving.”
The office also provides what they call wraparound services, a care management approach that connects individuals in crisis with services that can help them make sustainable, long term improvements. They can link young people with hospitals, mental health offices, legal aid services and employment programs.
“It’s no one person that can make change, it’s a collaborative effort,” said Jackson. “We really provide that wrap-around approach. So we’re able to help families and youth that are in crisis through different avenues. So that’s when you see the most success. When you have the wraparound tools to keep a post in your community.”
According to the DOH, their multidisciplinary program works directly with anti-violence sites to provide safety planning, social services, and trauma-informed care to violently injured patients. Officials say they engage with victims of violent crimes while they are still recovering in the hospital in order to reduce retaliation and recidivism.
“Hospital-based violence intervention programs (HVIP) rely on trained Hospital Responders to provide onsite conflict mediation, violence interruption services and to connect violently injured patients to comprehensive social services,” a DOH spokesperson told Brooklyn Paper.
The responders are required to have completed the hospital-led training that covers program structure and protocols, trauma-informed practices, HIPPA and privacy guidelines, data collection procedures, and self-care.
The mayor’s office continues to take various approaches to increasing public safety including a gun violence prevention task force, announced by Mayor Eric Adams in June. He says the team will address the root cause of gun violence and work to prevent shootings before they happen.
“Gun violence is a struggle that has encompassed every part of our society, so we must do all we can to keep guns off our streets,” Adams said when the program launched.