‘A collaborative effort’: Brooklyn police, health experts, and community leaders address gun violence as public health issue

police officer at health+hospitals gun violence panel
NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey B. Maddrey has been fighting gun violence for his whole career, he said. The impact of such violence goes further than the victim and the shooter — it causes waves in their community and pain for their friends and families.
Photo courtesy NYC Health+Hospitals

Gun violence is not just a crime, or a threat to public safety: it’s also considered a public health issue, and the most recent NYC Health+Hospitals Community Health Needs Assessment found that almost 50% of all patients in the healthcare system impacted by violence — including gun-related violence — are Black. On Feb. 3, speakers including NYPD officers, health experts, and local leaders gathered at NYC Health+Hospitals/South Brooklyn Health for a panel addressing the disproportionate impact of gun violence on the Black community as Black History Month began. 

Each of the panelists — including NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey B. Maddrey; A.T. Mitchell, co-chair of the NYC Mayor’s Gun Violence Prevention Task Force; Derick Latif Scott, Program Director of Operation H.O.O.D; and Health + Hospitals Medical Informatics Officer Darius P. Felton — were Black men who spoke about their own experiences with gun violence as well as the work each of them have done to eradicate gun-related deaths and injuries.—

panelists at gun violence discussion
Panelists said that everyone in the community – families, law enforcement officers, anti-violence groups, and more – can and should work together to address the root causes of violence before it can occur. Photo courtesy NYC Health+Hospitals

“[Preventing] gun violence is something that I’ve dedicated my whole life to,” Maddrey said. “It’s been 32 years in this department working in some of the toughest neighborhoods most challenged by gun violence and, unfortunately, as the commander of some of those precincts and now even in this role I have the terrible misfortune of having to meet with families, speak with families and see the results of gun violence. It goes so much further than just the victim and the offender.”

Gun violence is emerging as one of the most pressing public health issues in this country, panelists said, including in southern Brooklyn, where shootings rose last year. Last summer, Mayor Eric Adams launched a series of “community conversations” about gun violence after a series of shooting incidents left locals shaken. Weeks later, Operation H.O.O.D. held a rally after a beach party shooting in Coney Island left five people injured. 

Panelists said local authorities need to address both the causes of gun violence — like mental health issues and lack of support and community for young people – and access to firearms in general. Richard E. Green, founder of the Crown Heights Youth Collective, said community groups and local leaders should meet more frequently to address both the prevention and treatment of rising gun violence, making sure to include local young people and their families in the conversation. 

cops investigate gun violence
Gun violence rose in southern Brooklyn last year, leaving locals shaken and driving home the need for community-based interventions and supports. File photo by Lloyd Mitchell

“Our community residents – many of whom are patients of South Brooklyn Health – are very concerned about their safety and wellbeing,” said NYC Health+Hospitals/South Brooklyn Health CEO Svetlana Lipyanskaya. “Addressing community violence, including gun violence, is a top priority for the health system, which is in the process of expanding its best practices and working with the community to develop a system-wide response to this persistent, and preventable issue, including at South Brooklyn Health.”

Lipyanskaya said NYC Health+Hospitals has been expanding upon their services to aid communities and individuals impacted by gun violence. Hospital-based interventions at Health+Hospitals aim to reach victims when they are at their most vulnerable — and have been proven effective in changing behavior, according to the health system. 

“NYC Health+Hospitals has been working on a system-wide response to community violence to strengthen our existing prevention programs and to grow best practices from across the system to make sure we reach all communities that we serve,” Lipyanksaya said.

While the influx of gun violence and gun-related deaths remain a huge public safety and health concern, speakers at the event emphasized the importance of collaboration with communities.

Sometimes working with police, community-based violence interruption programs aim to disrupt or prevent violence before it happens by offering community resources to those who are at higher risk of engaging such behavior. These resources can range from mental health support to experts who help mediate conflicts between individuals non-violently.

elite learners violence interrupters
Violence interrupters like Elite Learners work alongside the city to identify those at risk of committing or falling victim to gun violence and providing support and education to stop shootings before they can happen. File photo courtesy of Elite Learners

“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,” Camara Jackson, founder of Flatbush-based Elite Learners told Brooklyn Paper in September.

This collaboration has proven to be a crucial and effective method of mitigating gun violence, with reports noting that neighborhoods with services that offer alternatives to traditional policing seeing historic lows in gun violence before the pandemic.

“I believe that we have to allow one to reach one and teach one,” said Latif Scott, of H.O.O.D. “As a society, we need to understand the root causes of violence; the use of a gun or a knife is the manifestation of a deeper wound. We have to help our young people understand there are people and organizations here to help them see a brighter future.” 

Correction, 2/10/23, 4:55pm: This story previously misstated the date of the panel as Feb. 6, 2023, rather than Feb. 3, 2023. We regret the error.