The Lead

From town halls to police cruisers, here’s how 10 Pa. municipalities plan to reduce gun violence

By: - September 11, 2019 3:11 pm

State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell speaks at a rally during Gun Violence Awareness Day on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Crisis intervention workers, town hall meetings, police overtime costs, and coloring books: These are just some of the ways that 10 municipalities across Pennsylvania plan to reduce gun violence with a combined $2.3 million in grants.  

The grants, approved by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency at a quarterly meeting Wednesday, are funded with money from the Gun Violence Reduction Fund, which helps municipalities implement community- and evidence-based violence prevention programs.

Municipalities can propose their own programs to curb gun violence, or implement an existing one that’s shown promising results elsewhere. 

The commission identified two such programs for grant applicants to consider: Operation CeaseFire, a policing model developed in Boston in the 1990s; and the Cure Violence Health Model, which treats gun violence as a public health problem. The Cure Violence model employs disease prevention methods to stop the spread of gun violence, relying on outreach workers to prevent retaliatory shootings, mediate ongoing conflicts, and identify and treat people at risk of offending.

“These are models that show good promise,” Derin Myers, acting executive director of the commission, said Wednesday. 

An internal study found Cure Violence reduced violent crimes by 56 percent in Baltimore and 30 percent in Philadelphia. Officials elsewhere in Pennsylvania appear to be taking note — five grant recipients will use their new funds to implement or expand Cure Violence models in their cities. 

Among them is Allegheny County, which received a $250,000 grant to implement the Cure Violence model in Wilkinsburg, a borough adjacent to Pittsburgh. 

The funds will allow the county to “increase collaboration between the Health Department, law enforcement, community partners, and community members,” according to a grant summary, and will support salaries and benefits for four outreach workers. 

Municipalities can also use grants to cover police salaries, benefits, and overtime costs for gun violence task forces. That’s the case in Luzerne County, where officials will use a $250,000 grant to deploy targeted gun enforcement. 

This is the second round of funding the commission has approved since the Gun Violence Reduction Fund was established last year by Gov. Tom Wolf with a $1.5 million budget.

The program received another $1.5 million allocation this year. When grant applications came in totaling more than $2.3 million, the commission rolled over unused funds from prior years to make up the difference, Myers said.

He added that “it’s too early to tell” if the programs established last year are reaping good results. 

“The models are good, but we need a longer run to see if we’re getting results,” Myers said. “This is a newer program in our [budget,] but there’s strong interest for it. We’re hoping we can [eventually] tout some good results to say we need additional funding.”

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Here’s a breakdown of the recipients and how they plan to use their grants: 

Allegheny County

Amount: $250,000

What it will do: Support gun violence reduction to improve community safety in Wilkinsburg through a collaborative effort with Cure Violence Global. Funding will support salary and benefits for four outreach workers and training and technical assistance from Cure Violence Global. 

Allentown City

Amount: $149,836

What it will do: Support the expansion of Zero Youth Violence Program, which is based on the Cure Violence Model and run by a partnership with local nonprofit Promise Neighborhoods of Lehigh Valley. Funding will support salary for outreach worker and program coordinator, as well as marketing and community outreach events. 

Johnstown City

Amount: $150,000

What it will do: Support the deployment of the Cure Violence program and facilitate collaboration among local police, jails, and prosecutors. Funds will cover supplies, an outreach coordinator and two part-time violence interrupters, program coordinator, training, and technical assistance.

Delaware County

Amount: $250,000

What it will do: Support the expansion of the Anti-Violence Strike Force by increasing community policing and repairing blighted homes. Funds will support overtime for detectives, costs for town hall meetings and trainings, billboards, trash receptacles, gift cards, and youth coloring books. 

Erie County

Amount: $249,996

What it will do: Support the Erie Gun Working Group, a gang-deterrence model based on Operation CeaseFire. Funds will support salaries and benefits for police officers, sheriff detectives and probation officers, and supplies for community outreach programs. 

Luzerne County

Amount: $249,338

What it will do: Support the Gun Violence Reduction Task Force and Trigger Lock Operations, which use hot spot policing strategies. Funds will support salary and benefits for one full-time and one part-time task force agent, and overtime for police officers. 

City of McKeesport

Amount: $133,000

What it will do: Help incorporate an Alternative Policing program into the Gun Violence Reduction Program, with the goal of giving young adults alternatives to street life. Funds will support grant administration, camera sites, police vehicles, assemblies, outreach, consultation with a community outreach specialist, and two mentors.  

Philadelphia City Treasurer

Amount: $500,000

What it will do: Help expand the Community Crisis Intervention Program (CCIP), a program based on the Cure Violence Health Model, in the most violent neighborhoods in the city. Funds will support salary and benefits for an assistant coordinator, four crisis intervention workers, training, and admin fees. 

City of Pittsburgh

Amount: $250,000

What it will do: Expand the CeaseFire and Cure Violence models throughout the city, including a significant prevention component of outreach and referrals for at-risk youth and their families. Funds will support six outreach workers, supplies, and training.

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.