Report: Philly’s Gun Violence Intervention program is making progress

Philadelphia’s ‘gun violence crisis has been years in the making,’ and won’t be solved overnight, an advocate said

By: - March 2, 2023 9:31 am

The March Together Against Gun Violence which started at 34th and Walnut and ended at the Wharton School’s John Huntsman Hall steps in Philadelphia, PA on 4/26/22 (Capital-Star photo by Daniella Heminghaus).

By Alec Larson

PHILADELPHIA — An independent evaluation of the city’s Group Violence Intervention (GVI) program has revealed a number of positive results from the initiative, officials have said.

The GVI program is “an evidence-based approach to gun violence that focuses on group-member involved gun violence in Philadelphia communities” that is based on “the premise that a miniscule percentage of people (about 0.5 of one percent of the city’s population) may be linked to 60 percent to 70 percent of shootings and homicides” in the city, according to a news release.

The evaluation of the program was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania at the city’s behest, and found that “the current implementation of GVI in Philadelphia produced significant reductions in group-member involved gun violence at both the group level and at the census tract-level during the period of January 2020 to May 2022.”

“I am grateful for the promising results and the insights in this evaluation. Reducing gun violence is our highest priority and evaluating what is or isn’t working is an essential part of our efforts. Our battle with gun violence is far from over, but we are encouraged by the progress that the evaluation has documented. This tells us that GVI is a program that works, and we will continue to invest in this approach going forward,” Mayor Jim Kenney said.

“It’s also important to recognize that there are dedicated city employees and community partners doing the work of making our communities safer every day, and these findings demonstrate what can be done when we move with intention and invest in evidence-based practices,” he said.

Launched in August 2020, the program has a multi-pronged approach to gun violence prevention that relies on three strategies: offering social services and support to at-risk group members, focusing messaging on deterrence and law enforcement sanctions in response to violence and community-rooted messaging that de-normalizes violence.

During the research period between August 2020 and May 2022, 113 groups and 276 individuals received GVI treatment, defined by the study as “contact between a GVI staff member and a GVI recipient.”

These groups, on average, displayed a 38.6% reduction in shootings per week, while those groups that received treatment from GVI twice during the research period displayed an even larger decrease of 50.3% in shootings per week.

Following the positive results of the evaluation, the city is planning to expand the GVI program and its services. In the coming year, the GVI program intends to “staff 12 additional case managers, three site supervisors, a peer retention specialist, and a data manager.”

“Our gun violence crisis has been years in the making, with many deep-seated challenges and injustices at its core. We know it will take time, resources, and strategy to win this fight. The University of Pennsylvania’s evaluation demonstrates that when we move with intention and patience, we see positive outcomes. The GVI program was designed to identify at-risk groups and provide them with the individual and group services needed to create positive outcomes for themselves, all with the intention of creating community-wide, and eventually city-wide, change,” Erica Atwood, the project’s deputy managing director, said.

Alec Larson is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.

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