According to a 2017 U.S. Department of Justice report, the City of St. Louis experienced a notable decrease in homicides in the year 2003 but the rate has subsequently rebounded. As we continue to see violence in our city and search for what works to prevent it, can we learn from the past?
A community-academic partnership formed last year to investigate what programming, funding, and relationships were in place in 2003 that might have contributed to the drop in homicides. Partners included researchers and thought leaders from the St. Louis Mental Health Board; the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis; and the Institute for Public Health (IPH), the Brown School, and the Social System Design Lab at Washington University in St. Louis.
With pilot funding from Institute for Public Health, the team collected crime, funding, and program data, visualized trends and conducted interviews to explore the relationship between crime, and funding for violence prevention between 1995 and 2008. The period when homicide rates dropped in the City of St. Louis in 2003, became a focal point for the team’s ultimate findings.
Tamsen Reed, a dual MSW/MPH candidate from Washington University in St. Louis and key researcher on the project recently gave a synopsis of these findings at a meeting of the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission.
In addition to Reed, the project team members include:
- Patrick Fowler, PhD: Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis
- Anne Trolard, MPH, and Poli Rijos, MSW, LCSW: Institute for Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis
- Tamsen Reed, MSW, MPH: candidate at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis
- Serena Muhammad, MFA: St. Louis Mental Health Board
- Richard Rosenfeld, PhD: University of Missouri-St. Louis
- Ellis Ballard, MPH/MSW: Social System Design Lab at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis
As the key researcher on the project, Reed spent nearly a year reviewing newspaper articles, program evaluations, and government reports. Starting with the year 1990, she built an interactive timeline to which additional research data can be added, chronicling the St. Louis violence prevention landscape.
During the review, she uncovered several well-funded and active community programs such as Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). She found that PSN fostered information-sharing between law enforcement agencies and emphasized a focus on federal-level prosecution for gun violence-related crimes.
Reed also found evidence of a unique level of inter-agency collaboration and funding for managing that collaboration. Lastly, she noted an emphasis on building strong relationships between neighborhood safety and law enforcement partners.
The key takeaways from this project are: 1) leadership is a vital component for sustainable outcomes and real impact; 2) willingness to cooperate among and within agencies, and to share responsibility, information and resources, is necessary to achieve results; and 3) funding that aids collaboration and programs provides the infrastructure for continued collaboration and sustained funding.
Given the relationship between funding and crime prevention noted in this study, can we learn from the past? What violence prevention measures can be replicated today and where does the conversation begin? The team continues to collaborate to identify evidence-based and data-driven approaches that will help prevent violence in the St. Louis region. Organizations such as the Institute for Public Health’s Gun Violence Initiative and the Violence Prevention Commission will continue to communicate these research findings aiming to address change and find solutions.
For more information about the timeline of gun violence prevention efforts in St. Louis, visit: http://tinyurl.com/STLtiki
Read more about the Gun Violence Initiative and other projects supported by the Institute for Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis.