Blog Center for Community Health Partnership & Research Violence & Abuse

Striking a balance: Violence prevention in communities

Written by Jessica Meyers, MPA, coordinator at St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission

The Gun Violence Initiative at the Institute for Public Health turns five in April 2020. This blog is part of a special series related to the key themes of the initiative: What we know, what we need to know, and what to do about this critical issue.

Violence prevention is both a science and an art. It is technology and people. It is research and relationships. It is built environment and residents. We at the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission (VPC) strive to address both the science and the art. It is sometimes a fine balance to strike.

Our dedication to community voice began when VPC was originally convened in 2016 by Washington University and the United Way of Greater St. Louis. VPC’s strategies and committees work from the grassroots level, helping communities build capacity to lead their own efforts, to systems change to help increase police legitimacy. Even in our systems change, however, we want to center community voice. WashU’s Gun Violence Initiative is a valuable partner in our efforts to maintain our ties to community.

VPC’s Community Engagement Committee engages with community members directly. We conducted three canvassing events in some of the areas hardest hit by violence. Our volunteers went door to door talking to residents about their feelings of safety and provided information about local resources and events.Since we operate with mostly volunteers, we cannot be in every neighborhood. In recognition of that, VPC has started to offer capacity-building workshops for neighborhood residents so they can organize and lead their own prevention efforts.

According to the Department of Justice, community policing is “a collaboration between the police and the community that identifies and solves community problems.”  VPC’s Community Engagement and Policy & Systems Change Committees worked to amplify the voices of community in discussions of community policing. We asked residents about their perceptions of what’s (not) working in policing, their hopes and fears of a combined City-County Police Department, and what parts of community policing they would like to see more of. We also created an online survey that allowed nearly 2,000 residents to have their voice heard. This year, their feedback will be used to create community-informed policing strategies and policy recommendations. The Evaluation Committee, which is co-chaired by one of our partners at the Institute for Public Health, is participating in reviewing the survey responses.

Not every violent crime can be prevented. How we as a community respond after violence is also a part of a comprehensive violence prevention strategy. Life Outside of Violence, the area’s hospital-based violence intervention program which was started by WashU’s Institute for Public Health, is one of four victim service agencies that have come together with VPC and United Way to create a streamlined referral process so that victims of nonfatal shootings can call a centralized number and get a common intake form completed to connect to services. This will publicly launch by May.

It’s not always easy to balance people and policies, communities and coalitions, research and residents, but with the help of our partners at the Gun Violence Initiative at the Institute for Public Health, the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission is working hard to do just that. For more information, visit our website.