Local Perspective Case Study: Responding to Gun Violence
It Takes a Village: Gun & Gang Violence Conference
Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson, 64th District
In California, there were 2,202 homicide in 2020 – a jump of more than 30% from the prior year and representing 5.5 for each 100,000 residents. The levels of homicides in 2020 varied by county with five having no homicides and two having at least 10 per 100,000 residents. Los Angeles, the state's most populated county, had a rate of 6.7 homicides per 100,000 with its 677 homicides accounting for about 31% of the state's total.
In response to the shootings and killings in L.A. County's Assembly District 64, Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson convened a conference called "It Takes a Village: Addressing Gun and Gang Violence." The two-day event in April 2022 brought together elected officials, community leaders, law enforcement and gang interventionists to discuss, in five breakout sessions, ideas for addressing violence.
This paper provides a summary of the themes and ideas raised by these community members and describes research-based community interventions to reduce gun and gang violence.
Homicides in California and in District 64
According to the California Department of Justice, homicides in the state increased 31.1% from 2019 to 2020. Key information about homicides in California in 2020 include:
- 82.5% of victims were male and 17.5% were female
- When the victims' race/ethnicity was known, 45.3% were Hispanic, 30.7% were Black, 16.4% were white, and 7.5% were of other race/ethnic groups.
- Those ages 18-29 represented the largest proportion of Hispanic and Black victims while a greater portion of white victims tended to be older.
- Firearms were used in about 74% of the killings in which a weapon was identified.
- When contributing circumstances were known, homicides were a result of an unspecified argument, 34.2%; gang-related activity, 28.2%; in connection with a rape, robbery, or burglary, 8.5%; and domestic violence, 6.7%
Assembly District 64 in L.A. County includes the larger cities of Compton and Carson as well as portions of South Los Angeles and South Bay. Compton, a city with about 96,100 residents, averaged nearly 23 homicides per year from 2011 to 2020. Carson, which has about 93,900 residents averaged nearly seven homicides during the same period. By contrast, Santa Monica, a city outside of the district but also in L.A. County, with a population of about 93,300 averaged nearly three homicides per year. The following graph compares the cities of Compton and Carson, with the two L.A. County cities (Santa Monica and Norwalk) located outside of the district with the most similar-sized population.
It Takes a Village: Community Perspective
Participants in the two-day, April 2022 event shared various perspectives and ideas to address gun violence and homicides in the community. Asm. Gipson shared his frustration with the situation and explained that gun violence impacts everyone in the community. "I am tired of going to funerals," he said. "I am tired of burying our potential."
Community activist Rafael Cuevas stressed the need for a community-based approach to address violence. "The solution is each person in the vicinity caring enough to really engage these young people, to really meet them and know them, and for them to feel loved and received and that will change their lives," he said.
Several key themes and ideas arose. The following analysis, based on detailed notes from Asm. Gipson's staff, summarizes the types of comments and provides examples for each category. These 68 comments included:
- A need for a plan and to take action, 28%
- Specific approaches and ideas, 22%
- Systemic issues and barriers, 16%
- Address mental health and trauma, 15%
- Empower and invest in people and education, 12%
- Governance and structural issues, 7%
The most prevalent comments and the number of instances shown below called for action, shared specific ideas, and sought to address systemic barriers.
Examples of Participants' Comments by Category
Need for a plan and to take action:
- Community driven approach
- Need for a clear plan or roadmap
- Intervention as a part of the system and reimagining it
- Taking responsibility of the village, with strategic hyper-targeted outreach and services
- Building a pipeline to give the youth a structured process to make it
- Services rolled out need to be seen, with follow ups at various times over several years
Specific approaches and ideas:
- Leadership programs
- Programs for parents returning from incarceration to help them communicate with their kids
- Healing circles to begin the process of healing, making it a regular process
- Positive career paths, summer youth programs to learn how to create resumes and fill out job applications
- Arts and other programs for children
- Connect hospitals, police, and non-profit caseworkers
Address Systemic issues and barriers:
- Create new system because broken system can't fix itself
- Public sector worker training to communicate and de-escalate
- Use credible messengers and peer outreach workers to address situations
- See individuals as humans not statistics
Address mental health and trauma:
- Deprogram harmful thought processes
- Identify triggers of anger and mitigate emotional responses
- Address emotional needs for those who provide services
Empower and invest in people and education:
- Education funding to help parents with fundamentals, like earning GEDs (high school equivalency tests), and workshops
- Empower entrepreneurship, especially after incarceration
- Present job opportunities after service is given
Governance and structural issues:
- Turf issues, help each other instead of competing for scarce resources
- Remove red tape to help identify restrictions and allow connections
Community-Based Violence Reduction:
Some community approaches have been found to reduce gun violence. The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform's (NICJR) Effective Community Based Violence Reduction Strategies report highlights four best practices to reduce gun violence and notes that when implemented, they have shown violence reductions within six to 12 months.
A summary of the four strategies include:
- Gun Violence Reduction Strategy: This approach uses data to identify those at the highest risk of committing or being involved in gun violence and deploying targeted interventions. After high-risk individuals are identified, interventions include direct and respectful communication and intensive services and support. For those who do not respond to these services, focused law enforcement is used as a last resort.
- Hospital-Based Violence Intervention: This approach addresses violence through a public-health lens in the hospital setting, often after someone is a victim of violence. Hospital workers screen for trauma and seek to identify those at the highest risk of repeat injuries. According to the report, after someone is a shooting victim, they are often more open to making changes in their behavior and circumstances. Once an initial bond is created, counselors create a comprehensive plan with clients that seeks to reduce violence and develop non-violent crisis management skills.
- Office of Neighborhood Safety: This approach involves establishing an office focused on reducing shootings and deaths through implementing community partnerships and interventions. The office provides life skills training and mentoring to those at the greatest risk of being involved in gun violence.
- Street Outreach: This approach seeks to disrupt the pattern of violence in a community in a similar way to controlling the outbreak of an epidemic disease: by reducing transmission and identifying those at the highest risk of infection. Street outreach programs used trained violence interrupters to identify violence hotspots, engage communities, and reform local norms. Following shootings, they operate in the community and at hospitals to calm emotions and prevent retaliation.
Potential next steps to help address community violence
- Focus on action and create a plan with short- and long-term goals. Potentially create a community working group that includes individuals and various representatives from the public sector, social service entities, faith-based community, and business community.
- Either with a new group or through existing community entities, focus on working towards specific violence reduction goals identified by the community. Seek existing programs and funding that can be enhanced to advance these ideas.
- Build programs and approaches in line with the NICJR's strategies. Seek to identify those at greatest risk of gun violence and target interventions to support them and disrupt violence.
"The path towards justice certainly takes a village."
–Assemblymember Mike Gipson