Seeking to integrate public health and community policing approaches to reduce health disparities and violent crimes and improve the health and well-being of communities of color, a major federal effort kicked off last month with a summit of more than 30 attendees from nine selected projects across the U.S.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH), the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), and the Center for Court Innovation, participants in the Minority Youth Violence Prevention program (MYVP) kickoff ranged from hospital leaders to police, prosecutors, public health, and social service experts, hailing from Binghamton (NY), Cincinnati (OH), Cabarrus County (NC), DeKalb County (GA), Hennepin County (MN), Oakland (CA), Sacramento (CA), Chatham County (GA), and West Palm Beach (FL) and was hosted by the DeKalb County Police in their training facility in Lithonia, Georgia.
“Whether you are a local public official or work with a community-based initiative, your leadership and partnership with the Office of Minority Health and the COPS Office through the MYVP program is critical to addressing youth violence, not only as a public safety issue, but also as a significant public health issue,” said J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and the Director of the Office of Minority Health in her opening remarks, adding that recent events in Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York have exposed rifts between communities and law enforcement that urgently need to be addressed.
“One of the greatest struggles in this country is public trust in law enforcement,” said Dr. Cedric Alexander, Deputy Chief Operating Officer of the Office of Public Safety at the DeKalb County Police Department, who also serves on President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
Despite decreasing national crime trends, violence still plagues minority communities across the country. In 2011, homicide was the third leading cause of death among all youth, 15- to 24-year-olds, the second leading cause of death for Hispanic youth, and the most common cause of death for African-American youth. The violence that persistently kills minority youth deprives families of promising futures, affects the health and safety of entire communities, and continues to be among the nation’s most complex problems.
In 2014, the Office of Minority Health partnered with the COPS Office to craft a three-year grant encouraging local jurisdictions to enter into collaborations between policing and public health. The resulting initiative, “Minority Youth Violence Prevention: Integrating Public Health and Community Policing Approaches,” will use promising violence prevention and crime reduction models to reduce youth violence and address individual at-risk minority male youth and establish approaches that can be replicated.
“This kick-off summit represents an important opportunity for public health and law enforcement to build partnerships and demonstrate effective strategies that integrate prevention programs that strengthen youth and communities,” said Les Richmond, division director at the DeKalb County Board of Health, noting that 51 percent of high school students in DeKalb County had seen gang activity occur in their schools.
“There are abstract definitions of what public health models of violence prevention looks like—about interrupting the transmission of violence by changing the thinking of people who transmit violence,” said John Markovic, senior social science analyst at the COPS Office. “But even more important is having the projects that we’re going to be developing here with you. At the end of three years, I think we’re going to have nine more compelling examples of public health and policing projects that work.”
At the summit, participants heard from experts about how to enhance their programs with understandings of trauma, youth development, and a number of practical strategies to communicate with practitioners from other disciplines and plan for challenges in implementing and evaluating their programs.
Dr. Joel Fein, a pediatrician from University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, discussed how violence and trauma affects the brain. Sabrina Evans-Ellis, associate executive director of the Youth Development Institute, discussed ways to build relationships with young people. Raye Barbieri, senior director of youth and community programs and planning at the Center for Court Innovation, gave an overview of how to define and recruit target populations and how to assess for the services the youth need, urging shared intentionality and shared language when working with partners. And a panel discussion featured Dr. Mallory O’Brien, director of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, Police Chief Christine Hudson of the Clarkston Police Department, and Dr. Sarah Bacon of the Centers for Disease Control about building partnerships across public health and police.
“It is our responsibility to create more opportunities to keep youth out of harm’s way and on a path to realizing their full potential,” Dr. Gracia said.
Sarah Schweig is a Senior Writer at the Center for Court Innovation, a non-profit that seeks to aid victims, reduce crime, strengthen neighborhoods, reduce incarceration, and improve public trust in justice. The Center for Court Innovation is the technical assistance provider for the Minority Youth Violence Prevention initiative.