Chicago Anti-Violence Program Shows Trump He Doesn’t Need to ‘Send in the Feds’ to Stop Gang Shootings

An anti-violence program that holds telephone sessions in which Chicago gang members listen to cops and social workers—a carrot-and-stick approach that both threatens an immediate response to violence and offers social services like help finding a job—was effective in cutting the number of shootings among gang members who called in, a new study found.

Gangs that had a member take part in a “Violence Reduction Strategy” call-in showed a 23 percent drop in the number of members who shot another person or got shot themselves in the following year, according to a new study from a Yale University professor and the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.

The Violence Reduction Strategy is a collaboration between the Chicago police and the National Network for Safe Communities that began in 2009 and continues today. (The study examines data from 2010 to 2013.) In a typical call-in meeting, top leaders from the Chicago Police Department and local and federal prosecutors lay out the punishment that gang members would face for shootings.

Violence has surged even more in the years since the period the researchers studied—to an almost 20-year-high of 762 murders—and President Trump and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions have both blasted the crime rate and the city’s Democratic leadership. Trump in January threatened to “send in the Feds” if the city didn’t fix the “horrible carnage going on,” while Sessions earlier this month said city leaders have “demonstrated an open hostility to enforcing laws designed to protect law enforcement.”

Gang members, most of whom were instructed to call in by their parole officers, also hear from someone who lost a loved one to violence, someone who tells them they are valued, contributing members of the community and someone with a criminal history who describes how they changed their life. (The person with a criminal history often also represents a social service agency and offers help.)

“The biggest takeaway is this is something that’s working, but it’s not enough,” Urban Institute senior research associate Jocelyn Fontaine tells Newsweek. Out of more than 850 gangs—or “groups,” as the researchers prefer to call the small and loosely organized crews—in Chicago, only 149 had a member attend a call-in during the three years her group was studied. “VRS is like a drop in the bucket. While the intervention worked, it was very narrowly focused.”

The number of fatal shootings in Chicago that involve non–gang members has dropped since 2006 while the number of gun murders that involve gang members has increased—making up the majority of fatal shootings since 2008, according to the study.

Both the Urban Institute, which conducted the study, and the National Network for Safe Communities, which developed the strategy that underpins the VRS, receive funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The report states that funders do not determine research findings or recommendations.

The study also included quotes from a survey the researchers gave gang members who participated in the call-ins, which shed light on the program’s effectiveness. “It gave me a heads-up on knowing that I can’t get up with the wrong people or the wrong place. That sticks,” one gang member said. Other participants said they passed on the message to people they knew. “I hang with some smart dudes,” said one. “They were cool with the message.”

Join the Discussion