May 2024 

Despite welcome declines in the homicide rate across the United States, estimates indicate that more than 18,000 persons died by homicide in 2023. The pain and suffering caused by such violence is dramatic, extending beyond direct victims to exert harmful impacts on family members and loved ones, first responders, and communities. Using data-informed strategies is essential for understanding the risk factors contributing to these tragedies, enabling interest-holders to develop targeted interventions that can disrupt these cycles of violence. But what tools are needed to improve this process?

We invited JPRC’s leaders in violence prevention to respond to this and other related questions. Lori Toscano is Director of Justice Technical Assistance, and Shaun Ali and Kerwin Henderson are Technical Assistance Specialists. They oversee several projects focused on helping local and school communities address violence and are the main technical assistance providers to local communities receiving violence prevention grants in Pennsylvania. They recently collaborated with our partner, Muflehun, to develop a new tool known as the Violence Prevention Navigation Framework (VPNF) to help communities address violence. The following answers represent collective responses from the team.

Violence prevention is a priority in the United States. However, you say there are gaps in how violence is addressed. What are the gaps?

Historically, violence prevention efforts have been fragmented and underfunded, forcing localities to focus primarily on short-term solutions. States and localities often struggle taking inventory of what violence prevention efforts already occur in their jurisdictions, leading to duplication of effort. Lack of data, specifically cross-sector data, can lead to large investments in siloed solutions and ineffective, often controversial, technology and strategies, such as surveillance and heavy-handed enforcement.

You have developed the VPNF process to help communities address these gaps. What is VPNF?

The VPNF is a new method for addressing gun violence. It uses big data, machine learning, and local partners’ collective knowledge to analyze community- and society-level risk and protective factors related to gun violence. Using that information, the VPNF process then prioritizes the factors that have the greatest impact, whether positive or negative, on local gun violence. With that list of factors, we then provide decision-makers with evidence-based recommendations for program and strategy investments that can have the biggest impact.

Let’s say a city wants to use VPNF. How does it help them?

VPNF provides state and local leaders with a clear understanding of the specific challenges that their communities face regarding gun violence. For a city, it gives them access to the full landscape of the quantitative data analysis which consists of more than 70 community- and society-level factors that act as risk factors for—or protective factors against—community gun violence. Our technology then analyzes these data and lists the factors according to their level of impact. It can also show how each factor has changed over time.

With this list, we have a starting point to dig deeper. Through interviews and surveys with relevant community and government stakeholders, including those directly impacted by the violence, we can work to identify why the factors are showing up as they are and can glean the people perspective to supplement the quantitative data. In the end, the city’s leaders have a clear picture of the community and society-level root causes for gun violence in their locality. We can then provide a series of recommendations of programs, policies, and strategies to address these identified causes, which can result in data-informed funding and strategic decision-making to meaningfully address root causes and historic inequities. VPNF provides a city with a stronger foundation for long-term gun violence prevention, based on comprehensive data and community input.

Once you have provided the data and recommendations to a jurisdiction, what happens then?

They will then need to work toward implementation, which can happen in a variety of ways. For instance, a jurisdiction may decide to use our recommendations to develop or revise their transit plan, reconsider locations of physical and mental health services, increase civic engagement opportunities, or pursue some combination of those approaches. Additionally, we can work with the jurisdiction on how to use the data and recommendations to bolster current and future violence prevention and intervention efforts. They may decide to implement initiatives to address the factors identified in our analyses, separately or as a part of a broader strategy or campaign. In any case, our team can provide technical assistance, consulting, and advisory services to help jurisdictions implement our recommendations.

There are many types of violence (e.g., targeted violence, mass shootings, gang violence). Can VPNF inform strategies for addressing all of them?

Yes, VPNF can be adapted to address other types of violence if risk and protective factors have been identified and robust data are available. In the same way that we are analyzing over 70 factors that contribute to or mitigate gun violence with VPNF, we can adapt the machine learning to analyze risk and protective factors for any other form of violence. The process for incorporating qualitative data would be similar, and so would the process for generating recommendations. Our hope is to learn from each VPNF engagement, initially focused on community-level prevention of gun violence, and to use those experiences collectively to evaluate, enhance, and adjust the process. Over time, we hope to use the lessons learned to adapt VPNF to additional forms of violence.

If communities or jurisdictions are interested in VPNF, what should they do?

For those interested in our framework and wanting to learn more about how VPNF can help them comprehensively address gun violence in their communities, they should visit the VPNF web page and complete the Contact Form. We will then set up a call to talk through their needs and how the JPRC can help.