A new collaborative strategy to reduce homicides and shootings in the city has begun in Minneapolis. The Group Violence Intervention (GVI) brings law enforcement, social services and the community together to send a clear message that the violence is unacceptable and must stop.
Mayor Betsy Hodges, Police Chief Janeé Harteau and other stakeholders joined community representatives last week to address a group of young men on probation who are also victims of gun violence. Along with telling the group that the violence needs to end, sincere offers of help were extended.
“I personally believe this dialogue has created an opportunity for our youth to understand it’s not over, that they still have an opportunity to create a life that is productive and worthwhile for themselves and their families,” said Jamil Jackson, executive director of Change Equals Opportunity. “I believe this dialogue allowed these youth to see although we have a job to do, we have empathy and sympathy and are here to listen and help change the narrative of hopelessness and despair.”
“As someone who was in a gang, who’s been shot, and who’s done time in prison, my main message to kids on the street is this: the violence has to stop,” said GVI outreach coordinator Ferome Brown, who was among those offering support. “But you also have to show these young men that you’re there for them, and that you’re going to give them the tools to live in a more positive way. That’s going to be my role in GVI.”
“Offering services and supports to assist those most impacted by violence is a critical part of the public health approach to addressing the problem,” said Minneapolis Health Commissioner Gretchen Musicant. “GVI supports that concept and my staff is excited to work with systems and community partners on this.”
Services offered could include housing, health care and help clearing outstanding warrants as well as more long-term considerations like job readiness and employment connections. In addition, personal harm reduction planning and 24-hour crisis services will be available.
“Everyone in our community deserves to feel safe and be safe,” Hodges said. “GVI is a strategy in which we as a city have focused our resources to stop gun violence and support those most impacted by the violence.”
City and county leaders told the young men that they are doing everything they can to keep them alive and safe. Law enforcement, in the interest of transparency, also spelled out the consequences for further violence: the next group whose member commits a homicide in Minneapolis, as well as the most violent group in the city, will face enhanced police attention.
“I am tired of the gun violence in our city,” Harteau said. “I don’t want to go to another hospital room; I don’t want to talk to another grieving mother or family member who lost a loved one caught in the crossfire. The next group that perpetrates a homicide will bring the full extent of the MPD and the criminal justice system after them and all of their known associates.”
The universal theme of everyone who spoke at the meeting was that the violence must stop.
“Each day there’s a chance these young men will be gunned down or take the life of an innocent bystander, like what happened to my mom,” said Bunny Beeks, whose mother was killed by a stray bullet last year. “I’m hoping this intervention will help them see that the community cares about them and wants to see them alive and free.”
“I am as tired of the gun violence in Minneapolis as everyone else,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said. “We want these young men to understand that we do care about them and want them to move in a direction that allows them to live long and prosperous lives. Because when I see them, usually one family is grieving the loss of a loved one and his family will be grieving as we work to send him to prison for a very long time. So please, do not be one of those who the cops pick with sufficient evidence you were shooting a gun. Because then, as I do in all gun cases, I must prosecute you. And I will.”
National data shows that a small number of individuals drive a significant percentage of the violence in major cities. These individuals are often affiliated with groups. An analysis of crime data shows that Minneapolis follows that same pattern.
“I am excited to see this strategy getting underway here,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, chair of Health, Environment & Community Engagement Committee and vice chair of Public Safety, Civil rights & Emergency Management Committee. “GVI is a holistic public health approach to addressing violence that the Youth Violence Prevention committee has been working towards for years. This strategy seeks to save and improve the lives of youth who may be at a higher than normal risk for violence.”
Together, law enforcement and community partners will coordinate outreach to this group of young men. GVI is the result of City of Minneapolis funding in Mayor Hodges budget which was supported by the City Council as well as a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs. GVI includes broad-based partnership that includes the Hennepin County Attorney’s office, Hennepin County Community Corrections, The Office of Mayor Betsy Hodges, Minneapolis Police department, Minneapolis Health Department and various community organizations. In addition, GVI receives assistance from the National Network for Safe Communities, an organization led by Professor David Kennedy of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who developed the strategy.
GVI is a data-driven approach and a Department of Justice model program. It has been applied in cities throughout the country with proven results, and many communities using the strategy have seen dramatic reductions in homicides and nonfatal shootings. A Yale study found that Project Longevity, New Haven’s implementation of GVI, contributed to a reduction of five group-involved shootings per month during the first three years of implementation.