Detroit ShotStoppers Program Shows That Community Violence Intervention and ‘Love is Working’

“It’s not a hard thing. It’s strategic,” shared FORCE Detroit Public Health & Safety Director, Zoe Kennedy, an organization that is leading the city of Detroit’s Community Violence Intervention (CVI) initiative, highlighting what has been the driving forces behind the success of CVI and ShotSpotters. “What we’re doing is intentional. Two to one percent of the population participate in cycles of violence. For whatever reasons whatever root causes we have a connection and relationship with that network. We use our lived experience and our reputations and our connections in that social network to mitigate violence.” 

Detroit’s ShotStoppers initiative, a pioneering approach to community violence intervention (CVI), has been making headlines with its remarkable success in drastically reducing violent crime rates in several of the city’s most troubled neighborhoods. This program, supported by Deputy Mayor Todd Bettison and backed by the city’s administration, is part of a broader strategy aimed at empowering local organizations to lead the charge in transforming their communities into safer and more unified spaces. 

At the heart of the ShotStoppers initiative are two standout groups, FORCE Detroit and Detroit Friends & Family, which have been instrumental in achieving the most significant reductions in violence within the CVI Zones. These zones are specifically targeted areas within Detroit that have historically suffered from high levels of violent crime. The recent data, covering the second quarterly reporting period from November 1, 2023, to January 31, 2024, reveals that these two organizations managed to reduce violence by about 50% and 70%, respectively, in their designated areas. Deputy Mayor Bettison says that the only kind of success is, “fewer people being shot in the city of Detroit.” 

“The guys that I grew up with felt like it was our duty to help these kids, because a lot of the stuff they were following were things that we set into trend and we deemed cool,” said 33-year-old William Nicholson of Detroit Friends and Family. “So, we couldn’t sit back and just continue to let the kids die and kill each other over nothing. So that’s what our biggest drive was, to get involved in this type of work and to be able to just be there for them and let them know, like, I understand what you’re going through, because I’ve been there before, and some of us still be there sometimes.” 

“It hasn’t necessarily been tough, because we come from that community,” explained Nicholson. “We are that community. You feel me? They see us on a daily, so they know where we come from. They know that we ain’t here to cause no trouble or no harm towards them. We are only here to help y’all better y’all situation. And it’s really like a full wraparound because they’re helping us better our situation at the same time. So, it’s a lot of love in this.” 

The initiative operates on a performance-based model, a distinctive feature that sets Detroit’s CVI program apart from similar programs in other cities. This model not only measures the success of the interventions by the reductions in homicides and non-fatal shootings but also rewards the participating groups with performance bonuses for their effective strategies. In this recent quarter, qualifying for CVI program’s very first performance bonuses, FORCE Detroit received a $175,000 performance grant for its work in the westside CVI Zone, encompassing the Warrendale and Franklin Park neighborhoods, while Detroit Friends and Family were awarded an $87,500 grant for their efforts in the eastside CVI Zone, which includes the Outer Drive-Hayes neighborhood and surrounding areas.

“We’ve been able to be successful because we do strategic planning when it comes to cross neighborhood coordination,” shared Kennedy. “We want to set a standard for the rest of the country. And our standard that we want to set is that if a city, if the politicians, if the corporations, if the philanthropic space, if the faith base, if the streets, if the education system gives access, we can reduce homicides and non-fatal shootings. And this city is a city that allows that access. We just need more. And we approve of that. We’re going to have a good, clean summer too.” 

Alia Harvey-Quinn, the executive director and founder, the heart and soul behind FORCE Detroit, sheds light on the simple yet powerful foundation of their work in the ShotStoppers initiative: a deep-seated belief in love and trust. She opens up about the essence of their mission, saying, “I think love is working. It’s actually caring about people who are at the center of violence.” She emphasizes the importance of empathy in their challenging work, saying, “it’s not an easy job to look somebody in the face and have empathy when horrid acts are, like, in the middle of it. But that’s what actually solves this problem.” She wne ton to further highlight the core of their strategy: “What solves this problem is having empathy, recognizing that trauma is the reason behind acts of violence, and showing up with care, resources, love, and consistency.” Harvey-Quinn believes these values are the key to the positive changes seen in FORCE Detroit’s designated zone. 

“Oftentimes community members, when something bad happens, they’ll say, we saw it coming if somebody just had got involved,” said Bettison. But these groups here, that’s what they do, they get involved. “They even help with relocation after something happens. And so, they all have their various approaches to what they’re doing. Some of them are in high schools, working with the kids, partnering with the various high schools in the city, and gaining the kids’ trust. They have different approaches as to what they’re doing,” he said. “I just really only expect this to get better and better.” 

The ShotStoppers initiative is part of a larger effort funded by a $10 million allocation from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act. Each of the six participating community-based organizations receive a base budget of $175,000 per quarter to implement their unique violence prevention strategies. “We’re anticipating about $8 million [of state funding] a year for CVI, as far as continuation of it,” said Bettison. “It hasn’t passed the state senate yet, but my friends behind me, these various groups, they’re going to be advocating for it. And I think that the rest of the citizens of Detroit who want safety will advocate for it as well.” These strategies often involve engaging individuals with personal experiences of violence to help mediate disputes and mentor at-risk individuals, aiming to prevent conflicts from escalating into violence. Although there have been positive data with violence intervention by these organizations many may still ask does community violence intervention really work? According to the evident data, the lives saved, the minds changed and according to Mayor Bettison, “the data is showing preliminarily that, yes, it does work.” 

Performance in the program is quantified through a “CVI Score,” which is calculated based on the number of homicides (doubled) plus non-fatal shootings within each group’s designated zone. “We know that our program is different from any other city’s program because no other program has a performance metric and base where I can say and attribute their work to the data,” Bettison said. To qualify for a performance grant, a group must not only reduce its CVI Score below the level of the previous year but also achieve a decline that is at least 10 percentage points greater than the reduction seen in areas of the city not served by the CVI program. 

The success of the ShotStoppers initiative and the substantial reductions in violence achieved by groups like Force Detroit and Detroit Friends & Family reflect the potential of community-led interventions. These groups’ ability to significantly improve safety and cohesion within their neighborhoods serves as a model for other communities grappling with similar challenges. As the program moves forward, the city plans to extend the initiative for another year for the most successful groups, further solidifying the role of community-based strategies in fostering safer, more connected urban environments. 

“We support the city. We support the ShotStoppers initiative,” said Kennedy. “If you see something working right, invest in it. Invest in it long term, because we are a complement to public health and safety, and this does something for individuals who come from the lifestyle. Everything we’ve seen done, every mother that we see cry, every balloon that we see go up in the sky, every piece of wax off the candle that burnt our hands, every shirt that got pressed with our family members on it, every GoFundMe that had to be established because we was living in poverty, it ain’t in vain. We got purpose now….we got purpose now.” 

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