State social services and local law enforcement are partnering on a tactic to prevent homicides and gun violence in Wilmington.
The Group Violence Intervention project launched Tuesday. State and local officials say it will identify groups of people most at risk for committing or being victims of gun violence, offer to connect them with social services, and set clear consequences for future violent behavior.
It’s a strategy pioneered by criminologist David Kennedy of the National Network for Safe Communities that has been implemented in several cities across the country. Kennedy will provide technical assistance for the project in Wilmington.
State officials say the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), the Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and community leaders will also partner with the Wilmington Police Department.
Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy says the state’s involvement will allow his team to conduct the “call-ins” — or in-person meetings with the groups identified as at-risk—which are central to the strategy.
“These call-ins really identify the individuals that have the highest propensity for violence— and when we bring them in, we give them options,” he said. “The moral voice of the community speaks to them. Then we offer them social services— we give them an out from what they’re doing. And then we hold them accountable.”
David Kennedy says the program targets the small portion of the population— roughly half of a percent, or “in a place like Wilmington, some dozens of the most high-risk people”—that engages in violent crime.
Kennedy says law enforcement, social services and community leaders must convey a consistent message to those identified as at-risk: “We want you alive and safe, we don’t want you in jail, we don’t want you hurt, we want you to succeed, and there is a way that we will concretely help you right away if you want that. And there will be accountability for homicide and gun violence.”
“If we engage with them in the right way and with the groups that they’re with, we can have this rapid transformative impact on violence while not treating everybody else in the neighborhood as if they’re a potential felon, because they’re not,” Kennedy added.
But University of Delaware sociologist Yasser Payne, who has studied violence in Wilmington, says Group Violence Intervention’s impact elsewhere has not been entirely positive.
“I think GVI is a good thing if it does not come to Wilmington and lock a bunch of people up and displace them, and not provide opportunities for them,” he said.
The Department of Health and Social Services plans to connect at-risk individuals identified through the project to services including food benefits, cash assistance, and subsidized employment and training. Former Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings will lead that effort as the newly appointed Director of Group Violence at DHSS.