A program implemented to curb firearm violence in Charlotte shows promising initial results, according to an evaluation of its first year of operation.
The program, Alternatives to Violence, was piloted in the Beatties Ford neighborhood by the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and Youth Advocate Programs. The evaluation document, Alternatives to Violence Evaluation Year-One Report, prepared by program evaluators from the Urban Institute at UNC Charlotte, outlines ATV’s strengths based on collected data and offers several recommendations for sustained violence prevention.
Like many cities across the United States, in 2019 and 2020, Charlotte experienced increased rates of firearm-related violence, which, in fact, rose by 45% across those two years. Guided by a public health model for preventing firearm violence called Cure Violence Global, ATV initiated community-based programming in 2021 designed to interrupt violence before it occurs, focusing on youth ages 14 to 25, who are most at risk of being victims and perpetrators of violence. Additionally, programming aims to identify and change behaviors of those at highest risk for being involved with violence as well as prompt changes in community norms.
“Collaboration across sectors is critical to addressing violence in our communities and understanding the impact of our efforts,” said Julia Martin, special assistant to the city manager. “The initial results of the evaluation are promising, and we are excited about the continuation of this program.”
Program evaluation and findings
To determine ATV’s effectiveness, the evaluation team gathered and studied data from crime records, ATV administrative records, interviews with ATV staff and a program administrator focus group. The program database reported 1,500 hours canvassing the community and over 40 violence interruptions. Among determined program strengths were staff credibility, staff training and partner engagement. Identified challenges included timely data entry, building community trust and ensuring that individuals at highest risk for violence were identified.
Of the program’s outcomes, one takeaway stands out. Results from interviews with ATV staff showed that program participants gained knowledge and skills and have exhibited behaviors (e.g., higher academic achievement, educational aspirations) that protect youth from violence.
“Investing in prevention strategies that foster supportive relationships, promote educational achievement and cultivate strong social skills and competencies is beneficial for youth,” said Urban Institute Research Associate Angelique Gaines.
The evaluation team also examined community outcomes to better understand how ATV’s interaction with individuals might have impacted community violence outcomes. The team studied aggravated assaults with and without a gun, nonfatal gunshot injuries, homicides with a firearm and violent crimes. They found that Beatties Ford, compared with similar neighborhoods, experienced a decrease in firearm-related homicide after the first year of ATV implementation. (There were no significant trends for other types of crime analyzed.)
Evaluators offer several recommendations for optimizing future program implementation and improving ATV and violence prevention in Beatties Ford:
- Support staff in their suggestions for building community trust
- Address structural or other risk factors for violence that the team is unable to address alone
- Troubleshoot strategies to improve data entry into the program database
- Assess whether individuals in the neighborhood at higher risk of violence are truly being identified
- Prevent or be prepared for staff turnover
- Consider longer periods of initial assessment and funding
“Beyond the scope of this program, it will be important for the broader community to continue to invest in historically disinvested communities like Beatties Ford to support sustained violence prevention,” said Rachel Jackson-Gordon, research associate for the Urban Institute. “We hope the work of the ATV program combined with broader city and county initiatives will foster community safety so that residents can thrive in their neighborhoods.”
Although first-year results lean positive, evaluators concluded it is too early to determine whether crime findings should be interpreted as conclusive due to the brief time frame program effects were examined. A cumulative report that details longer-term outcomes will follow the program’s third year.