Detroit Youth Violence Prevention Strategy

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Main actors

Local Government, Regional Government, Private Sector, NGO / Philanthropy

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Project area

Inner City

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Ongoing since 2010/05

The Youth Violence Prevention plan brought together stakeholders to draft a multi-faceted strategy.

The impact of youth violence in Detroit is deeply felt. The current mayor and government of Detroit announced public safety as its top priority. This agenda focuses on reducing youth violence, and ensuring that young people have a route out of violence towards a high quality of life, through education, jobs, and careers. The Youth Violence Prevention plan will help young people find that path.

During a period of 10 months, the Mayor’s Office brought together community leaders, young people, non-profit organizations, advocacy groups, representatives from the juvenile justice system, and city agencies to draft a multi-faceted strategy in order to reduce youth violence. This plan launched the next step, a community-based planning process with residents, community leaders, and service providers. The plan was built upon a set of priorities defined by stakeholders and a planning framework originating from the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

Stakeholder-identified priority focus areas were adult involvement, education, employment, and law enforcement. Strategy development has been guided by a set of principles emerging from steering committee deliberations. These strategies adhere to the fact that more enforcement and more young men in prison will not solve challenges, rebuild neighborhoods, or restore a better Detroit.

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Detroit, United States

Size and population development
2011: 4,430,000; 1990: 3,703,000; 2025: 5,345,000; 2010-2015: +1.47% / year

Population composition
83 % Afro-Americans

Main functions
regional Capital City, industrial city

Main industries / business
automobile industries, petrochemical industries

Political structure
Detroit city government structure consists of a Mayor and a nine-member City Council. Council members are full-time legislators elected at-large on a non-partisan ballot. Both the Mayor and Council members serve four-year terms.

Detroit is facing numerous challenges such as: high levels of poverty and low levels of educational achievement. In 2008, 28.3% of families were living below the poverty level, compared to 21.7% in 2000. 21.7% of people living in Detroit were unemployed, compared to 9.4% in the US. Too many young people do not see opportunities of a productive life and gainful employment in their future. Detroit’s high unemployment rate often means that young people have no fully employed adults in their lives. Only 11.3% of Detroit residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 31% for the metropolitan area as a whole. Finally, Detroit’s population is shrinking (951,270 inhabitants in 2000, falling to 871,121 in 2006). One impact of the shrinking population is that some neighborhoods are hollowed out. There are approximately 30,000 vacant homes, according to a 2009 residential parcel survey, and 10,000 are considered dangerous. The proliferation of vacant homes and land lots makes it more difficult to develop community cohesiveness and defensible space that often serve as a basis for violence prevention efforts. Vacant structures also serve as settings for illegal activities.

All these reasons made it essential to improve connection between prevention, intervention and re-entry strategies for young people, with active linkages to the employment pipeline and opportunities to build entrepreneurship skills. The new program tried to join up with entities providing after-school activities and / or employment at little or no cost. In addition, efforts were made to use Detroit Public Schools as‘Neighborhood City Halls’ for a number of days each week, to bring resources back to the community and re-construct career opportunities.

The City of Detroit, in partnership with the United States Attorney, joined the six-city National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention in May 2010. The purpose of the forum, co-convened by US departments of Justice and Education, is to share knowledge and develop comprehensive networks and strategies blending prevention, intervention and enforcement towards preventing youth and gang violence. The planning process in Detroit has been collaborative, inclusive, and productive.

The Detroit three-year Youth Violence Prevention strategy is a multi-layered strategic framework aligned with DOJ rubric of prevention, intervention, enforcement, and re-entry. This strategic framework encompasses systemic reform and work in pilot areas. Anticipated outcomes are reduction in youth violence in selected areas, followed by expanding efforts into additional neighborhoods using lessons learned from the initial pilot work. The heart of the pilot area strategy is to apply strategic principles to address “hot spots” where there are elevated youth violence incidents. The goals of the pilot area strategy are not only to reduce youth violence but also to build capacity and extract lessons to be utilized in expanding to other parts of the city. A steering committee identified two areas for initial effort, Osborn/Denby and Cody.

The steering committee SC is a cross-sector leadership group representing various constituencies and key organizations playing important roles in every facet of the violence prevention strategy. It has been meeting regularly since January 2011 to develop principles, select pilot areas, and plot strategy. SC, with membership augmented by business leaders and community leaders from pilot areas, will continue to guide youth violence prevention efforts. In addition, a data workgroup supports this effort. Led by the city’s principal epidemiologist, the team includes representatives from Detroit Police Department DPD, the Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, Data Driven Detroit, and the Skillman Foundation. Efforts to build specific strategies for each of the pilot areas will be anchored in a strategic principle of empowered communities. This is operationalized by creating Community Safety Teams.

Community Safety teams will bring together neighborhood leaders, service providers, and key city agencies including DPD and others to take responsibility for guiding work in their community. Teams will be supported by a full-time Youth Violence Prevention coordinator working out from the Mayor’s Office, possibly assisted by outreach workers with more of an on-the-ground presence. Teams using timely data will monitor youth and other violence in their community, advise on resource deployment, foster alignment, collaborate across existing efforts, and be a voice for stopping the violence.

Specific youth violence prevention strategies will be selected to complement existing efforts and draw from evidence-based practice. As mentioned above, these strategies will be guided by DOJ framework of prevention, intervention, enforcement, and re-entry; augmented by aspecial focus helping young people see a path to a career and purposeful life. Some efforts can be supported with existing funding, others will reflect grant applications in process, and some will require new funding.

As noted above, Osborn and Cody-Rouge are already home to a rich palette of youth development programs, recreational opportunities, training, and youth leadership programs. Additionally, the Skillman Foundation, working with community-based partners and Brandeis University, is developing systematic analysis of youth-serving efforts, which can be seen as a prevention strategy because this will help to identify gaps in further capacity building and investment. Stopping violence before it happens and providing constructive paths for those who are already gang-involved, or have had contact with the law serve as a foundation for intervention strategies.

The foundation for enforcement and re-entry strategies will be on existing efforts. It is expected that as Community Safety Teams develop strategies, further enforcement and re-entry strategies will be developed.

Detroit wants to organize the city towards inclusive, collaborative decision making and action. Work will be anchored by SC and augmented by several groups:

  • Steering Committee
  • Youth Advisory Council
  • Youth Gang Violence sub-committee
  • Community Safety Action Teams

Financial resources:

  • 1.5 million USD from Federal government for summer youth employment, matched with 1.5 million USD contributions from local businesses.
  • 5.7 million USD Community Oriented Policing (C.O.P.S.) grant from DoJ to hire or re-hire 25 officers to increase manpower.
  • USD 1.5 million Community Base Violence Prevention grant from DoJ to implement the ‘Boston Cease Fire’ model to stop violence cycles.
  • USD 2 million from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in partnership with the Detroit Recreation Department and City Connect Detroit to provide positive pathways out of violence for Detroit young people.
  • USD 190,000 from the Skillman Foundation to build capacity and increase sustainability.

Much work has already been done. Strategic investments by Detroit City, foundations, non-profit organizations, and others have begun to build a foundation to support Detroit and the neighborhoods in the city. Major initiatives include:

  • Detroit Works Project: a major project which will help Detroit inhabitants develop a long-term plan for the future of the city, emphasizing shaping future development patterns, fostering healthy neighborhoods, and defining future economic development strategies.
  • Promise Neighborhoods Initiative: a project addressing problems in two neighborhoods in Detroit.
  • Living Cities: an effort which seeks to“re-identify” and strengthen the urban core by improving safety, schools, employment, and small business opportunities.
  • Cities of Service: in January 2010, Detroit joined nine other cities in accepting the Cities of Service Leadership Grant designed to engage residents in meaningful volunteer opportunities. Detroit focuses on community pride, public safety, and youth development with the goal of engaging Detroit young people in career exploration, service learning, and cross-cultural educational opportunities.
  • Skillman Good Neighborhoods Initiative: the Skillman Foundation is in the fifth year of a 10-year USD 100 million commitment to six neighborhoods in Detroit focused on improving young people’s well-being.
  • Excellent Schools Detroit: this coalition, committed to having every school student in an excellent school by 2020, implements a transformational plan designed to foster excellence across traditional public, charter, and private schools.
  • United Way Turnaround Schools: The United Way for Southeastern Michigan seeks to turn around high school “dropout factories” in the tri-county region.

Because of the short time which just has passed since the initiative has started, there are not enough outcomes which can be noted. Prevention plans need more time to show the goals. Creating a new foundation can be counted as a major first step in starting initiative to reduce youth violence in Detroit. In the meantime data from pilot areas where the strategy is implemented will be collected. Results will be announced as soon as possible.

Youth violence in Detroit, as in too many municipalities, is an epidemic. Hardly a day goes by in the United States and elsewhere without a report of a seemingly senseless assault by a young person. The "invisible" part of the epidemic, that does not show up in crime statistics - bullying, lack of safe routes to school, ferar of leaving one's home - is a challenge in Detroit and everywhere.

The strength of this initiative lies in the very diverse array of efforts focused on young people, and the collective commitment to ensure that younger generations will succeed. While primary goals are clear, to reduce youth violence and foster youth success, particular strategies, especially in the pilot areas, have not yet been developed. Indeed, this is the next phase of work in Detroit in order to engage the community in each pilot area to develop a clear strategy. Furthermore, a number of existing initiatives forming part of the overall strategy already have evaluation and performance management frameworks in place. These will be collated and catalogued. As initial strategy is developed and existing frameworks are catalogued, an overall existing evaluation and performance management strategy will be developed. This work will be led by a data team, assisted as needed by evaluation experts.

Improving the overall quality of life for inhabitants, by changing the perception of young people being seen as the problem one in which they are viewed as stakeholders in developing effective long-term violence-prevention solutions can be seen as a successful goal of these initiatives.

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Camille Toggenburger
Berlin, Germany

Camille Toggenburger

Individual | Community and Content Manager | urban sustainability exchange

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