Cure Violence: NOLA’s Public Health Approach to Decreasing Murder Rates

New Orleans reported a near 50-year low in the count of murders committed for 2018. With a total of 146 people, it was the lowest annual murder toll since 1971 (116 homicides). This record low causes us to ask the question – will the decline continue? What was the cause of the fall? Can we identify and replicate all successful efforts?

A few published reasons for the 2018 decrease in murder rate follow:

  • TIGER (Tactical Intelligence Gathering and Enforcement Response): a team of officers assigned to tackle armed robbery and carjacking cases for as long as is needed to solve the case. TIGER has also been assigned shooting cases. They are focused on subjects who are repeat offenders.
  • Street surveillance cameras: images captured from these cameras are given to the public. These images are high quality and high resolution. Citizens can utilize the images, reporting back to police any information that they may have about a suspect.

Time will tell if the drop in murders is temporary. Additional discussions regarding the decrease in murder rate have included the possibility that this decrease is a part of a national downtrend in murder. It is common for communities such as those in New Orleans to see a “cooler period” in murder rates after a significant spike, as seen in 2016.

Cure Violence: A Public Health Approach to Violence

While law enforcement has its influence on the decrease in a city’s murder rate, public health approaches are emerging and provide a significant impact on the decline. Former NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison recently stated his belief that initiatives such as NOLA for Life are beginning to bear fruit “from their efforts to disrupt street conflicts and connect participants to social services.” New Orleans Health Director Dr. Jennifer Avengo has worked with Mayor Landrieu’s CeaseFire and the Cantrell’s newly implemented Cure Violence. As an emergency room physician for University Medical Center, Avengo said to The Times-Picayune: law and order, alone, does not work. Mayor Cantrell is in favor of including holistic approaches saying, “all hands on deck as it relates to combating violent crime in our city.” Through her vision with Cure Violence, law enforcement is a key partner, but the initiatives for change do not solely come from their department.

What is Cure Violence?

Cure Violence can be described as follows:

“Cure Violence stops the spread of violence by using the methods and strategies associated with disease control – detecting and interrupting conflicts, identifying and treating the highest risk individuals, and changing social norms – resulting reductions in violence of up to 70%.”

The model is based on strategies used to fight diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS. It consists of 3 phases: interrupt transmission, prevent future spread and change community norms. These three phases are the same as those used in reversing worldwide epidemics. Founder and Executive Director of Cure Violence, Gary Slutkin, worked for 15 years on epidemics overseas. He explained:

“It turns out the greatest predictor of a case of violence is a proceeding case of violence. This sounds familiar…if there is a case of the flu, someone gave someone a case of the flu…this [pattern] is behaving like a contagious process or disease.”

Team New Orleans, Cure Violence, and Having International Impact

New Orleans is a part of a worldwide community working to use a public health approach to violence. Now, with 61 sites around the country, the program continues to prove the Cure Violence method is effective and in demand for replication in future cities.

Marcus McAllister, International Training and Implementation Specialist, works around the world for Cure Violence. He has worked with the New Orleans team since its inception and has seen the global impact of Cure Violence on some of the worlds most violent communities. He feels that the hiring process for Cure Violence contributes most to its ongoing success. Cure Violence will only hire people that are from the neighborhood and have direct ties to the community. These individuals are not naive to what is happening on the streets. They have personal experience with street activity, such as gangs issues, selling drugs, being shot at, doing jail time, and more. McCallister explains:

“Throughout the country, we have 61 sites that are doing Cure Violence models. I would go on a limb and say, at least 75% of interrupters, if not more, have been incarcerated, have been locked up, have been in gangs – but they changed their lives…they use their influence to change somebody and say, ‘It’s not worth it. You don’t need to kill anybody. There is a better way to approach the situation’.”

Cure Violence has sites in places like El Salvador, Trinidad, and Honduras. McAllister has been proud of the New Orleans team. He watched them change participants from the streets of Central City. They changed their lives and, at one point, were able to take successful participants to the White House and meet President Obama – who acknowledged their work. McAllister expressed:

“What I have always liked about the New Orleans team is that they have always gone above and beyond. I brag on them throughout the country because there is something about the South; they are very hospitable to begin with, but it’s always a family thing. I was really impressed with the way they uplifted one another. They are very good at that!”

As a national trainer and implementer for Cure Violence, McAllister has goals for sites, such as New Orleans, to continue its reduction in shootings and homicides, to continue funding, and to continue to train cities to understand the public health approach. He speaks of the success of Cure Violence and its global impact:

“Now, across the country, people are using the terms ‘violence interrupters’ and ‘public health approach to violence.’ We see a shift that is happening with the influx of all these sites coming up around the country. Ultimately, what we at Cure Violence want is for people to see violence through a health lens and not only through a criminal justice lens.”

Big Easy Magazine reached out to current administrators of Cure Violence – New Orleans but did not receive a response.

Nicole Nixon is a dedicated wife and mother who values leadership and business. Motivated by her husband and her son, she is vested in the empowerment and positive commercialization of black men in America.


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