There is an African proverb that says: “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams.” As gun violence rates rise across the country, police budgets have been stretched like dams in the name of prevention and intervention.
To reduce violence in California, research shows we must invest in our communities. True prevention of gun violence requires us to build bridges to job opportunities, treatment, mental health services, a shared sense of safety.
How will California react after another wave of mass shootings, this time in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay?
One person is killed by a gun every three minutes in California. And firearm injuries are the leading cause of death among youths 19 and younger in California and among youths 24 and younger nationwide.
This is a public health crisis.
While firearm homicides in California have risen in recent years due to an increase in gun sales and a decrease in community outreach and connection due to COVID, this increase in violence is reversible.
Public funding of prevention, disruption and intervention efforts is critical to reducing gun violence. However, it is most effective when a public health approach is taken that integrates community expertise and leadership. This model is a clear and proven path towards equity in safety and health.
To its credit, California has increased public funding to address gun violence through initiatives such as the California Violence Prevention and Intervention Grant Program, or CalVIP. In 2022, the state allocated a record $156 million for the program. This funding supports critical violence reduction initiatives in the most at-risk communities.
However, CalVIP funds are controlled by the California Board of State and Community Corrections, an agency that oversees law enforcement, rather than public health officials. Unfortunately, as we have seen in cities like Stockton and Sacramento, where leaders have chosen to bypass the public health model, providing law enforcement with such discretion may be contrary to both best practice and the intent of financial prevention. Is.
Law enforcement is primarily engaged in intervention through enforcement of laws. When law enforcement is used as a deterrent force, it is often expressed as an increase in police or probation presence, criminalization and/or prosecution. These practices often have little to do with prevention or treatment post-traumatic response.
Incorporating community work within law enforcement links intervention and prevention. This approach ignores the social and economic drivers of gun violence, as well as the effects of street violence, interpersonal violence, and suicides. Gun violence prevention requires extraordinary expertise and an understanding that violence stems from chronic conditions of historical oppression, poverty, and racism.
Credible and trained organizations with cultural knowledge that are rooted in communities from a different perspective are better equipped to lead prevention efforts. This trust and attention must be extended to the agencies that fund and enable this work.
- So how do we create opportunities in communities and ensure smart funding for effective gun violence prevention?
- Treat gun violence as a chronic problem and use a public health (social determinants of health) approach rooted in affected communities.
- Litigation prevention efforts at the state and municipal levels are led by agencies with a public health and health equity perspective.
- Remove barriers for communities to access public funding opportunities so that those most affected can lead the efforts.
- Change policies and budgets to recognize that law enforcement is focused on investigation and prosecution tactics, not prevention.
- Recognize that strategies to reduce violence must include prevention, intervention and aftercare, clearly defined and understood.
- Ensure that organizations that facilitate community funding and gun violence prevention strategies are placed in public health rather than law enforcement (for example, the Los Angeles County Office of Violence Prevention is part of the Department of Public Health).
These attitudes will set a powerful precedent. California will have the appropriate tools to lead effective community-owned violence prevention and abatement efforts, ultimately funded at the scale of the problem.
There is no future in funding paradigms that support law enforcement responses to public health problems. There is one in communities that provides enough wealth, and that is a secure and equitable future. Californians deserve it.
CalMatters.org is a non-profit, non-partisan media organization that interprets public policy and political issues in California.