Less than two weeks after five people were shot and another injured during a shooting at the funeral of another gunshot victim, members of Pittsburgh’s Group Violence Initiative and Department of Public Safety on Monday gave City Council members an overview of their plan to combat the city’s gun violence.
In June, just six months into his new position, Mayor Ed Gainey unveiled his Plan for Peace, which, among other things, focused on looking at gun violence through a public health approach and fostering better community relationships.
In that time, the STOP the Violence office, which houses GVI, has been working to get outreach workers into the most impacted neighborhoods to build relationships with residents.
The STOP the Violence Office also works with other organizations such as Operation Better Block and the REACH Program to provide outreach workers to these communities.
Each week, outreach workers do a risk level assessment for the neighborhoods they are in, ranging from 1 to 4.
They also track how many people for whom they have “active cases” — that is, individuals who are being helped with some type of resource and how many referrals have been made to the outreach team, Taili Thompson, director of violence prevention initiative at Operation Better Block, told City Council on Monday.
“We are moving in the right direction, and we are light-years ahead of other cities,” he said. “We have already looked to address a lot of the challenges that other cities are facing on a national level.”
That is mainly because of these outreach teams, he said.
They have built relationships with teens and families in the neighborhoods and are available to contact police to increase their presence in a certain area if the worker has heard about a possible violent event.
All of the workers’ actions, such as their active cases and referrals, are being tracked through a site that was developed in connection with Carnegie Mellon University.
The site, which is not currently viewable by the public, acts as a “system of accountability” and also allows for the office’s work to be data driven, Thompson said.
An example given during the meeting showed that in Homewood North, there was a risk-assessment level of 4, with 20 active cases and 71 referrals.
This is what Thompson and the Plan for Peace refer to as a “focused deterrent model,” which is where outreach workers can connect people with resources they need so that some of the violence can be stopped before it starts.
The workers also have set up shop in at least seven schools in the city and are hoping to expand that even further as a way to meet and contact students who may be involved in perpetrating some of the ongoing violence.
The ages of victims and perpetrators have been trending toward the teens recently, including at the funeral shooting on Oct. 29 in Brighton Heights. Two teens, one 19 and the other 16, have been charged in that shooting.
“We want to see the numbers go down because we want to see [these kids] live a life,” City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith said.
She also suggested that the outreach teams develop more programming to get parents and guardians involved.
“If we’re not working on that family or working on whomever [the kids] are living with, then we’re not really helping the kids. We’re just playing a bunch of games here, and we’re not going to really see results,” Kail-Smith said.
The city recently awarded STOP the Violence grants to about 40 community groups for more outreach and programming, some of which could be directed at parents, guardians and the family unit as a whole.
Another round of grants will be awarded in January.
For the majority of a nearly two-hour meeting, much of the language surrounding the city’s gun violence referred to it as a disease that can infect young people who witness or are a part of it.
“The goal is to interrupt the transmission of the disease,” Thompson said.
Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who attended Monday’s meeting and has been heavily involved in the STOP the Violence Office since its inception in 2020, commended the city’s efforts to reduce violence.
“I believe that we are in a tremendous place,” he said.
Councilman Ricky Burgess said that the mayor’s Plan for Peace is “one of the best programs in the United States” in terms of violence reduction and that the city is in a prime position to see “transformational change” if it can stick with this plan over the next 10 years.
“This work can’t be judged in a year, in a week. … It doesn’t work that way,” Burgess said. “You have to make a commitment to the work over decades.”
Hallie is the City Hall reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike.