Feb 1, 2023 - News

Des Moines vows to set better violence interruption benchmarks

A photo of a man being assisted after a shooting.

Creative Visions CEO Ako Abdul-Samad responded to a shooting last summer involving this 15-year-old who survived. Photo courtesy of The Violence Interruption Project via the city of DSM

Benchmarks for a violence reduction program launched last year were overly ambiguous, according to a recently-published annual report.

Why it matters: DSM homicides increased in 2022 from 2021 and police confiscated a record number of guns.

  • The city allocated $445K for the program in Dec. 2021 and will provide at least $300K more in the 2023-'24 fiscal year.

Catch up fast: The Violence Interruption Project (VIP) is a partnership with Cure Violence, a Chicago-based program that says it has helped some cities reduce shootings by more than 30% in a year.

  • Local nonprofit Creative Visions was hired to run VIP, which approaches violence as a health epidemic by using "violence interrupters" to respond to conflicts and help prevent things like retaliations after shootings.
  • They work with high-risk youth to improve decision-making skills through counseling, activities or providing mental or physical care.

State of play: Specific goals were initially created to assess the program, measuring benchmarks like days without violent incidents.

  • But shortly after DSM awarded the VIP contract, Cure Violence determined the program's focus should be on Drake-area neighborhoods.
  • VIP staff shared concerns with city officials that the targeted areas would not encompass the full scope of high crime probability, according to the report.

What's happening: In its first year, VIP responded to more than three dozen incidents and was able to diffuse most without violence, per the report.

  • The team also responded to multiple shootings, including some outside its targeted area.
  • And it launched a program at Meyer Hall to work with incarcerated youth.

Reality check: DSM children as young as 10 are carrying guns.

  • In one case in the report, a mother approved of her 12-year-old having a gun, and VIP officials later confirmed through its sources that there had been a contract hit out on his life.

What they're saying: Factors that lead to violence are often complex and influenced by issues beyond the immediate control of local officials, DSM Police Sgt. Paul Parizek tells Axios.

  • It's also not always clear what or how violence prevention efforts influenced outcomes, he says.

Yes, but: Police believe VIP has succeeded in reaching some youth and reduced risks of retaliation in some cases, Parizek noted.

  • VIP will increase mediation among youths and work more closely with schools in coming months, Creative Visions CEO Ako Abdul-Samad tells Axios.

The bottom line: Moving forward, specific metrics need to be determined to help substantiate the VIP's work and instill community confidence in the program, the report concludes.


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