More than 6,000 people have been fatally shot already in this new year in the United States. These deaths are filled with so many levels of trauma for loved ones and family members. It sometimes feels hopeless that we can fix this epidemic of violence since these numbers continue to rise nationally.
However, in Omaha, Nebraska there is a community-based model that has seen significant reduction in shootings. Their number of shootings has dropped from 246 in 2009 to 121 in 2022, with the lowest at 90 victims in 2017. Their strategy has been succinctly laid out in the values and practices of collaboration, prevention, enforcement, reentry and support services. This all began with 7 people who started the Empowerment Network founded by Willie Barney.
They have astutely identified that there are multi-dimensional issues that contribute to gun violence. They have segmented the issues of everyday community violence, domestic and intimate partner violence, mass shootings and suicide. They acknowledge that to prevent each of these types of violence, each area needs to be strategized for individually.
Those strategies and discussions come from regular meetings between community organizations, leaders and law enforcement. They hold meetings every Wednesday for the community to come, hear data, speak, listen, strategize and help discover what some of the root causes of the violence are and how to find answers to the significant problems that are identified.
I found it interesting that they identified that many of the issues were related to the sphere of poverty impacted by housing, employment, job training, entrepreneurship and education.
They have united 500 organizational partners to participate in the process of assisting their community members with the help that they need and have raised $350 million for these programs and services from their government.
The key has been the intentional communication and partnership between the community and the police department. There are mental health workers that assist police with de-escalation techniques and referrals to mental health facilities. The strong relationships between the police and the community have created an environment where violence has become everyone’s problem to solve.
The model is quite amazing and other cities have begun to consider how they might use this model to help mitigate the level of violence in the Omaha community. I am sure that each community is different and will need different solutions but with the level of data gathering, community participation and police involvement in how violence prevention can be approached, I think there is hope for significant reduction of violence that is measurable.
I think it is very hopeful that this kind of effort and success really exists. I am encouraged that a community would come together, focus, work together and make significant advances in reducing violence, shootings and other crimes that create such havoc in too many communities. Kudos to the leadership in Omaha, Nebraska. May this be a trend that many others will follow.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO
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