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Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference 4 Organizational Issues As task force and plenary discussions produced the portfolio of violence prevention interventions summarized in Part 3, four concerns surfaced repeatedly: costs, the need for local organizational changes, changes in the relationships between different levels of government, and the need to evaluate programs and keep an open mind concerning what works. This final point deserves special emphasis because knowledge about what interventions work—and under what circumstances—is very limited. Discussions of these four topics were less definitive than discussions of interventions. Nevertheless, participants suggested that reducing violence will require initiating some innovations without full knowledge of their probable consequences, then refining them as consequences become clear. Both scarce resources and organizational incentives must be directed to support this innovation strategy, sometimes called ''Ready, fire, aim!" Elements of this strategy include intervening on a small enough scale to limit risks to acceptable levels, so that fear of failure doesn't paralyze action; doing enough advance planning to develop a threshold level of consensus and to innovate with awareness of operational realities, but not enough to lose the sense of urgency about reducing violence; and incorporating an evaluation mechanism just secure enough to maintain a degree of accountability and sensitive enough to signal needs to modify the intervention, but not so elaborate that it stifles or diverts the innovation. As one speaker put it:
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Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference Just as we protect society from [ineffective] and harmful [medications] by first testing them and measuring their effects, we ought to be assessing our social programs for safety and efficacy before accepting them as [universally] effective. We can learn about the causes of violence by learning how to reduce it. The remainder of this part discusses ideas that emerged from the conference about resources, innovations in local government organization, and new intergovernmental links needed to support action against violence. The Cost of Controlling Violence The task forces received no guidance in how to treat budget constraints. As a result, they recommended interventions with a wide range of costs. However, all task forces implicitly accepted the constraints now facing all levels of government and focused more attention on ways to better use current resources rather than on suggesting major new spending initiatives. A consistent refrain was for federal and state governments to loosen the reins and give local officials more discretion to mobilize resources to fit the needs and priorities of their cities. Many ideas called simply for new ways of approaching problems and, it seemed clear, would cost little, if anything. Other recommendations seemed likely to require substantial investments, while the costs of others would depend on program participation levels that are difficult to predict. Still others would actually save money by reducing incarceration costs, which are among the fastest growing items in state budgets. Acknowledged uncertainty about costs and savings raised the needs for two approaches: develop preliminary estimates or estimation methods for the costs and savings of the selected interventions recommended in Part 3, and develop a voluntary system and repository for exchanging information about actual experience with costs and savings and update the preliminary estimates and methods accordingly. Local Government Reorganization Several Part 3 recommendations involve major organizational innovations, such as community policing, family resource centers, and industry councils. Successful implementation of such far-reaching organizational changes will require resolving difficult management questions and rebuilding—or simply building—community trust. Several task forces noted that such basic reorientations rarely happen quickly. They seemed unlikely to happen at all, in fact, unless the Cornet City mayor's response to the violence crisis included an urgent push to begin them and sustaining that push even after public opinion moved on to other concerns. Otherwise, it was
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Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference feared, agencies would gradually drift back into protecting the traditional bureaucratic interests of mandates, budgets, and standard procedures. One task force recommended that the mayor use the current crisis of violence in Cornet City to engage the attention and commitment of all city agencies to reorganize local government services around the needs of the city. To manage the reorganization, it urged the mayor to establish and fully authorize an Interagency Working Group chaired by the deputy mayor. Although no standard approach will fit all cities in need of reorganization, it is useful to recount the task force's description of the Interagency Working Group in some detail as an outline of the kinds of issues to be addressed in reorienting local government so as to counteract forces that promote violence. In the words of the task force: The guiding mission statement of the Interagency Working Group is that the city government and the community of Cornet City will re-enforce and re-establish peace, stability, community values, and the sense of opportunity in the community. But it will pursue this mission by focusing primarily on what it can influence—police, schools, housing, recreational facilities, health services, and economic development—rather than on what it cannot. The Working Group will focus on neighborhoods as the unit of delivery and analysis, it will utilize community organizing and organizations, and it will see partnerships—with the private sector, with nonprofit agencies, with other levels of government, and with community grassroots efforts—as critical to its success. The religious community will be an essential partner. Churches and synagogues bring to an important part of the community the message of individuals' obligations to the community. They also offer volunteers, "neutral territory," and facilities for meeting and working together and access to other organizations. To ensure that encies remain committed (and that their operational concerns surface early during the reorganization), the task force recommended that the Interagency Working Group members include the deputy heads of all city operating agencies, along with local planning and budget offices. Deputy heads of all relevant community organizations would also be invited to join. To conserve resources, manage risk, and provide a learning opportunity, it seemed best for the Interagency Working Group to implement government reorganization in pilot neighborhoods first, before introducing the most successful and generalizable innovations citywide. This particular task force proposed choosing three pilot neighborhoods—one in crisis and two in need of preventive efforts—believing that this approach would produce more generalizable approaches and a stronger constituency for change than would pilot testing only in neighborhoods in crisis. The Interagency Working Group would design government reorganization by responding to needs as they are identified by the three pilot neighborhoods. In addition to representing his or her city agency, each Working
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Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference Group member would serve on the "neighborhood desk" for one of the pilot neighborhoods. The desks would be responsible for planning responses to needs identified by residents of its neighborhood, mobilizing all city services as needed. Each pilot reorganization would begin with information gathering through a survey and other methods. It would follow community organizing principles and outreach to include as many residents as possible in meetings with the relevant city officials. These meetings would be a primary vehicle in each pilot neighborhood for creating the alliances needed to promote effective citizen-government interaction. Each agency would be expected to organize such meetings, perhaps on its own but preferably in concert with other agencies. Agencies should be prepared to respond with at least modest resources to some of the problems identified by the community. Agency heads should be warned that negotiating solutions will not always be a quick or smooth process, especially in neighborhoods in which residents have no previous experience with a government that they believe is interested in them, and so patience will be needed. The meetings should be organized to allow necessary venting of citizens' frustrations, followed by setting priorities and developing solutions to specific issues on a businesslike basis, so that both the community and government officials gain a sense of progress. While the Interagency Working Group and its board works toward long-term restoration of trust in Cornet City's government, it should also focus on providing tangible signs to all parts of the community that prompt, effective action is being taken against violence. The Working Group should be empowered to take quick actions on such matters as lighting, fencing, police visibility, and protection of children on their way to and from school. Quick responses on such matters are signs that the city is beginning to take action. They are facilitators of, but not substitutes for, the more important long-term response. As reorganization proceeds in the pilot neighborhoods, it will solve some problems with available resources. However, it is also likely to discover underlying problems that demand new resources, and to spawn community organizations that could, with modest financial support, contribute substantially to community solutions. To fund needed interventions and to assist promising community organizations, the mayor's office should designate a grants officer to draw on federal grant programs, foundations, and other private sources of funds. New Intergovernmental Relationships The conference produced no calls for massive new federal financial assistance to reduce urban violence. Instead, most of the discussion of
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Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference assistance focused either on nonfinancial forms of federal and state assistance or on delivering current levels of financial assistance more flexibly. Providing Nonfinancial Assistance to Local Governments Some forms of federal assistance other than financial grants that participants recommended have already been discussed, especially in connection with firearms and with urban economic development. Other forms of assistance and approaches were called for by the mayors and others during the closing plenary session. The importance of the expanded earned income tax credit (EITC), progress toward universal health care, and other actions to reduce welfare dependence were cited by mayors as among the most important actions the federal and state governments can take in reducing urban violence. By increasing worker mobility, making urban residents feel more secure, and increasing personal prosperity in cities, these measures have an enormous impact in mitigating the social pathologies that foster violence. One mayor called for federal law enforcement to concentrate on reducing interstate crime (especially drug and firearm trafficking), rather than expanding the domain of federal law enforcement into local violent crime. The federal government should also produce and disseminate a catalogue of federal assistance programs that can be used to support antiviolence initiatives and community-based organizations. Similarly, it should produce and disseminate a catalogue of available technical assistance and information about operational experience with antiviolence initiatives. Providing Flexible Financial Assistance to Local Governments In various ways, all of the mayors and many task force participants lamented obstacles to flexible local use of categorical federal funds to meet a broad range of family and neighborhood needs and to deliver services through the smallest possible geographical unit. As one mayor put it: [First], as we go up the channel [from local government to] state government to federal government, often the regulations and the details and the categories become more [specific], when as you go up in level of geography they should become more general. Second, … we ought to explicitly say that these programs need to encourage risk[-taking]. Right now they encourage control, accountability, auditing, programmatic requirements. They ought to be built in ways to encourage [taking] … well-intended … risk. [Finally], HUD is the only federal agency, I think, that recognizes a city exists … Justice no longer recognizes cities, they only recognize states. HHS no longer recognizes cities, it only recognizes states … So as we try
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Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference to chase HHS dollars up, we're … trying to figure out revenue streams and then fight with the state bureaucracy. It's impossible to configure services in a comprehensive way. And Justice then has block grants and discretionary grants. Another mayor summarized the problem as follows: "We need [federal assistance] in a way that is tailored to local needs, and federal response should be based on a local strategy." No task force, mayor, or federal official present was prepared to specify in detail a mechanism for delivering federal financial assistance in a way that allows local officials sufficient flexibility in selecting from a comprehensive array of services to produce assistance "packages" tailored to the specific needs of individual families. However, several speakers sketched pieces of a delivery system intended to accomplish this purpose. The pieces described included: encouraging regional offices of federal agencies to waive categorical requirements whenever necessary to facilitate flexible local use of assistance; establishing "city desks" to help localities acquire funds from programs across the federal government and marshal them to meet locally identified objectives; transplanting the service integration model from public housing projects to entire neighborhoods; and borrowing from delivery systems for other forms of assistance. Waiving Categorical Requirements Several speakers in the closing plenary concurred in the need to authorize regional officials to waive categorical requirements of federal aid programs when needed to allow local officials to meet shared goals. The discussion suggested that while senior HUD officials, at least, were committed to such flexibility, additional work was needed to get the regional offices "on board" with a waiver program. Establishing City Desks One mayor praised the idea of creating federal agency "desks" for particular cities: The person that ran that desk … would obviously have an enormous amount of interaction, not just with government officials but with the neighborhood leaders and community leaders, and get a feel for the specific problems and specific needs of an area … A good portion of the federal funds that come into your city are available to go into streams that are most [urgently] needed … That flexibility would be wonderful. I don't know if it can be achieved. However, one federal official reminded the group that organizational approaches resembling city desks were tried in the Model Cities Program during the Johnson administration. He doubted that allocation of aid from multiple departments and agencies through a city desk for every city needing help was administratively workable, and suggested: "We've got to
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Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference figure out how to take that idea and sophisticate it so that we get something that is responsive and that works." Integrating Services One mayor suggested that the service integration model of public housing assistance offered an example of how to configure assistance with the necessary flexibility: There is this service integration around the family unit in public housing, where we have connected community policing with public housing. You have grants for public safety. You have grants for economic development. You have grants that require resident participation in configuring services … So we have an example. Now the problem … is it only works within the four walls of public housing. It makes sense in terms of how you think inside HUD, but [to] those of us who are trying to deal with neighborhoods, … it's a relatively hard official geographic designation. So I think the answer is really quite simple. If we combine welfare reform with family-oriented, family preservation service delivery models, and we … have the funding streams be more comprehensive, becoming … more specific as they go down, and match these up in something like the public housing model but on a geographically more sensible scale, I think we can do it. Borrowing from Other Delivery Systems One participant raised the need for alternatives to the "social R & D" model, in which program ideas are raised, embraced as promising, evaluated in pilot tests, then mandated for adoption everywhere. Concern was expressed that that model takes too long to be workable. Alternative promising approaches may be suggested by several examples of federal-state cooperation: Federal Emergency Management Administration: Federal funds are sent to localities for rapid distribution by local authorities, a response that is quick but provides virtually no accountability in terms of fairness or effectiveness. Justice Department support of the civil rights movement: During the 1950s, the department sought information throughout the South about local groups that were undertaking local initiatives, provided support to those that showed promise, facilitated information sharing, and allowed public opinion about effectiveness to emerge without formal evaluation. Agricultural Extension Service: The Agriculture Department supports a network of locally stationed technical experts, who make validated information freely available to those who request it. disease treatment and prevention: The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disseminate recommended protocols for treating and preventing disease, along with a request that doctors voluntarily report on results obtained using the recommended
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Violence in Urban America: Mobilizing a Response - Summary of a Conference protocol and other approaches, thereby generating an information base for analysis and evaluation. All participants understood that developing a flexible system for federal assistance to support local innovations for violence prevention would not be easy or obvious. The need for flexibility must be balanced with the need for accountability, through program monitoring and evaluation. But the participants stressed that unless new models are developed, an unacceptably high share of scarce federal aid would be wasted. Bringing About Solutions As one mayor put it, calls to increase the flexibility of federal aid to localities seemed to be "preaching to the choir" at the administration level, in view of steps that were already being undertaken, but: "At the congressional level, though, we've got a mountain to move because … [consolidating programs] means the elimination of the subcommittee … that monitors a particular program." It was believed that gaining statutory changes to increase flexibility would require a much broader discussion, including members of Congress—not as committee and subcommittee chairs but as representatives of their states and congressional districts. Analogously, engaging state legislatures and governors in aligning state statutes and programs to meet urban needs would be important. Distinguishing restrictions that are wedded to deeply held policy convictions from those that are not will require serious and statesmanlike engagement by governors, state legislatures, and the Congress. Conclusion The consensus of the conference participants was that violence must be recognized as threatening the core values of national life—tearing away the confidence and sense of community that are essential to an open society. They warned that violence is a complex phenomenon, fed by diverse sources. Creating the conditions for a more civil society will require sustained and significant efforts of both the public and private sectors.
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