Since its inception in 2004, Once Vision One Life has worked to reduce gun violence in Pittsburgh’s North Side, Hill District and South Side (not including East End) neighborhoods through its unique front line intervention in turf battles, disputes and gang interactions to diffuse them before they result in homicides and shootings.
A four-year assessment of the Allegheny County program released last week by RAND Corp. researchers, however, found the program had little impact. According to the report, One Vision “had no significant impact on homicide rates but was associated with significant increases in aggravated assault and gun assault rates in the target neighborhoods.”
Richard Garland, executive director of One Vision, who’s been working to reduce gang violence since the mid-1990s, said he accepts the report’s findings.
“I may not agree with all the findings but I accept them,” he said. “It might look bad, but that was when we were young. There’s no comparison to what we look like now.”
Since beginning with a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, the program now has an annual budget of $1.2 million. Its 40 community outreach workers are paid $25,000 salaries and Garland is paid $100,000.
One possible explanation cited for the findings is the lack of a systematic coordinated strategy between the police, other law enforcement agencies and One Vision. In response to the report, Marc Cherna, director of the county Department of Human Services which oversees One Vision, called it a pioneering program.
“Very few programs seek such a rigorous review of their efforts—I think they will be just as pioneering in learning from the findings.” he said.
The county, therefore, has announced that One Vision will become a critical component of the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime. In a June 2 press release, the agency said it welcomes the opportunity to test how a solid outreach program like One Vision can be combined with a coordinated law enforcement and social service strategy, such as those used by the PIRC to be successful.
David Kennedy, who designed PIRC based on his Boston Cease Fire model that saw homicides drop by an average of 50 percent, said the RAND results were not unexpected.
“I wasn’t surprised. I’ve worked with similar organizations—and it’s not for lack of effort, some of these people are saints—but normal field experience is they don’t make a big difference by themselves because there is a lack of clear focus on the key people doing the stuff on the street.”
Despite dedication, Kennedy said, you don’t see success—but you don’t see it from the police or service providers working alone either.
Kennedy’s program was introduced to the city and county in the fall of 2008.
When his program is implemented, he said, three things can happen: people can keep shooting each other and pay the consequences, they can quit shooting and take advantages of social services offered or they can stop shooting and not take the services, which is what most do.
“That’s another place where One Vision can help,” said Kennedy. “It’s about changing the way people think, and affecting the street dynamic. They understand the currents of the street and know what drives things.”
Kennedy also said the PIRC program will be going operational “shortly” though he declined to say when the first meeting and message to gang leaders about stopping the violence would take place.
PIRC coordinator Jay Gilmer could not be reached for comment by New Pittsburgh Courier deadline.
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