How Louisville’s violence prevention network is trying to stop shootings before they start

Louisville’s Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods is building a comprehensive violence prevention network by connecting new and existing programs run by nonprofits, government agencies and grassroots groups alike that officials say will be fully operational by summer.

It’s a huge undertaking — and a relatively new approach — made possible by the $15 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding earmarked last year for specific violence prevention and response programs over the next four years.

The hope is to reduce violence with a citywide, coordinated effort by avoiding duplication that can put stress on individuals and families in crisis, said Paul Callanan, assistant director of the Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods office.

“What you’re seeing today is gun violence prevention transitioning into a public health initiative, which we’ve never seen before,” said Dr. Keith Miller, the associate trauma medical director at the University of Louisville Hospital. “Gun violence has not been lumped into the public health bucket of issues our city faces until now.”

The first response to a shooting in Louisville is always by law enforcement, Callanan said.

Robert Moore, a chaplain for Goodwill Industries of Kentucky and a caseworker for Joshua Community Connectors, is part of a network of resources that helps individuals touched by violence and other barriers that prevent them from being successful.

But the idea is to streamline what comes next: minimizing retaliatory violence and addressing victims’ needs. Further, the network seeks to mobilize neighborhoods and individuals to help with prevention efforts on a smaller scale.

The Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods office has been working with local organizations and government agencies for months to establish partnerships and build the infrastructure to execute a slew of programs that involve violence interrupters, case managers, mental health and victim service workers, churches and opportunities for ordinary community members to get involved.

The plan is to have all the programs operating by the end of May, which is typically when the city sees a violence spike, Callanan said.

“The collaboration we’ve been able to foster among different groups that have been working on this issue is starting to bring everything together,” said Dondre Jefferson, program manager for the city’s Group Violence Intervention (GVI) program, a partnership between law enforcement and community agencies that targets gangs and groups at risk for committing violence.

Existing efforts like GVI, the University of Louisville’s hospital-based violence intervention program and programs run independently of local government are being incorporated into this prevention framework.

“Nobody in the city minimizes the urgency to address violence right now,” Callanan said. “The problem that we run into is the critical process of setting things up. If we rush too fast and we don’t put the structure in place or we don’t put the training in place, these projects will fall apart.”

Here’s a look at how the network will function.

Violence interruption and services

Louisville has been working to get 80 outreach workers in place, spanning nine organizations.

Those workers include both front-line violence interrupters, who will engage the high-risk individuals driving violence and mediate conflict, and caseworkers who are responsible for connecting those individuals to the services they need to change their lives.

The 2021-22 Metro Government budget included funding for two of those sites — No More Red Dots, an already operational Portland-based nonprofit that was defunded by the city in 2019 but continued to do the work with volunteers, and YouthBuild Louisville, an existing organization in the Smoketown neighborhood that’s in the process of hiring its interrupters.

The city’s Safe Neighborhoods caseworkers will prioritize long-term case management for those who are identified, which includes assessing trauma and risk factors, understanding their social network and determining short- and long-term needs, which could be food, housing, mental health treatment or a plan to help them go back to school.

Goodwill Industries of Kentucky is part of a network of community resources the city relies on to help with issues like gun violence prevention. The Spot, for example, is a new program run by Goodwill and Kentuckiana Works that targets young adults with barriers in need of resources like help with jobs and education.

The U of L’s hospital-based intervention program team, which includes three community health workers who are funded by the city but employed by the hospital, will continue its work engaging high-risk individuals at the hospital who are injured by stab or gunshot wounds, and the Peace Education team will provide the aftercare and connect those patients to services they may need following their hospital stay.

“The idea is that there’s a teachable moment or a vulnerable period of time where patients might be more likely to accept help after being injured,” Dr. Miller told The Courier Journal.

Though the acceptance rate is around 15 to 20%, he said one life saved is worth the effort.

“Funding the hospital component is a small part of what the city is doing from a violence reduction strategy,” Miller said. “We think it’s a key point of contact, especially when you’re talking about over 1,000 individuals (impacted by violence) on an annual basis.”

All outreach workers will go through formal Cure Violence Global training as well as another 80-hour course that focuses on topics like understanding behavioral changes and effective interventions. Those agencies all fall under the city’s Pivot to Peace Initiative.

“All those organizations are expected to work together on a regular basis on how we’re addressing critical incidents and how we’re engaging individuals,” Callanan said, adding that the city is breaking down “silos” between organizations that previously affected their ability to be successful in reducing violence.

Addressing secondary needs

Once someone at risk of committing violence is identified, a Safe Neighborhoods or Peace Education case manager will also loop in the other government agencies the person or family might be working with already.

For example, if someone is involved in the criminal justice system, part of the foster system or already receiving services from other public agencies, the case manager will put together a team from the involved agencies to develop an action plan.

“The biggest stressors to a lot of our families and individuals involved in violence is that they’re involved in a lot of systems, and they all have case plans,” Callanan said. “Eventually, they become frustrated. … The idea is to look across sectors of who is supervising them and create a team that comes up with a coordinated case plan that’s fair to the family or individual.”

Callanan said he’s met with Jefferson County Public Schools, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the probation and parole office and other agencies to develop protocols and address information sharing, which often gets in the way of public agencies working together.

Robert Moore, a chaplain with Goodwill and case manager with Joshua Community Connectors, teaches a class at Goodwill on Thursday night.Oct. 26, 2021

Group violence intervention

Though separate from Safe Neighborhoods programming, individuals identified through GVI will receive services from the city’s long-term caseworkers and resources from the network of community organizations.

The program, which has been in place in Louisville for about a year, was developed in the 1990s by a professor from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and is locally guided by four advisors from the college.

It’s a collaboration by city staff, LMPD, state and federal criminal justice agencies and community organizations to identify individuals who are part of groups and gangs at high risk of committing violence. GVI staff develop “scorecards,” driven by LMPD’s intel, that track each known violent group or gang, which can have as few as two or as many as 10 members, Jefferson, the GVI program manager, said.

Once identified, they’re approached through what’s called a custom notification — an in-person visit — and warned about the consequences of continuing down such a path, but they’re also given the opportunity to accept services that can help move them away from a violent lifestyle.

The program also reaches out to families who are directly affected by group violence and offers them services and support, which could be extra police patrols so they feel safer, housing relocation or help to navigate the state’s reimbursement program for funerals.

In a weekly meeting, LMPD presents detailed information about the week’s shootings and homicides so the law enforcement and community partners can better understand what’s driving the violence and who to reach out to.

After the custom notification, Safe Neighborhoods caseworkers follow up with communication multiple times a week, even if the individual rejects services. The rate at which individuals accept the help is often low in the beginning, said Keith Talley, who oversees the program in his role as chief of community building for Metro Government.

“What we’ve seen in other communities and what we expect to see here is once that trust is built up, folks will start saying, ‘Well, you know I need some help with this,’” Talley said. “You really have to have a long-term lens.”

Jefferson said of the 92 custom notifications to potential violence perpetrators and 29 responses to violence victims in 2021 from when they began in April, only two were revictimized or re-perpetrated.

Robert Moore, a chaplain with Goodwill and case manager with Joshua Community Connectors, teaches a class at Goodwill on Thursday night.Oct. 26, 2021

And figures so far this year have been similar — of the 49 custom notifications made by mid-March, there have only been two cases of recidivism.

“There are lots of different efforts going on alongside us are that helping curb violence,” Jefferson said. “It’s good to see that this effort is bigger than GVI.”

Coordinated crisis response

The federal ARP dollars are funding three projects that help address violence-related trauma in Louisville.

The Community Sanctuary Project will mobilize churches to open their doors for a few hours a day over the course of three days when there’s a violent or tragic incident in a particular neighborhood. The idea is to give secondary victims who distrust law enforcement or government systems a safe place to access mental health treatment or faith-based guidance, Callanan said.

The Safe Neighborhoods office hired a full-time coordinator and is in the process of hiring faith liaisons, all of whom will recruit churches, identify mental health organizations that will be on call to respond and develop a plan to execute such “triage” sites.

The goal is to get at least 25 or 30 churches on board and to include churches all over the city that might not have a connection to a community in need but can help by providing other types of resources, Callanan said.

The incidents that will prompt a church opening will be determined through another project — a victim support team — that will develop a coordinated protocol for responding to gun violence victims. In the first year, the team will identify 100 incidents that “shock the conscious” more than the average shooting, he said.

Callanan said LMPD’s Victim Services Unit is overwhelmed, and the idea is to work with existing victims organizations and support groups to determine the best way to directly address the short- and long-term needs.

The third project is to expand access to trauma therapy across the city by training counselors and mental health workers on racial trauma and alternatives to traditional cognitive therapy.

For example, the funding will allow for the hiring of a full-time therapist at The Spot, which is a new, comprehensive program for struggling young adults run by Goodwill Industries of Kentucky and Kentuckiana Works.

Chauweda Smith, a social worker and founder of Total Life Counseling, talks with Iesha Hensley during one of their sessions when she gets emotional. Smith’s organization, which is contracted by numerous organizations in the city, is one of the prominent trauma counseling centers in the West End. Oct. 26, 2021

Community mobilization

The Safe Neighborhoods office has been coordinating the development of two new community mobilization projects that allow neighborhoods and individuals to get involved in violence prevention.

The first program, launched late last year, identified six communities — Newburg, Park Hill, Portland, Russell, Shawnee and Smoketown — based on crime and gun activity where “intervention” teams of resident volunteers have been put in place.

The teams are led by three project specialists hired by the Safe Neighborhoods office and have been trained on crime prevention through environmental design so they can assess their neighborhood for determinants of violence and devise a plan to address them.

That could mean planting trees, eliminating blight or installing lighting for safety.

The funding covers two years per site with the option to go to four. The team members are responsible for prioritizing what projects they want to fund first, but the city is also giving them the tools to be able to go after outside funding so they become self-sustaining, Callanan said.

The second program is a capacity-building fellowship that’s helping 10 grassroots organizations that are led by or service Black, Indigenous and people of color — chosen from a pool of 40 applicants — develop the knowledge and infrastructure needed to be effective.

An organization called Resilia, through Metro United Way, provides coaching, training and back-office development support for these Louisville groups: Hip Hop Into Learning, Each One Teach One Re-entry Fellowship, The Butterfly Center, The Hope Buss, Reviving Urban Neighborhoods, Arts and Activism, Prominent Youth of America, Men Against Violence, AONE All Stars and The ACE Project.

The existing Ambassador programs will also continue to be funded with ARP money: one that trains groups of individuals with an interest in violence prevention six times a year and one that brings all those trainees together for a networking night hosted by a local organization doing similar work.

Joshua Community Connectors

The nonprofit organization based in the Russell neighborhood operates on a smaller scale but also provides case management and “wraparound” services for those with some kind of barrier, said founder and president Kim Moore.

The organization, which is funded by private money from foundations and individuals, is currently serving 22 clients ages 25 to 35 who are referred from various government and community organizations. They provide mental health counseling and trauma therapy through Total Life Counseling and Creative Spirits, provide housing vouchers for those in need and connect people in crisis to other resources they may need.

Chauweda Smith, a social worker and founder of Total Life Counseling, talks with Iesha Hensley during one of their sessions. Smith’s organization, which is contracted by numerous organizations in the city, is one of the prominent trauma counseling centers in the West End. Oct. 26, 2021

Moore is also a consultant for Goodwill, which is a major source of resources the city taps into as part of its prevention network. She’s also part of the city’s GVI team that attends the community shooting reviews and goes out to custom notifications. Her organization is one of many that provides services to those identified through GVI.

The Spot

The Spot is a new campus in what officials say is a “neutral” part of town — at Chestnut and 9th streets — that houses a variety of job and educational programs funded by local and federal grants for young adults up to age 24.

Though most of the programs existed separately and previously under different grant recipients, Goodwill Industries of Kentucky and Kentuckiana Works tried something new when they took over several of the grants in 2021.

Rather than simple job placement, the two organizations provide holistic support in reducing barriers — under one roof — so their clients are more likely to be successful in the long run, said Dennis Ritchie, the director of young adult services for Goodwill. He said it’s difficult to send someone out to work when they don’t have food or shelter.

“Nothing like this has ever been tried before,” said Renee Walters, senior program manager for Goodwill and Kentuckiana Works. “It’s amazing what we’ve been able to do.”

Most of the young adults they help are homeless, have no family support, have experienced significant trauma or need mental health services.

“You’ve got kids here who never thought they had opportunities,” Walters said. “You’ve got to get them to step outside of what they know. … Part of that is just being there for them again and again.”

Chauweda Smith, a social worker and founder of Total Life Counseling, talks with Iesha Hensley during one of their sessions. Smith’s organization, which is contracted by numerous organizations in the city, is one of the prominent trauma counseling centers in the West End. Oct. 26, 2021

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Public health shift

Miller said he’s optimistic that the approach to combatting gun violence is changing both federally and at the city level. He said the $15 million in ARP funding is still “a drop in the bucket” compared to what’s spent on other public health initiatives.

“It’s that whole of government and whole of community approach that’s incredibly important for success,” said Talley, the city’s chief of community building.

Talley said the city is addressing the “symptoms” of gun violence through programming, but it’s also trying to address its root causes — historic, systemic racism and disinvestment in communities.

“I think everything with regard to violence prevention is going to come together the way it’s supposed to,” said Moore, who is involved in several facets of the new prevention network. “It’s a tedious process but I think the people in charge now are doing what they need to do.”

Kala Kachmar is an investigative reporter. Reach her at 502-582-4469; [email protected] or @NewsQuip on Twitter. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today:

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: COVID funds from feds create Louisville’s violence prevention network

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