Strengthening neighborhood ties reduces the rate of community gun violence, a new study from the Yale School of Medicine has found.
Researchers administered surveys to two high-crime New Haven county neighborhoods, West River and Newhallville. The data showed an inverse correlation between strong neighborhood connections — measured by the number of neighbors each person knew — and exposure to gun violence. The research was inspired by the way resilience teams respond to natural disasters: similar to the way natural disasters devastate entire communities, gun violence also strips a community of its support systems, said Yale School of Medicine researcher and Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar Brita Roy.
“The results of our research found that social cohesion and community efficacy are negatively associated with exposure to violence,” Yale School of Medicine researcher and RWJC Scholar Carly Riley said. “Having these conversations about gun violence, community resilience and improving the neighborhood will be vital.”
Because it is the first to adopt a natural disaster framework to gun violence, the study has attracted national attention. The team leaders have already begun collaborating with centers in Los Angeles and New Orleans to help them address similar issues of urban gun violence, Riley said. The researchers also presented the new approach at the American Public Health Association meeting in November as a way to disseminate their method across the nation.
Though the conclusions of the data analysis did align with the researchers’ general hypothesis, Roy said, the tremendous exposure to violence among New Haven community members astonished her. Out of approximately 151 participants, nearly everyone surveyed reported hearing a gunshot in their neighborhood. In addition, approximately two-thirds of those polled mentioned having a friend or family member harmed by gun violence, and nearly 60 percent of the survey’s participants had a loved one die as a result.
According to Ann Greene, co-chair of the Community Resilience Team — an organization comprised of residents dedicated to community safety — the involvement of different groups, including community members, city leaders and Yale researchers, was critical to the project’s success.
“It has been deeply invaluable to have community members, community stakeholders, and researchers at the same table from the very beginning of this through every step,” Riley said. “This has been absolutely essential to this work and effort.”
The study represents the beginning of a new collaborative enterprise, Greene said. These teams will now set out to implement the findings of the research by addressing broken neighborhood ties.
The data in the article support a two-pronged strategy to confronting gun violence, including the distribution of a Community Resilience Handbook and greater community organizing, Riley said. Those two things will be emphasized as the researchers put their work into practice. Greene advocated for a bottom-up approach to preventing future gun violence and community insecurity.
“The longer I’ve been at this work, the more I believe the solution for this conflict will not come from grants, police, or the government,” Greene said. “The best and longer term solution comes from the people intimately involved in and have their own interest in the safety of the neighborhood.”
In addition to including questions about exposure to violence and social cohesion, the survey also asked what three reforms the participants would most want to see in their neighborhoods. Participants most frequently referenced the need for more communal events, recreational centers, youth programs, city refurbishment and beautification as well as improved relations with the police.
Giving a voice to the people living in these communities and restoring agency was a major objective of the project, Greene said.
“People have to believe again that it is possible to change things for the better in their neighborhood,” she added. “These people had things to say, opinions to share, and memories [of] when these neighborhoods were great places to live in. They wanted to stay in their neighborhoods despite the violence, but they want Newhallville and West River to be what [they were] decades ago.”
According to the American Public Health Association, the New Haven homicide rate from 2000–2010 was 10 out of 100,000 residents per year, with the annual homicide rate tripling in the past five years.