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URBAN VIOLENCE: Can We End the Epidemic?

Urban violence, in Baltimore and in cities across the country, gets due attention on the front pages of newspapers and in ripped-from-the-headlines television dramas. Often what doesn't make news are efforts to stop the violence — the work done by mayors, police chiefs, policymakers, teachers, parents, academics, and community activists who struggle to understand what's gone wrong and how to fix it.

Philip J. Leaf, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence and a professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Department of Mental Health, joined that struggle about 15 years ago. He had come to Hopkins from Yale, where his research focused on mental illness. Shortly after arriving in Baltimore, he secured funding to establish the East Baltimore Mental Health Partnership, which put clinicians into public schools and created support teams of parents and community health workers. When he found that the program helped youths stay in school and in the community — only to become victims of gun violence — Leaf changed the focus of his work to violence prevention. "Families were very thankful for the support they got after their child was shot," he says. "But what they would usually say is, 'I wish my child hadn't gotten shot.'"

How does a city stop violence? Leaf says that solutions lie on a continuum, with suppression and policing at one end ("because if people are shooting people, terrorizing neighborhoods, and dealing drugs, they need to be arrested") and prevention, early intervention, and support at the other end. Researchers at the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence are working with city and state agencies, law enforcement, schools, ministers, residents, even funeral directors and ex-offenders to create a network of support and to offer alternatives to troubled kids. On the streets of Baltimore, the researchers' work creates programs in the community, which means real help for people in need. Academically, they evaluate those programs and develop models for high-quality randomized trials in community settings. This helps them establish best practices that can be sustained locally once the research ends, and can be adopted and implemented elsewhere.

In the following pages, you'll see some of these approaches in action: Senior writer Michael Anft's story, "'Like Him Right There,'" recounts the tragic story of Zachary Sowers, a Johns Hopkins staff member who was the victim of murderous random violence, and the Hopkins researchers who are trying to understand what makes kids violent. Freelancer Mat Edelson, in "Street Smart Redefined," writes about ex-offenders working to stop violence in their communities. We've also included stories about the Child Development-Community Policing program, which responds to violent incidents to prevent acts of revenge; the Incentive Mentoring Program, an intensive tutoring program started by a Hopkins student that helps at-risk kids; and Hands Off, a handbook produced by the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence and community collaborators to help younger kids understand what violence is and how to avoid it.
— Catherine Pierre

> "Like Him Right There" <
> Street Smart Redefined <

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