The Philly office tasked with reducing gun violence spent 17 months learning the basics

Taking a public health approach and serving high-risk populations are admirable goals — but also very rudimentary.

From left to right: Vanessa Garrett Harley, deputy managing director for criminal justice and public safety; Theron Pride, senior director of violence prevention strategies and programs; and Shondell Revell, OVP's executive director

From left to right: Vanessa Garrett Harley, deputy managing director for criminal justice and public safety; Theron Pride, senior director of violence prevention strategies and programs; and Shondell Revell, OVP's executive director

Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn
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Municipal government’s favorite approach to solving problems, including the city’s seemingly intractable gun violence crisis? Form a committee.

So far this year, 1,296 people have been shot in Philadelphia. With two weeks left until the calendar flips, that’s already more than last year, when 1,220 people were shot. Last July, in recognition of the gravity of the situation, the Office of Violence Prevention was founded to monitor the effectiveness of anti-violence programs and help coordinate their efforts.

After 17 months of research, the OVP announced Monday that in order to fulfill one of its founding responsibilities — the coordination part — another brand new governmental structure was needed.

Officials said they had identified 38 community-based violence prevention services — i.e. things that fall outside of courts and policing — that receive city funding totaling $13.3 million a year (see table below). They could not, however, provide data on the effectiveness of those programs, at least not yet.

A comprehensive violence reduction plan will be rolled out in January, per a city spokesperson. Meanwhile, OVP is moving forward on creating the nebulous new “coordinating” committee. Its name and budget are TBD, but it will likely entail hiring a few additional staffers, said Theron Pride, who helps run the office as senior director of violence prevention strategies and programs.

“Right now, to balance out all the different priorities and get this done right, you have to have a table of leadership there … in this work of coordination,” Pride told Billy Penn. “It’s about being proactive.”

A ‘vague’ sounding plan

In its report released this week, OVP, which itself has a budget of $5.6 million (but no website), included a few goals for future operations — many of them extremely simple and basic. They include:

“All that sounds good, until you have to deliver,” said Reuben Jones, a community organizer who previously worked as a social services coordinator for Philly’s Focused Deterrence program, which was listed in Monday’s report.

“It’s very general, very vague,” Jones added.  “If you really want to be impactful in this city, transparency has to be the key. People want to know what specifically you’re doing to save lives.”

City officials said the goals were intentionally basic, in advance of the release of a more specific plan to curb violence in January.

“We’re trying to reset the table,” said OVP staff member Pride, “[and] better align programming and policy and lay out a strategic vision that helps then drive action in a more coordinated and intentional fashion.”

But don’t hold your breath for the results.

“We’re trying to show folks that from the city, there’s absolutely a sense of urgency,” Pride added. “From a policy and program point where we sit, it does not move as quick.”

Measuring effectiveness is not easy

One thing that’ll take some time: measuring the effectiveness of Philly’s current community-based anti-violence spending.

Per Vanessa Garrett Harley, Philly’s deputy managing director for criminal justice and public safety, OVP’s new “governmental structure” will analyze the programs based on a few different metrics:

  • General crime data in the program’s geographical area
  • Post-program employment data
  • Utilization data (aka, is the program actually serving the people it aims to serve?)
  • More metrics TBD

For the big-budget programs, providing data won’t likely be a problem. Mural Arts, for example, is included on the list of funded programs three separate times, raking in nearly $700k annually just for its violence prevention work.

Jane Golden, the program’s executive director, said she’d be immediately ready to provide data on effectiveness if the city asked. Off the top of her head, she rattled off numbers associated with the org’s prison programming — like an 80 percent post-program employment rate and a 12 percent recidivism rate after graduating.

“City resources are precious funds, they’re really important, and we want to make sure they’re used effectively and efficiently,” Golden told Billy Penn. “Every day we need to ask ourselves, how are we moving the needle?”

“But as someone who’s been doing this work as a nonprofit city agency, I can say evaluations are complex and challenging,” she added. “I know extraordinary programs around the city that are really small and don’t have the capacity to evaluate.”

Indeed, not all nonprofits are like Mural Arts — with massive budgets and the capability to analyze their own programming. Included on the list are places like The Attic Youth Center, which accepts just $20,000 annually from the city and a boxing gym that gets $10,000.

It’s unlikely these smaller-ticket nonprofits will have precise data on hand — but that doesn’t mean they don’t work at all.

“We need to be able to look at success from different angles, and we need to be fair-minded when we ask the questions,” Golden said.

Philly funding for community-based anti-violence programs

Department fundingProgram Name & VendorLevel of PreventionCity FY 2017 Allocated
TOTAL13318454
DBHIDSHealing Hurt People: Drexel UniversityTertiary286863
DHSBig Brother Big Sister of Southeastern PennsylvaniaPrimary190000
DHSIntensive Prevention Services: CORA ServicesSecondary81215
DHSIntensive Prevention Services: Diversified Community ServicesSecondary142431
DHSIntensive Prevention Services: Juvenile Justice CenterSecondary142431
DHSIntensive Prevention Services: Norris Square Community AllianceSecondary142431
DHSIntensive Prevention Services: Urban Affairs Coalition / Philadelphia Anti-Drug / Anti-Violence NetworkSecondary66994
DHSIntensive Prevention Services: Therapeutic Center at Fox Chase (The Bridge)Secondary203646
DHSTruancy Prevention and Intervention Initiative: Juvenile Justice Center of PhiladelphiaPrimary98887
DHSTruancy Prevention and Intervention Initiative: Congreso de Latinos UnidosPrimary178176
DHSTruancy Prevention and Intervention Initiative: Intercultural Family ServicesPrimary139427
DHSTruancy Prevention and Intervention: Southeast Asian MAA Coalition, Inc. (SEAMAAC)Primary96446
DHSTruancy Prevention and Intervention Initiative: CORA ServicesPrimary178176
DHSTruancy Prevention and Intervention: United Communities Southeast PhiladelphiaPrimary138378
DHSFamily Advocacy and Intervention Program: CORA ServicesPrimary88000
DHSPhiladelphia Youth NetworkPrimary620000
DHSWorkReady Program -- JJS WorkReady Summer & Year-Round Employment: Philadelphia Youth NetworkPrimary200000
DHSWorkReady Program -- E3 Power Centers: Philadelphia Youth NetworkTertiary373135
DHSGood Shepherd MediationPrimary18500
DHSUrban Affairs CoalitionSecondary13000
DHSLittle Red Perez Boxing GymPrimary10000
DHSDelinquency Prevention Program: Institute for the Development of African American Youth, Inc. (Don’t Fall Down in the Hood)Tertiary98400
DHSIntensive Supervision Program: Institute for the Development of African American Youth, Inc.Tertiary42070
DHSPost-Dispositional Evening Reporting Center: Northeast Treatment CentersTertiary86637
DHSEvening Reporting Centers (ERC): Youth Advocacy ProgramTertiary66873
DHSBetter Way -- Conflict Management: Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of PhiladelphiaTertiary29970
DHSFamily Group Decision Making: It Takes A VillagePrimary7500
DHSPhiladelphia Youth Sports Collaborative: Northeast Treatment CentersTertiary13605
DHSCase Management: Northern Children’s ServicesTertiary14569
DHSPhilly Youth Poetry Movement: Urban Affairs CoalitionPrimary5727
DHSMental Health Services: Joseph J Peters InstituteTertiary50000
DHSMental Health Services: West Philadelphia Mental Health ConsortiumSecondary5000
DHSMental Health Services: West Philadelphia Mental Health ConsortiumSecondary5050
DHSGlobal Positioning Technology: First Judicial DistrictTertiary130000
DHSLGBTQ Youth Development: The Attic Youth CenterPrimary20000
DHSCB Community SchoolsPrimary5000
DHSPrevention Services: Urban Affairs Coalition (fiduciary)Primary188096
DHSPhiladelphia Mural Arts Program: Philadelphia Mural Arts AdvocatesSecondary190000
DHSBilingual Domestic Violence Program:Secondary40000
DHSLutheran Settlement House Domestic Violence Program: MenergyTertiary29000
DHSSafe at Home Services and Teen Dating Violence Prevention: Women Against AbuseSecondary72925
DHSDomestic Violence Program: Women In TransitionSecondary22800
DHSDomestic Violence Program: Women Organized Against RapeSecondary35000
DHSCase management/preventive services: Cambodian Association of Greater PhiladelphiaPrimary15000
MDOThe Guild: Mural Arts PhiladelphiaTertiary275000
OCJFocused Deterrence: Goodwill Industries +othersTertiary130000
OCJYouth Violence Reduction Partnership: Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network (PAAN) / Juvenile and Adult Probation / District Attorney’s OfficeTertiary4371217
PPDEmotional Support of Victims and WitnessesSecondary26316
PPDPolice Athletic LeaguePrimary393297
PPDSchool Diversion ProgramSecondary11980
PrisonsMural Arts Programs: Philadelphia Mural ArtsTertiary212286
Prisons/RISEGoodwill IndustriesTertiary21000
PWD-MDOPowerCorpsPHL: Education WorksSecondary1846000
StreetsPhilly Future Track: LevLanePrimary1450000

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Gun Violence