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In 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) piloted a unique new approach to delivering collaborative assistance to communities experiencing high rates of violence—the Violence Reduction Network (VRN).
VRN enabled BJA to join forces with mayors, police chiefs, and a community’s criminal justice stakeholders to develop customized technical assistance for addressing the wide range of public safety challenges they faced. But what made VRN truly unique was the programmatic collaboration between OJP and the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to leverage their collective expertise and resources to promote public and community safety, and thereby reduce violent crime with a true one DOJ mindset.
In 2017, VRN was formally adopted as a DOJ crime reduction strategy and was renamed the National Public Safety Partnership (PSP). Its period of engagement with cities was extended from 2 to 3 years, and 12 more cities were brought into its unique network. The following 10 new sites were added in October 2021: Antioch, California; Aurora, Colorado; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Gary, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; North Charleston/Charleston, South Carolina; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Phoenix, Arizona; Richmond, Virginia; and Shreveport, Louisiana.
PSP breaks down silos—local, state, and federal. As Kristie Brackens, BJA Senior Policy Advisor and Director of PSP, explained, “BJA never worked closely with our federal law enforcement partners in these jurisdictions, yet we each shared a deep commitment to their successes. BJA invested millions in communities, and federal law enforcement had deep operational commitments in these very same communities. With PSP, we’re now working with our federal law enforcement partners to ensure our strategies and investments are aligned. In this way, our federal resources become a part of the local crime reduction strategy. When the local communities are successful in delivering public safety results, DOJ is successful in its mission via PSP.”
She continued, “It is working and partnering with these chiefs to build their organizational capacity to better address violent crime. PSP is not a grant program, so there is not any direct funding to these cities. What we do is through training and technical assistance and subject matter expertise directed to help each jurisdiction enhance their local capacity to better address violent crime. So, that is why it is a customized approach. What is violent crime in Anchorage is not what is driving violent crime in Davenport versus what is driving violent crime in Phoenix. So, we really rely on the chiefs, prosecutors, and the entire criminal justice system to direct the activities of PSP.”
PSP delivers assistance and resources in eight core areas: criminal justice collaboration, community engagement, crime analysis, gun violence, constitutional policing, federal partnerships, technology, and investigations. PSP collaborates with United States Attorneys’ Offices and law enforcement leadership to identify the areas of interest. And then the partnership works with them, using a wide array of resources, to build capacity in that area(s) during the course of the 3-year program.
For each jurisdiction, throughout the 3 years it is involved with the initiative, the PSP team conducts assessments in areas such as nonfatal shootings, detective function, crime analysis, grant analysis, and technology. Team members then work with subject matter experts on how to implement and track the recommendations resulting from the assessments. These recommendations help local criminal justice systems professionalize, modernize, and develop resources to improve public safety.
PSP looks different in every city. PSP success is measured differently as well. The Anchorage Police Department (APD) joined PSP in 2019 with a focus on gun violence. APD worked to establish exceptionally strong relationships with local, state, and federal law enforcement partners that pooled their resources and began working together to address issues. The partners established a standing monthly meeting to strategize on ways to reduce violent crime locally, regionally, and statewide.
For 2020, Anchorage reported a 50 percent decrease in homicides and a 40 percent reduction in property crimes as compared to 2019. This has continued, and on February 26, 2021, then U.S. Attorney Schroder announced the seizure of 82 guns, about a third of which were stolen, through a task force effort called “Operation Cold Snap” that included APD, ATF, the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals Service, Coast Guard, Alaska State Troopers, and Anchorage Airport Police. They also seized 3.2 kilograms of methamphetamines and 300 grams of heroin. Prosecutors filed 10 indictments related to the seizures, charging 16 people.
The Wichita Police Department (WPD) is working with PSP to enhance its engagement with the community, and it is already experiencing success since it implemented a new community policing initiative through PSP in September 2021. “The SERV [Strategic Engagement to Reduce Violence] program aims to identify youth that may be prone to violence and then gives them the resources to help them try and leave that life behind,” said WPD Chief Gordon Ramsay. “We know, because we’ve seen it happen nationally that when you have a federal law enforcement partner for reducing crime, it results in more of a collaborative effort that reaps more rewards. So, PSP has allowed us to strengthen our relationship with the ATF, DEA, and the FBI. And the ATF, in particular, because of its focus on gun crimes and violence."
Developed following an assessment, SERV uses a complex scoring system to identify candidates who are most likely to be involved in violent crime in the near future. A meeting is then set up with these individuals that includes social services, law enforcement, and federal, state, and local prosecutors.
“So, SERV works two tracks,” explained Chief Ramsay, “We invite candidates in with their family members and a local presenter to meet with us. We let them know they have two choices: We can assist them with any help they need to be successful. ‘Or, if you choose not to accept our help,’ we tell them, ‘here are the law enforcement people, the prosecutors, and the cops you will be dealing with, because if you don’t stop this behavior, we are going to come after you.’”
WPD has realized positive results. Chief Ramsay reported, “The first two individuals who we brought in were both interested in the resources made available to them and wanted to do what they could to stay out of trouble and get on the right track. They identified their career hopes, and we pledged to worked with them to help get their general educational development tests and get into college.”
Chief Ramsay added, “One individual that we brought in was a young woman who said she wants to get into nursing. So, we connected her up with educational resources and all the help we could provide. Our staff came away feeling very rewarded that this was the right program to try and help offenders who are on the fence.”
Similar to WPD, the Amarillo Police Department (APD) has been working with its federal partners to engage with community members. In December 2021, the law enforcement partners collaborated to collect funds, food, and holiday gifts for children. At an event with 239 families, including 839 children, APD and its local and federal partners collected thousands of dollars, provided thousands of gifts, and collected 1.5 pallets of canned goods.
“PSP has taught the Department a new way to work with communities,” commented BJA Acting Director Kristen Mahoney. “We have learned that it is only by leveraging the power of community and using all our collective resources and dedicating all our efforts that we will reduce crime. We look forward to partnering with the 10 new sites to achieve what we are all working toward—safe places to live and work.”
For more information about PSP, visit the National Public Safety Partnership section of our site. For information about BJA’s National Training and Technical Assistance Center, please go to: Working with BJA NTTAC.