Violence Prevention

Community Violence Prevention Project

Violence is a significant social and public health problem impacting the health and well-being of communities throughout the United States. Despite reductions in other areas of premature death, Allegheny County continues to suffer around 100 homicides each year, and 5 times as many assaults occur that do not involve deaths. In 2012, Pittsburgh saw 13.7 homicides for every 100,000 residents. While some cities may experience higher homicide rates, violence in Pittsburgh continues to disproportionately affect certain demographic groups - in particular, young African American men.

Homicides are extremely complex, subject to a variety of influencing factors. To better understand these factors and appropriately address them requires a public health approach that combines epidemiologic surveillance with community-based participation to better understand neighborhood perceptions, behavior, and dynamics associated with violence.  The goal of the Pittsburgh Violence Prevention Initiative (VPI) is to decrease the number of homicides in Allegheny County through the following efforts:

  1. Increase community stakeholder involvement to examine sources of violence and collectively identity potential interventions;
  2. Uncover patterns and identify key preventable factors that contribute to homicides through the utilization of a homicide review process;
  3. Determine if the provision of case management and service linkages helps reduce violence among victims of gun violence and their social contacts through the Gunshot Reoccurring Injury Prevention Services (GRIPS), our hospital-based trauman intervention;
  4. Disseminate information and engage in community dialogue about violence prevention within Pittsburgh and neighboring areas.

VPI is lead by Richard Garland, MSW, Steven Albert, PhD, Brianna McDonough, MPH, and Gina Brooks. Additional VPI members include faculty, staff, and students in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences (Todd Bear, PhD, Lora Ann Bray, Jessica Burke, PhD, Patricia Documét, MD, PhD, and Brittanie Wilczak, MPH) and Epidemiology (Andrea Arrington, MPH, Anthony Fabio, PhD).

Art Terry and Roland Slade, MSW, are community-based interventionists for the GRIPS program affiliated with the Kingsley Association.

Key findings from 2013 Homicide Review Report include:

  • Homicides disproportionately affected certain groups and areas. Men accounted for 83% of all homicide victims, of which over 87% were African American. Thirty-eight percent (38%) of victims were age 25 or younger.  Homicides were heavily concentrated in Police Zone 5, where 53% of the incidents occurred.
  • Firearms were the main cause of death. Cause of death in 89% of homicides was a gunshot wound.
  • Peer conflict was a primary cause of homicides. Peer conflict was identified as a key factor in 34% of homicides, compared to gang conflict which was only identified in 4%. Of the remaining homicides, 21% were were criminal events that likely involved peer conflict.  The remaining homicides with known conflict context were incidents on intimate partner violence, incidents unrelated to peer or gang violence, or incidents that were not criminally motivated.
  • Social determinants are risk factors for homicides. Chronic poverty and unemployment, adverse childhood experiences, lack of mentoring and positive behavior modeling within families and communities, and potential missed linkages for health-related services were relevant in homicides.