Gov. Kathy Hochul, looking to quell stubborn gun violence beyond New York City, has proposed doubling funding to a firearms reduction program that targets the 17 upstate areas that account for 80% of crime outside of the five boroughs.
The Gun Involved Violence Elimination Initiative, or GIVE Initiative, would receive double last year’s funding under Hochul’s proposal – going from $18 million to $36 million. While the GIVE Initiative money goes to law enforcement in the most affected communities, Hochul is proposing a total of $337 million for gun violence reduction efforts across the state, including $84 million for youth employment programs and $18 million for crime analysis centers. The funds are all included in the $227 billion budget plan the governor will negotiate with state lawmakers ahead of the state’s fiscal year, which starts April 1.
The initiative blends a number of approaches, including increased jobs funding in targeted communities; making changes to environmental features, like installing streetlights in a dark parking lot; more community outreach; and additional police patrols at locations where data shows most crimes occur.
The GIVE Initiative started in 2014, at a time when gun violence was lessening in New York City, but not in suburban and upstate communities, including Nassau County, Poughkeepsie and Buffalo. The idea was to reduce these numbers by giving grants to places with high levels of gun crime.
The communities were given some latitude to decide how to spend the money, as long as they used it on “evidence-based” strategies that target the people responsible for the most gun crime and the places where it most often occurs, and included community stakeholders in the decision-making process.
Some of the approaches have included “hot spots” policing, in which law enforcement concentrates resources in high-crime areas. However, this has sometimes prompted criticisms over civil rights abuses and overpolicing. But gun violence prevention activists have touted New York's effort as a model for other states to follow.
“If these efforts are being carried out faithfully, we should have an improvement in public safety and police-community relationships,” said Mike McLively, policy director of the Giffords Center for Violence Intervention.
The Giffords Law Center and two other violence prevention groups published a report in 2017 that found that the GIVE Initiative was one of three initiatives that should be held up as positive examples of state-led violence reduction – together with initiatives in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Statewide, shootings in the areas targeted by the GIVE Initiative targets began decreasing in about 2017. They spiked in 2020, mirroring a national trend during the pandemic, and began to come down again in 2021. They were lower still in 2022.
Jim Bueermann, the former president of the National Policing Institute and a senior fellow at George Mason University’s Center for Evidence Based Crime Policy, said the techniques that GIVE employs have proved effective, as long as they are used as intended.
“Those kinds of efforts need to be very transparent and linked to community engagement,” he said. “Anything can be abused if you don’t follow the science or you have a bad heart.”
The elements of the initiative include the following:
- “Hot Spots” Policing: This is a term that has been in the news recently after members of a specialized unit in Memphis, Tennessee, were charged in the beating death of Tyre Nichols following a traffic stop. While experts say it can certainly be abused – the officers who shot Breonna Taylor to death in her home in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2020 were also following a hot spots model – they add that when done correctly hot spots policing can reduce crime without just pushing it from one area to another. Janine Kava, a spokesperson for the state's Division of Criminal Justice Services, said the GIVE initiative does not fund specific personnel in a specialized unit, like the one the Memphis officers were assigned to. At its core, that means using crime data to determine which locations have the most crime and working with communities to increase law enforcement’s presence. Bueermann said the key is making sure police are listening to and taking input from the people who live in the area. Police don’t have to spend time questioning, searching or arresting people, Bueermann said. They can be more effective when they spend time walking around and engaging people in conversation.
- Focused Deterrence: This is an approach whereby law enforcement identifies the small number of people who are responsible for the gun violence in a community. Typically, those people are then told by police, prosecutors and community stakeholders that they are damaging the community, and will be prosecuted if they continue to do so. At the same time, they are offered support and services like job training and drug treatment, job training and drug treatment to help them change direction.
- Street Outreach: This approach enlists street outreach workers, many of whom have their own histories with gun violence and incarceration, to help stop violence before it occurs. Typically, this means that the outreach workers, often called “credible messengers,” will identify and build relations with people in the community who at risk of being involved in violence. They will discourage them from retaliating when violence occurs and encourage them to engage in more productive activities, like school and work.
- Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design: This approach is about eliminating things in the physical environment that can create dangerous conditions. Examples might include boarding up an abandoned building, cutting down shrubs that can create a hidden area where crimes can occur, or installing lights in a dark parking lot or alleyway.