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Promoting an Integrated City-Led Approach to Violence Prevention: Sharing Lessons and Good Practices Across the Americas

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— 5 minutes reading time

Above: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaking at the Ninth Summit of the Americas in June 2022.


Joumana Silyan-Saba

Director of Policy and Enforcement for the Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department (LA Civil Rights) for the City of Los Angeles

Rachel Locke

Director, Violence, Inequality and Power Lab, Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, University of San Diego

Eric Rosand
Executive Director, Strong Cities Network

24 August 2022

The Los Angeles-hosted Ninth Summit of the Americas focused on ‘Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future’ as the theme to engage leaders from the Western Hemisphere on some of the most pressing issues facing the region. Principles of safeguarding democracy, upholding human rights, and increasing social cohesion, provided a framework for exploring shared promising practices that uplift societies and ensure security and prosperity. Within this contextual framework the City of Los Angeles, the Strong Cities Network (SCN), the Violence, Inequality, and Power Lab (VIP Lab) at the University of San Diego’s Kroc Institute, and the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University co-convened mayors and senior officials from national and local governments across the region, as well as relevant civil society representatives, researchers, and practitioners. The purpose of the convening, which included eight mayors from across the Americas, was to identify and share good practices for enhancing city-level and other locally-led approaches to violence prevention that are underpinned by respect for human rights.

Violence impacts cities globally. With the rise of transnational violent groups, mass shootings, gender-based violence, extremism and violent hate crimes, cities are increasingly leading responses to threats at the local level. Nowhere is this more true than in the Americas, host to 46 of the 50 most murderous cities around the globe.

“Violence impacts cities globally. With the rise of transnational violent groups, mass shootings, gender-based violence, extremism and violent hate crimes, cities are increasingly leading responses to threats at the local level. “

Although various forms of violence require specific tools of analysis, risk assessment, and response, evidence is also clear that different forms of violence within society are very often interconnected, driven and exacerbated by similar factors, often reinforced through systems of discrimination and exclusion, and manipulated by narratives of hate and othering. Social factors such as unequal access to public services, feelings of injustice, lack of economic opportunities, corruption, limited mental health resources, as well as diminishing democratic systems, further contribute to the complexities of violence prevention approaches.  For most cities globally, law enforcement is leading the development and implementation of violence prevention strategies and solutions even though the causes of violence are not solved through law enforcement mechanisms alone. Multi-disciplinary approaches that look to address the underlying causes of the violence – or connect capacities of law enforcement with advancements in broader systems of exclusion and disenfranchisement – are few and far between.

The police and the wider criminal justice system certainly have a role to play. However, cities often struggle to expand beyond immediate law enforcement responses, which can themselves do more to exacerbate than mitigate the threats of violence. Cities often face limitations developing a more comprehensive approach due to lack of trust among government agencies – with non-law enforcement ones typically reluctant to cooperate too closely with their law enforcement counterparts – scarcity of funding and resources for violence prevention, as well as limited expertise and programming capabilities to address trauma, build resilience, and expand social protective factors.

Violence reduction efforts in cities must recognize the interconnectivity of the social wellbeing of communities, public health, the promotion of equitable societies, and how each of these components need to be included in what should be a holistic approach to violence prevention. Mayors are uniquely positioned to spearhead the shift to this more holistic and, in the long run, what is potentially a more effective and sustainable approach. They can catalyse change in local neighbourhoods by transforming ways of thinking and engaging multi-dimensional solutions. By elevating the role of women and youth in elaborating and implementing violence prevention policies and programs, and piloting inclusive violence prevention initiatives, mayors can influence not only how cities go about strengthening the social fabric, but influencing national and international prevention policies. It should also be noted, however, that a global backlash against women in positions of political power requires greater investment, not only in individual empowerment, but also in systemic protections and accountability for those who pose harm.

The future of violence prevention requires an honest reassessment and rethinking around violence in its multidimensional and interconnected forms.

While urban and peri-urban areas are often where violence is most concentrated, they are also home to a concentration of investments in prevention and community safety. Very often, however, these efforts are not supported by national-level actors or, in the extreme, are directly challenged by national governments, particularly when those efforts are led by mayors from the political opposition. Overcoming barriers to effective national-local cooperation in violence prevention is essential. There is, therefore, a real need to better understand how alignment or misalignment between city and national actors can either hinder or advance safety and prevention. This is particularly true in contexts in which policing and justice systems are nationalised, but remains relevant across all contexts, even where city-level law enforcement is in place. Local efforts, and a robust examination of the impact of those efforts, can and should inform policies beyond city-limits in an effort to better place resources and provide effective implementation of funding strategies at the local levels.

Human rights protections and democratic principles, as well as core values of inclusion, are foundational for lasting peace and security. The future of violence prevention requires an honest reassessment and rethinking around violence in its multidimensional and interconnected forms. Investing in analysis, data-driven risk assessment, and diagnosis and practices to better understand the ecosystem of violence will better serve municipalities and expand the ability – of mayors and the cities they lead – to build capacity for cohesive prevention strategies. Integrating mental and emotional health support, including addressing intergenerational trauma, can yield a far greater impact in addressing risk factors while also strengthening the wellbeing of communities. More must be done to advance these types of integrated city-led solutions by also leveraging key partnerships – including international networks, such as SCN and Peace in Our Cities – as a way to share learnings and expand and scale-up existing city-led efforts to reduce violence and safeguard local democracy.

With this in mind, the upcoming SCN Transatlantic Mayoral Dialogue on Addressing Hate, Extremism, and Polarisation, which the City of The Hague will host in November, as well as the first-ever Cities Summit of the Americas that the City of Denver will convene next spring, will offer mayors, local practitioners, and researchers the opportunity to discuss and build on the findings and recommendations that were shared in Los Angeles.