Essential Pittsburgh
4:10 pm
Thu October 24, 2013

Preventing Homicides Through Early Intervention

Credit Matt Niemi / Flickr

Each year, the city of Pittsburgh sees more than 100 homicides.

A new study by the University of Pittsburgh suggests that 30% of last year’s homicides could have been prevented by early intervention.

Richard Garland, M.S.W., visiting instructor in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences and Steven Albert, Ph.D., chairman of the department, co-authored the study and say most of the criminal activity was a result of peer violence, not gang-related violence.

Peer violence, as defined by Garland and Albert, is aggression within a certain community by neighbors that know and live near each other. Acknowledging that these homicides are predominantly perpetrated by men, Albert explains that two thirds of the men had a criminal record and half had received human services throughout their life. These human services range anywhere from interaction with social workers as a child to probation officers as a teen. But what drives aggression within this demographic?

“Money, economics, money, drugs, girls, arguments…simple as that,” says Garland.

He points out that the “killing years” range from 14- 25, ages during which young men are maturing and uncertain how to deal with emotional trauma, depression or substance abuse. Garland praises new programs in schools that target younger children and encourage them to stay off of drugs and away from violence but says this is only the beginning.

Economic disparity plays a huge role in the start of aggressive behaviors within communities. When housing communities or schools in a neighborhood close, residents are forced to mix into nearby neighborhoods, often launching violence. When these neighborhood shifts occur, Albert and Garland say that policy makers must be aware of the possible backlash and act to curtail violent acts at a young age.

“You’re dealing with an at-risk population and add to it drugs and add to it the easy accessibility of guns in these communities and you have an explosive mix,” explains Albert.

Both men agree that education, employment and training are the keys to stopping violence and bringing young men and women out of the cycle of destruction evident in some of these communities.