University of Pittsburgh

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 in Pittsburgh. The goal of the Community Violence Prevention Project is to decrease the number of homicides in Pittsburgh and has three primary aims:

  1. Increase community stakeholder involvement to examine sources of violence and collectively identity potential interventions;
  2. Uncover patterns and identify key preventable factors that contributed to homicides through the utilization of a homicide review process;
  3. Disseminate information and engage in community dialogue about violence prevention within Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

Led by Richard Garland, MSW, Steven Albert, PhD, and Teagen O’Malley, MPH, additional Community Violence Prevention team members include faculty, staff, and students in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences (Todd Bear, Lora Ann Bray, Jessica Burke, and Patricia Documét) and Epidemiology (Andrea Arrington, Anthony Fabio).

A findings report from 2012 project activities can be found here. Key findings from 2012 include:

  • Homicides disproportionately affected certain groups and areas. Men accounted for 93% of all homicide victims, of which over 83% were African American and 36% were ages 18 to 25 years. Homicides were heavily concentrated in Police Zone 5, where 43% of the incidents occurred.
  • Firearms were the main cause of death. Cause of death in 96% of homicides was a gunshot wound.
  • Peer conflict was a primary cause of homicides. Peer conflict was identified as a key determinant or factor in 19% of homicides, compared to gang conflict which was only identified in 7%. The remaining homicides involved criminal events that were not peer or gang-related or isolated incidents that were not criminally motivated or were unintentional.
  • 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 behavior and health-related services were relevant in homicides.