MARCH 27, 2023 — A team of four community leaders, including UTSA Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice Kellie Lynch, has been accepted into a one-year leadership program funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop a strategic plan to reduce violence in San Antonio and Bexar County. This is the second project UTSA has in place to work with the region’s leaders to address violence.
The National Leadership Academy for the Public’s Health provides training to four-person teams from across the country to advance their leadership skills and promote health equity in their communities, according to the NLAPH website. The teams, comprised of leaders from multiple sectors like health and law enforcement, select a public health challenge and receive training to support their missions.
The San Antonio team is developing a Violence Prevention Comprehensive Plan for the city and Bexar County. The researchers’ five-year plan will identify and define strategies to prevent and intervene in various forms of violence. It also will update the city’s 2019 Domestic Violence Comprehensive Plan and build upon it to incorporate prevention strategies for other community violence issues.
The one-year program will culminate in the strategic Violence Prevention Comprehensive Plan, which will be released later this year. The plan will identify initiatives and programs that will work over the next five years to reduce violence, offer interventions and then measure outcomes, Lynch said.
“A public health approach to violence prevention involves trying to intervene upstream by connecting people to services that reduce the risk factors that typically lead to violence and crime,” Lynch said. “But it’s not just preventing violence. It’s also trying to lessen the harm and impact of violence and reduce reoffending.”
Lynch is working with San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) Deputy Chief Chris Benavides, San Antonio Metro Health Violence Prevention Administrator Erica Haller-Stevenson and Tracy Tate, St. John Baptist Church executive board member, who worked as a parole and probation officer for 24 years. Haller-Stevenson is leading the team.
“Metro Health is excited to collaborate with UTSA, SAPD and St. John Baptist Church in this effort,” Haller-Stevenson said. “In addition to developing a strategic direction for our community to address violence, we get to expand and strengthen our partnerships while building our leadership skills as a team.”
The team receives training through a leadership retreat, web-based discussions, peer networking and coaching support from national experts. The team also has a mentor assigned to it to help guide the group through the different elements of developing the violence prevention plan. Recently, the team has been meeting with various agencies and stakeholders to garner feedback on problem areas and priorities related to violence in the community. The team members also have been analyzing crime data to identify areas of concern and ways to improve system responses to violence.
“The San Antonio Police Department is a full-service department built on trust and our partnerships with the community we serve. We understand that we cannot solve and respond to incidents of family violence alone,” Benavides said. “It takes collaboration, conversation and a team approach. We look forward to our collaboration throughout our journey to prevent, intervene and alter the incidents of violence in our community.”
Tate said St. John Baptist Church is proud to be part of this initiative to give back to and help build on the health of the community. As a retired U.S. probation officer and state parole officer, she said she spent a lot of time with people who could have benefitted from violence prevention programs.
“Life has come full circle for me with this opportunity,” Tate said. “As a young parole officer, I often wished I had a resource like a violence prevention plan to help support the people I worked with, and now I get to help my community develop resources to reduce violence.”
Since 2012, NLAPH has brought together local, state and national leaders from various sectors including health, housing, education, transportation and law enforcement to build their own capacity to transform their communities by improving health and advancing equity through an evidence-based program, according to the website.
This project is separate from the violent street crime reduction plan developed by UTSA criminologists for the city of San Antonio. That data-driven plan addresses street violence, like aggravated assaults and gun violence, by implementing near-term, mid-term and long-term practices to drive down violent crime and eventually break the cycle of violence in the community.
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