The Relationship between Public Health and Violence Prevention

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In this podcast, Howard Spivak discusses the relationship between public health and violence prevention. (Transcript)

Excerpt:

…I’m going to start with what the benefit of the approach is and then tie it into how it can help law enforcement promote more meaningful and effective prevention.

First of all, public health is engaged in this issue of violence because of the huge burden that it takes on the health of individuals and populations in this country. Not only does it result in injury and death, but there’s growing evidence that there are long term consequences to exposure to an involvement with violence that actually, for younger children, can affect the development of their brains and for people at any age, can increase their risk for chronic disease and chronic mental health problems. So the cost of this is enormous and goes well beyond the obvious costs of the acute effects of violence.

The second thing is that there is a growing body of evidence that shows that violence is preventable. Violence doesn’t need to happen and can be prevented before it even starts. So, as important as it is for us to respond to violence, it’s equally important that we move as upstream on this as possible and do the kinds of things that actually reduce the presence of violence in people’s lives and in communities because we know these exposures have such serious long-term consequences. The way public health approaches issues like violence, is to, in fact, look for strategies that focus on prevention and early prevention as much as possible to avoid any consequences, short or long term, from these issues. We go about it with several very conscious steps. One, is that we collect a lot of information on issues like violence, that not only help us to understand the magnitude of the problem but also help us to better understand what the factors are that either increase risk, or, in fact, provide protective elements, that help people avoid violence or involvement with violence. The second thing is that we then develop programs and strategies that look at how we can modify those risks and, in fact, enhance the protective factors. Then we take that information and that understanding of the strategies that work and then work with health departments and other partners, including the criminal justice system, to put these strategies in place at large a scale as possible so that we can actually bring these efforts to a level that really make a difference not, again, just for individuals, but for whole populations. And that’s extremely important.

Now, what public health can bring to and support the work of the criminal justice system and police, is that we can bring this perspective, moving far upstream and dealing with these issues in as a
proactively a way as possible so that we don’t focus resources just on the important response services. We can actually begin to direct resources to the prevention end of the spectrum, which then
ultimately saves both human cost as well as financial costs further down the road. And we have many examples with how this works with violence. We have a whole spectrum of programs that can be put in place in communities that help individuals and families to have healthier lifestyles and, in fact, reduce or eliminate violence in their lives. These range from very early intervention programs like nurse home visiting programs around the birth of a new child; to parenting support programs for parents of all types—but, in particular, parents who may be having difficulty with parenting; to
programs that we can put into schools that help kids develop the skills to deal with conflict and anger in a more successful and pro-social way; to community level strategies from street outreach to policy changes at a community level. All of which supplement, augment, and compliment the work that the police are doing in dealing directly with violence and violent crime and working with the kids who are already engaged in this violent behavior and need more than just the early intervention and prevention services that I’ve talked about.

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