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Reducing urban violence: a contrast of public health and criminal justice approaches

Cerdá, Magdalena; Tracy, Melissa; Keyes, Katherine M.
doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000756
Research article: PDF Only


Cities are investing millions in Cure Violence, a public health approach to reduce urban violence by targeting at-risk youth and redirecting conflict to non-violent responses. The impact of such a program compared to criminal justice responses is unknown because experiments directly comparing criminal justice and public health approaches to violence prevention are infeasible with observational data. We simulated experiments to test the influence of two interventions on violence: a) Cure Violence; and b) directed police patrol in violence hot spots.


We used an agent-based model to simulate a 5% sample of the New York City (NYC) adult population, with agents placed on a grid representing the land area of NYC, with neighborhood size and population density proportional to land area and population density in each community district. Agent behaviors were governed by parameters drawn from city data sources and published estimates.


Under no intervention, 3.87% (95% CI 3.84-3.90) of agents were victimized per year. Implementing the violence interrupter intervention for 10 years decreased victimization by 13% (to 3.35% [3.32-3.39]). Implementing hot-spots policing and doubling the police force for 10 years reduced annual victimization by about 11% (to 3.46% [3.42-3.49]). Increasing the police force by 40% combined with implementing the violence interrupter intervention for 10 years decreased violence by 19% (to 3.13% [3.09-3.16]).


Combined investment in a public health, community-based approach to violence prevention and a criminal justice approach focused on deterrence can achieve more to reduce population-level rates of urban violence than either can in isolation.

Funding for this work was provided by K01DA030449; R21AA021909; 1R21DA041154-01.

Acknowledgements: The authors thank Sandro Galea, Paul Gruenewald, and Garen Wintemute for their feedback on prior versions of the model presented in this paper.

Conflicts of interest: none

Note: Data is available for replication upon request. Pseudo code is presented in an electronic appendix.

Address for corresponding author: Magdalena Cerdá, 2315 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, CA, 95817, Email:, V: 916.734.3539, F: 916.734.3063

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