Cultivating Community Engagement in Youth Violence Prevention: A Community-Led, Place-Based, Data-Driven, Non-Arrest Approach

Denise Nazaire

Major Professor: Charlotte Gill, PhD, Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Committee Members: Devon Johnson, James Willis, Robert Stokes

Research Hall, #301
October 03, 2018, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


Despite the substantial role the community can play in violence prevention, community engagement in government-led efforts faces significant barriers, including poor communication and a lack of trust between the community and the police. Traditionally bureaucratic government agencies, like law enforcement, struggle to adopt the changes needed to integrate engagement strategies into their programs. Conversely, strategies that originate from, and are led by, the community appear to succeed at cultivating engagement in their prevention initiatives. Therefore, my dissertation examined the implementation of A Beautiful Safe Place for Youth (ABSPY), a community-led, place-based, data-driven, non-arrest approach to youth violence prevention launched in 2013 in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, to identify this program’s engagement processes and provide useful information on how government agencies can adopt similar strategies. Though the program was not fully integrated into the community’s structure, my findings from 25 qualitative interviews with program participants indicated that ABSPY was successful in cultivating community engagement because it (1) was highly advantageous for, and compatible with the Rainier Beach community’s vision for youth violence prevention; (2) utilized three interrelated processes (outreach, mobilization, and participation) that empowered community members to take action and facilitate change in the five hot spots of youth crime in Rainier Beach; and (3) benefited from many program features and used challenges as opportunities to further refine the program. Emerging from my analysis of the benefits and challenges, were eight lessons learned: (1) decide, in advance to adopt a community-led approach; (2) develop an advisory group to provide administrative support; (3) use researchers and technical assistance providers to deliver initial and subsequent training; (4) encouragement involvement of program champions; (5) use inclusive and diverse recruitment strategies; (6) partner with law enforcement as peer participants; (7) acknowledge the time commitment needed; and (8) plan for complexities associated with government funding.

My dissertation has several implications for the field of criminology and government-led prevention efforts seeking to engage the community. First, adopting my fluid model of community engagement: Participation and Community Engagement in a Community-Led Implementation Process (PaCE CLIP) can bolster outreach, mobilization, and participation efforts and create an environment for social capital and collective efficacy to develop. Second, violence prevention programs do not need to be fully integrated into the community or government structure; however, if mutually aligned with both entities, the program can create a platform for true partnership. Third, as peer participants, police involvement in community-led programs can provide an opportunity to build trusting police-community relationships.