In my early tenure as director of the national violence prevention initiative, UNITY, one question kept doggedly coming up in conversation—“What does violence prevention have to do with my department?” It’s increasingly common knowledge that violence is preventable and that it takes many sectors. Multisector approaches to prevent violence have taken off in cities across the country.

A public health approach

In Houston, for example, the public works department, property owners, public health, education and other sectors worked together to remove trash from vacant land, and create a safe corridor to and from school and a positive sense of place for young people. San Diego County Aging and Independence Services created a cross-generational mentoring program that matches seniors with young people in their communities, so young people have caring adults in their lives. The NOLA for Life violence reduction plan in New Orleans is yet another example of a multisector group working together instead of in silos, to rebuild neighborhoods, promote jobs and opportunity and engage communities in preventing violence.

"No one sector has the complete solution to go it alone. We all have a role to play and together we can prevent violence."

All of these examples utilize a public health approach to violence, which addresses the factors that make violence more or less likely. For example, a lack of jobs and high alcohol outlet density make violence more likely, whereas quality schools and economic opportunities can protect against violence. The scope and breadth of these factors are far beyond the responsibility of any one sector, which is why a multisector approach that includes many public agencies and community groups can be so powerful and transformative.

Safer streets

Los Angeles is no stranger to this approach. After the success of the city’s Summer Night Lights program, the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation focused on transforming parks in high-crime areas into community hubs. Supported by the public health department, the sheriff’s department and other partners, the Parks After Dark initiative keeps parks open until 10 p.m. in summer months to promote healthy and active living. This lets youth and families participate in activities ranging from basketball and Zumba to classes on healthy cooking, literacy, parenting and computer skills. Nearly all participants—97 percent—said they felt safe during Parks After Dark activities. A recent analysis of three participating parks found that serious violent crime in the communities around the parks declined 48 percent since the initiative began.

The multisector violence prevention efforts underway in Los Angeles and in other communities are in sync with a 2006 UNITY survey that found that cities with the most coordination across sectors also had the lowest rates of community violence. Cities were safer where the mayor’s office, police department, schools system, public health department and others talk to each other and understand their roles in the solution. Law enforcement has increasingly asserted that we cannot arrest our way out of the problem of violence. Indeed, no one sector has the complete solution to go it alone. We all have a role to play and together we can prevent violence.