King County's Community-Led Approach Showing Promise in Combating Gun Violence

King County shows promise curbing youth gun violence using community-based approach with violence interrupters. Early data indicates fewer youth involved in shootings, fewer re-hospitalizations after gun injuries, less shoplifting near outreach, and 400+ high-risk youth mentored.

King County's Community-Led Approach Showing Promise in Combating Gun Violence

As gun violence continues rising across the nation, King County is taking a comprehensive, community-focused approach that early data suggests is helping steer young people away from cycles of violence.

In an interview with the Hacks & Wonks podcast, Eleuthera Lisch, director of the King County Regional Office of Gun Violence Prevention, discussed the promising impacts of the county's community violence intervention initiatives.

At the heart of the strategy are organizations like Regional Peacekeepers Collective and Rainier Beach Action Coalition - Restorative Solutions that employ street outreach workers and "violence interrupters" - credible messengers with lived experience who can rapidly respond to shooting incidents.

When violence interrupters are deployed to active scenes involving law enforcement, their role is crucial. "They will be able to de-escalate tensions, they will be able to form rapid rapport, and they will be able to create a follow-up and safety plan for the individuals that they are able to connect with," Lisch explained. Their expertise in crisis intervention and rapport-building can help defuse volatile situations and ensure the well-being of those involved.

Violence interrupters don't just react to youth gun-violence, but work proactively to prevent it. "They're providing daily contact - they're connecting with that young person, they're checking in on their well-being, their safety," said Lisch. "They're helping make sure that that young person is able to access rides and supports to get to and from court as needed, to get re-entered into school, re-engaged in school, to get to employment opportunities."

While the work is still maturing, Lisch pointed to some early positive signs of impact, including:

  • The average age of those involved in shootings rising into the 30s, suggesting fewer youth are getting caught up in violence cycles
  • Over 400 high-risk youth currently being intensively mentored
  • Reductions in youths' re-hospitalization rates after gun injuries
  • Decreases in losses from youth shoplifting near outreach sites

"We're seeing loss prevention happening - that there are less young people, through whatever crisis they are in, going into stores and taking things that don't belong to them," Lisch said.

She cautioned that transformational change can take 4-5 years to manifest fully as interventionists build trust. But the initial data "is a strong indicator that we are seeing a downtrend in young people involved in gun violence."

Lisch stressed the need for sustained funding and coordination across jurisdictions. “First and foremost, our advice is to fund peace, fund safety…If we're seeking safe communities and we're seeking peace, we have to invest in the strategies that help us get there."

The county is working to evaluate the efforts and demonstrate their cost effectiveness. “We've just recently contracted a cost-of-violence analysis to help support our local elected leaders in King County and at the state of Washington level to understand the cost savings of community violence intervention strategies.”

Even as the community intervention programs show promise, Lisch emphasized there are ways all residents can get involved and be part of the solution. "We can all participate in safe storage, and we can all participate in amplifying the message that community-led solutions are important and that they are a functional part of a holistic public safety framework," she said. "We often talk about gun violence being a disease. I want to emphasize, as strongly as I possibly can, that the community is the cure."

The data suggests this public health-focused approach, with the community leading the way, is making a positive impact.

About the Guest

Eleuthera Lisch

Eleuthera Lisch (She/Her) is a violence prevention professional with over 27- years of experience developing, implementing, and bringing to scale cutting edge gun violence prevention, intervention, public safety, and community reconciliation programs, both nationally and internationally. Eleuthera serves as the inaugural director for the Regional Office of Gun Violence Prevention for Public Health-Seattle & King County.

As a seasoned strategist, social change innovator, advocate for social justice, and champion for community safety and well-being, Eleuthera proudly supports grassroots to “grass tops” partnerships and emerging leaders. She has raised millions in funding/endowments for gun violence prevention programs and other services in Seattle and King County and has consulted to provide subject matter expertise in cities across the nation. 

She received a White House Champion for Change Award in 2012 for her work with the Dept. of Justice National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention and featured as a model "social change agent" in Paul Shoemaker’s Can’t Not Do, The Compelling Social Drive that Changes the World. 

Eleuthera is proud to be a member of the National Office of Prevention Directors Network. She is grateful for the giants whose shoulders the movement to prevent gun violence was built on and honored to work with communities and champions across the nation who strive to ensure that all communities, families, and individuals can live free of violence and thrive. 

Eleuthera was born in Puerto Rico and is the proud daughter of noted activist Arthur Lisch and teacher Paula Lisch. She lives with her husband of 30 years, Patrick Burningham, in Southeast Seattle, Washington.


King County Regional Office of Gun Violence Prevention

King County to start Office of Gun Violence Prevention” by David Gutman from The Seattle Times

Community Violence Intervention | Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Community Based Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative (CVIPI) | Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice

Community Violence Intervention Programs, Explained” by Nazish Dholakia and Daniela Gilbert from Vera Institute of Justice

King County gun violence data | King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office

Lock It Up: Promoting the safe storage of firearms | Public Health - Seattle & King County 

Governor Newsom Signs Historic Tax on Gun Manufacturers to Fund School Safety and Violence Prevention Programs” | September 26, 2023 Press Release from Office of Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review show and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

So today I am very pleased to be welcoming the head of the King County Regional Office of Gun Violence Prevention - Eleuthera Lisch, the director. Welcome and thank you so much for joining us for this conversation.

[00:01:08] Eleuthera Lisch: Thank you so much for having me, Crystal - and for your work to amplify the many stories that help contribute to us understanding this issue and the many that correlate around it.

[00:01:17] Crystal Fincher: Thank you very much. The King County Regional Office of Gun Violence Prevention was established because we are in the midst of a gun violence crisis and we are seeing tragedies play out in every area in our community, in every element in our society - and there are so many people trying to figure out what to do. You and this office have done a lot of work in understanding what effective interventions are and working on implementing this throughout the community. But I wanted to start a little bit talking about the issue of gun violence, particularly locally - why it's a problem, what we're seeing. When you talk about gun violence to people and are explaining how we got here, what do you talk about?

[00:02:08] Eleuthera Lisch: I appreciate the question, and if it's all right to offer just my own philosophic backdrop to launch us into this - first of all, gun violence is a public health issue and one of the original societal public health issues for America. This is the most armed nation in the world, and the proliferation of weapons have consistently and steadily advanced through the centuries in this country. And from the Indigenous communities that were impacted by gun violence from the very onset of the takeover of America at the very beginning, to the systemic oppression and racism that has proliferated what is really a symptom in community who have had to survive in a society that is so gun-forward. So I want to acknowledge that while we're experiencing a significant uptick in gun violence in recent years, it is not new to us. And it is, again, a symptom of much deeper and much larger root causes that won't necessarily be addressed in a conversation that's just about the most current events, if you will.

But I will say that we have seen a significant rise in gun violence because of the onset of COVID and because of a great deal of societal unrest that had coincided. And so at the same time that folks were experiencing unrest and resistance to systemic oppressions and vocalizing and mobilizing around addressing those things, we also saw the onset of a pandemic that was health-related in a different way - because gun violence is a public health issue, it is a health equity issue - but the pandemic of COVID-19 that coincided also forced folks into isolation. And especially for our young people, removed some of the social protections like school and other things that help to keep folks more resilient and resistant to violence. And at a time when especially a lot of young people turned to places like social media for entertainment, for connection - we also see that in that space there is a proliferation of glorification of violence. And so when you have young people in their developmental stages absorbing that content and thinking about violence probably more often than usual and without the protective factors that help abate that violence, we saw what has now become really, to me, the crisis element, which is that gun violence is the leading cause of death for children and teens for the first time in history, since 2021.

As you mentioned, gun violence is impacting folks across the region, across the nation - and there are common conversations happening with folks across the nation on how we're going to address it and centering the public health issue as a means to addressing it. What we're also seeing is that gun violence is often associated with people being in survival mindset and that what is necessitating that, again, is much deeper and broader than the work that our office can possibly address. So we are taking a very specific approach in our work - to center the communities most impacted by gun violence in leading the solutions of gun violence, because those closest to the problem are often, if not in most cases, closest to the solutions, but very often the furthest from the resources. And so our work now is really about bending the moral arc of resources to community, and to following the community leadership, and resource their capacity, and build with community and co-design strategies for ensuring that community-led solutions are considered a core pillar of a holistic public safety framework. And that's really the efforts of our office.

The uptick in gun violence - I was on a call earlier today with the National Offices of Violence Prevention, we are a member of a national learning community of offices across the nation. And there are communities that are trending down in gun violence; and we are still - along with some other cities, other folks across the nation - are still seeing an increase in gun violence. They have the ability in most of the areas, jurisdictions that are addressing gun violence to be more contained and therefore they're able to say the City of, let's say, Richmond, California has seen a 56% decrease in gun violence, which we all need to celebrate. We're doing something really ambitious here - we're working with the City of Seattle, our major metropolis, but also communities in South King County where folks have been displaced from the city of Seattle through gentrification - and we recognize that violence respects no border and no boundary, and that we have to be adaptive to ensure that we're increasing that access to community-led solutions in all the places where people live, work, and learn. And so this ambitious approach means that we have to look at the broader dataset and say - Yes, there is still increases of gun violence, but it's because we've zoomed out and we're looking more broadly. And so we're optimistic - as we continue to stand up these community-led solutions and support them or bolster them, that we will begin to see the downtrend in near years - and certainly that's the effort we're trying to make.

[00:07:04] Crystal Fincher: Now, you talk about gun violence being a public health problem. Certainly, there are a lot of people in the community who are used to thinking about gun violence as a public safety problem, as a problem that police are there to address. But you and many experts talk about - consistently - gun violence being a public health problem. What do you mean by that, and why is it a public health problem?

[00:07:29] Eleuthera Lisch: Thanks for asking that, too. So when we think about it as a whole population, our well-being is connected to each other's well-being. And so none of us are safe unless all of us are safe. None of us are well unless all of us are well. And the understanding in public health, which removes the stigma of the issue and recognizes that folks are expressing pain, they're expressing the need for well-being and for care. So, like any health issue - and again, I mentioned it's a health equity issue - folks who have not had access to the care and well-being are most likely to be involved in the harm or harmful behaviors. And so when we take a public health approach, what we first and foremost do is center well-being and wellness and access to resources. The other thing we do is activate everybody playing a role and having a responsibility in our collective wellness and well-being. So in the standard approach to public health strategy - we are testing strategies, we're implementing strategies, we are all mobilized and working together to advance those strategies, we are evaluating it, we are using data to drive the strategy - so that's what we mean by it. But holistically, we're really talking about health and well-being and centering that above punitive approaches. And I want to make sure that I highlight and amplify that community-led safety, for instance - which really is this lane of a public health approach - has to work alongside of more public safety-focused strategies like law enforcement and alongside of public health approaches like emergency medical services, and that we are building a cohesive ecosystem of folks that work between health and safety. And we in public health don't separate those two things - we think that health and safety are interconnected.

[00:09:15] Crystal Fincher: What strategies have been shown to be effective in terms of prevention? And what has been shown to be effective in terms of intervention - after there's been a problem, preventing that problem from continuing?

[00:09:29] Eleuthera Lisch: So, in the context of prevention, it's broad. We can talk as early as birth, or we can talk about work that needs to happen for intergenerational wellness. We can talk about school-aged efforts, and we can talk about supporting early life and our Best Starts for Kids work and all this incredible work that happens, let's say, in King County or in different spaces. That prevention work should be cross-cutting. And when we're talking about it in the context of violence prevention work, we're really talking about the space that's very, very close between prevention and intervention. And in some cases, we're talking about an intervention strategy as a primary emphasis, and a secondary follow-up prevention strategy to prevent future violence. So I'm going to speak more in that space to what we mean by it.

So the strategies of intervention that are the most successful are those led by what we would call a credible messenger. Somebody who they themselves are in recovery from the impacts of violence in their own lives or exposure to violence and trauma - are best positioned to be able to make meaningful connections to those that are currently involved. And help connect them to services and supports, and provide rigorous - what we call relentless engagement - to really be present in their lives while they are transitioning away or developing resilience skills to stay away from violence. Community violence intervention is the broad terminology that's used across the country and many subsets of different strategies, but all of them led by community violence interventionists, violence interrupters - they're called in many cases street outreach workers. So folks that are nimble and able to respond to an incident of violence, to form rapid rapport and meaningful connection to somebody while they're in crisis, walk with them until they're really amenable to services that help connect them to future opportunity that help them avoid future incidents of violence. Hospital-based intervention - meeting bedside with folks right after they are impacted by violence, and making sure that they are cared for both within the context of what the medical community provides, and then pathed into community care - are really the top strategies that we are investing in here in King County and through our office for this particular element of the work. And we're also focused on ensuring restoration and healing because while we can prevent some things and we can certainly intervene and try to prevent future violence, ultimately we have to path folks towards adopting self-regulation and conflict resolution skills, and centering their well-being, and then connecting to opportunity to really move toward restoration and healing.

[00:12:05] Crystal Fincher: So what does community violence intervention look like on the ground in King County right now?

[00:12:11] Eleuthera Lisch: It has, first of all, been around for quite some time in different organizations here in Seattle and King County area, and it has taken on different forms. Currently, there are a couple of initiatives - we're very proud to partner alongside of the City of Seattle Safety Initiative, which is a group of community-led organizations that employ violence interrupters, street outreach workers, case managers. In our regional approach to gun violence, we've expanded that to include other communities in South King County, with an emphasis right now on Kent, on Burien, unincorporated King County and Skyway, Tukwila, and soon other communities as well. We're working to develop and implement community safety hubs where these violence interrupters and street outreach workers can deploy into community, provide safe passage at the after school hours to help young people transition safely home from school or into other events and activities that they are a part of. The violence interrupters deploy to incidents of violence through notification by a community or other trusted sources where they can actually go to a space where a shooting has just happened and connect with an individual while they are there - to help them get safely away, to help them connect to future service, and especially just to be clear that they can walk alongside of them to help reduce or ameliorate the crisis. Every day, our violence interrupters and outreach workers are active. So once they have met with young people, once they have a small caseload, they're providing daily contact - they're connecting with that young person, they're checking in on their well-being, their safety. They're adapting and updating safety planning, they're helping make sure that that young person - if they're criminal legal system involved, that they are able to access rides and supports to get to and from court as needed, to get re-entered into school, re-engaged in school, to get to employment opportunities, to engage in them successfully. And they're providing ongoing life coaching and mentoring to make sure that those opportunities stick.

Additionally, the outreach workers and violence interrupters are supporting families in cases of, unfortunately, a homicide or a death. They are providing community safety - and supporting vigils and funerals and burials and repasses - and staying with family through that process. In many cases, they're also helping to relocate folks who might be unsafely housed - directly following an incident - in a temporary capacity. They're providing groceries and emergency support so that folks can restabilize. So there's myriad ways in which these organizations that are being invested in are functioning each day, but a great deal of their time is spent in that life coaching, mentoring, and support space to help individuals build resistance skills to violence and move forward.

[00:15:00] Crystal Fincher: So a couple of the community violence interruption initiatives - the Regional Peacekeepers Collective, the Rainier Beach Action Coalition and Restorative Solutions - as you said, have been active on the ground for quite some time. What impact have you seen them make?

[00:15:18] Eleuthera Lisch: It's a good question. So, couple of things - first of all, one of the hardest things for us to ever measure is what was prevented - and because of their engagement. We can say there were 87 homicides in 2022 in King County, 1,674 shots fired incidents. But if you think about the difference between those two statistics, a lot of work happened that made sure that shots fired incidents didn't become homicides. So retaliations were prevented, and folks were pathed to care to build those resistance skills to mediate conflicts that didn't turn into homicides. So from an evaluation standpoint, what I can say is these newer initiatives are beginning to measure the impacts - how many young people were engaged as a performance metric in a contract. But it also tells us that 420 young people are currently in the care of community, and that those young people were identified as most likely to be involved in that high risk behavior and are receiving rigorous care and support - and that is not translating into new court cases, is not translating into incidents of gun violence. The other thing that's more subtle is that, for instance, in some of the community engagement work that the street outreach workers are conducting before and after school around local businesses, we're seeing loss prevention happening - that there are less young people, through whatever crisis they are in, going into stores and taking things that don't belong to them. And that is an actual impact of this street outreach work and support that's happening - they're getting snacks and after school meals and opportunities to connect to caring adults. And that is reducing behaviors that ultimately put young people in a pathway to greater risk. Young people are being directly referred from the hospital into community care - which is new - but we're also seeing people not become re-hospitalized. And when you have been shot and hospitalized for a gun violence injury, you're four times more likely to be involved in a future incident - and we are seeing that number come down. We're also seeing that less young people are involved in shootings - the trending age right now is closer to 32-35 years old. These services are meant to serve 16-24 year old. So while that is not a hard, fast number, it is a strong indicator that we are seeing a downtrend in young people involved in gun violence. So it's something that I will encourage your listeners to continue to track and watch, as we are.

One of the most important things is that we are building community capacity, in an unprecedented way, that historically has been not only divested from, but not invested in, in the first place. And it takes time to build safety infrastructure. It takes time to institutionalize the practice of community-led safety. And we're at the beginning stages of doing that across our region. And as that becomes matured and as it progresses, I only anticipate to be able to report out a significant downturn in the incidence of gun violence - and more importantly, to report out the successes that are happening in the individual lives that are being transformed. I think everybody does always want to know what are the outcomes, what is the data, what are the indicators that something is working. So I'm giving you broad strokes - in part, because we are developing real evaluation readiness. But other public safety or even public health strategies often enjoy longitudinal study about their work and academic research on their work. And the truth is community violence intervention work has not had the luxury of being able to do that - as it is often divested from, as folks are required to be nimble. And what's the most fascinating to me is that you will say - There's 100 shootings this week. Here's $100. I expect to see 100% results. - and it simply isn't that easy, right? It takes time to build trust, takes time to build relationships, takes time to undo harm. And what we're seeing is positive strides towards that being realized. And most importantly, too, is reported directly by the young people and their families themselves - they feel safer. And for me, that is one of the most important metrics that we could possibly be measuring.

[00:19:35] Crystal Fincher: Well, I'm certainly heartened to hear so much of that. And you're right, a lot of people are asking and I think it is important to be able to evaluate what we're doing and seeing if it's effective. You're absolutely correct in that it takes time - one, to implement programs, to provide resources - but to work through that process with a lot of people. Very happy to hear that it looks like youth violence interventions are working - certainly there's positive data coming out - the average age is now into the 30s, you were saying. So when it comes to gun violence, it's certainly what we see on the news sometimes, people think about - Oh, it's young people in gangs. It's "troubled youth," but we do see older people, we do see people in middle age impacted by this. What are the range of types of people impacted by violence and finding themselves falling into cycles of violence aside from youth?

[00:20:35] Eleuthera Lisch: So much of it is interconnected. So if we're experiencing early childhood trauma and that is untreated, that trauma in all of its forms ultimately will find an outlet further down the road. Because if it's adult domestic violence because of exposure to childhood domestic violence, it's interconnected. If a young person is exposed to domestic violence, they are - and I can't give you an accurate statistic, but it's in the very high percentages of likelihood - that they will be involved in impacts of future violence. And in most gun violence cases, it can be traced back to exposure to early childhood trauma and specifically to incidents of domestic violence or unsafe homes. I think in unsafe environments and in economies of desperation where people are - let's call it an open air drug market - everybody in an unsafe environment is exposed to potential threats of violence. And so if you are unsheltered and you are proximate to a space where there is a economy of despair or an economy of survival, that is going to bring a tighter emphasis on potential threats of violence. And I think we have to be honest about the disproportionate contact, specifically on Black community and communities of color that are historically and systemically oppressed, that put people in greater proximity to danger. And because the prison system has been an interconnection point for folks who are disproportionately impacted by systemic oppression and other issues - folks who are robbed of a childhood or don't have the opportunity to grow up through the developmental stages with all the safety and protective factors - and are put into institutions and returning as citizens to try to survive in a constantly changing environment, it also puts people in proximity to violence to survive. So I tend to want to focus on the concept of - if people have to survive, they will. And when we are in survival mode, we are not able to access our higher thinking and we are not able to be in our most stable form. And I think those are the greatest indicators of what might put somebody into proximity or involvement in violence.

[00:22:49] Crystal Fincher: What is the impact of guns on suicide?

[00:22:54] Eleuthera Lisch: Well, you mentioned early as we were leading into this, the concept of safe storage in our pre-conversation. First of all, gun ownership just puts guns in proximity to people in despair or distress. Unsafely stored weapons makes them easily accessible when people are in their greatest moment of crises. And so the intercorrelation between guns and suicide are indisputable, and it is a very violent form of death. But I think ultimately, I wouldn't call that an area of our expertise - it is simply a known and understood fact. And as we are evolving our work within our office, we're looking at the various drivers of domestic violence with our emphasis on community violence intervention - increasingly domestic violence, firearm safety, school safety, and ultimately suicide prevention as well. But unsafe storage underpins all of those issues. A domestic violence incident can turn into a homicide because of proximity or access to a weapon. And a young person impacted by domestic violence - anybody impacted by domestic violence or community violence can in fact turn that at some point against themselves in a moment of despair and ultimately result in a completed suicide. It's important for me to raise awareness and understanding of the fact that there is a deep intersectionality between all drivers of gun violence.

[00:24:22] Crystal Fincher: I want to talk a little bit more about what this looks like on the ground, because in speaking to people in the community - police are very visible. If there is a shooting, people understand that - hey, they can call 911. They see that response happen by the police and what happens after that. With community violence intervention, a shooting incident happens - how are they notified? Who is at the scene? How does that work practically in the community?

[00:24:55] Eleuthera Lisch: So notifications can happen several ways, no differently than 911, a dispatch of information to alert violence interrupters or critical incident responders - those titles are somewhat interchangeable - are notified to deploy to a shooting scene. Not all scenes are deployable. So a shooting is very quick - and if everybody jumps in their car and drives away, arriving somewhere to do something is not always something that will be visible to community. So you may not necessarily see all of the steps that are taken just because you are aware that a shooting happened in this particular parking lot, or you heard the shots outside of your window and are concerned. What you will hear if you're inside of your house or out in the community when shots are fired is the sirens and you will hear a response - and that response maybe will indicate that something is happening to actually solve or resolve that incident. What's harder to see, of course, is that when the community is notified and they respond - again, their response may look very different than law enforcement. While they may deploy to a scene - and if there is an active scene, they will be able to de-escalate tensions, they will be able to form rapid rapport, and they will be able to create a follow-up and safety plan for the individuals that they are able to connect with. But what they are going to do is gather information if they are not deployed and be able to take steps forward to make those meaningful connections when it's not visible to community. And they're going to do relentless and strategic engagement to try to get to the individuals involved to, again, path them to long-term care, and to provide them access to immediate resources, and to increase their safety by offering shelter. It may mean relocation, it may mean safe housing overnight.

So there are a couple of different ways it looks on the ground - and I will offer that my background is not in government work, my background is community work and community violence intervention work. I've deployed to numerous incidents of shootings and to hospital bedsides when people are in that immediate crisis - and walked them home and stayed in relationship to them for many, many years, if not decades. I think what is important to understand about community interventionists is they are not just reactive. They are proactive. They're constantly in the process of forming meaningful relationships to try to prevent incidents. Law enforcement and emergency medical services are isolated to simply being reactive and responsive. And what's important to know about community violence intervention is it's far more comprehensive.

[00:27:24] Crystal Fincher: And that seems to be a really important element. So many times in public conversations and policy conversations, it seems to be set up almost as an either-or. Either we can take this comprehensive approach, or we can just focus on police. Is this an either-or proposition to you?

[00:27:43] Eleuthera Lisch: Not at all. The truth is - first of all, it would be naive to say that any one entity can do this by themselves. And if that were true, it would be done. So we are awakening to the realization that ultimately it requires an ecosystem of multiple players at different stages to see real meaningful transformation and change. So I think what's important to note is that a holistic public safety ecosystem is inclusive of community - recognizes that law enforcement has a role to play, recognizes that emergency medical services has a role to play, that hospitals have a role to play, that schools have a role to play, that community has a role to play, that parents have a role to play, that we are all a part of what it means to share in our collective safety. And so it's not only not either-or, it is deeply interwoven - a quote that one of my dear mentors is always saying is that, We have to put the "public" in public safety. So it is simply an inclusion. It is simply an addition to, and a strengthening of the efforts - to the degree that they have been successful - you mentioned that people want to be able to call 9-1-1 and know that somebody is going to respond to their need. We would never suggest that that needs to go away. We will always say that there needs to be a place where we are all playing our role in an informed way - and a way that recognizes each other's potentially different mandates and understands that we can work in parallel and in concert with each other to ultimately have a truly holistic public safety ecosystem and framework and collective responsibility for our mutual care and well-being.

And I want to say, to that end, we secured recently funding from the state of Washington to build the first ever local Community Violence Intervention Training and Well-being Academy. And we will intend to cross-train with law enforcement, we will intend to cross-train with emergency medical responders so that community violence interventionists can be recognized and appreciated - a new model of public health worker or first responder that is doing an equal amount of work to the other first responder systems - and that all are necessary.

[00:29:59] Crystal Fincher: What does it look like right now when there is an incident where both police and community violence interrupters or interventionists have been dispatched? Is there a sharing of information? Is there a handoff of information? How does that work?

[00:30:14] Eleuthera Lisch: It's important to note that they're meant to understand that they are there to do unique and distinct things. And that the sharing of information - even by language - is a complex and problematic set of terms because, in fact, community is not responsible for conducting criminal case investigation or solving crime. They are responsible to form meaningful connections and to ensure that folks are pathed to community care. So training our law enforcement partners to understand the unique and distinct role that our community violence intervention workers play, for community violence intervention workers to understand and appreciate the protocols and practices and policies of how law enforcement functions - but we are not seeking to intersect those. We are seeking to have complementary parallels where everybody can play their role. So there is not sharing of information - it's certainly not a two-way street. And when, in fact - in any practices locally or across the nation - law enforcement and community violence intervention is involved, what is clear is it is a one-way street. Law enforcement benefits from being able to say to community practitioners - Here's something you might need to know or might need to be concerned about - because law enforcement officials and individuals who understand the practice understand that these workers themselves are going to be able to do things, like form meaningful connections and increase people's safety in real time, in a way that law enforcement is not structured or set up to do.

[00:31:45] Crystal Fincher: Now, currently in our public conversations, government conversations - there's a lot of talk about dealing with looming budget deficits and cutting a lot of programs. Police seem to be largely exempted from the cuts - but talking about educational support, community support, sometimes even community violence interruption programs. As you're talking to public officials who are weighing these issues, how do you advise them to view the importance of the funding and continuation of a suite of violence interruption services, of a comprehensive approach - in the face of pressure to cut in the budget?

[00:32:28] Eleuthera Lisch: Wonderful question. I really appreciate it. And you're right, there is this looming truth - not just budget cuts - but a lot of this work since the onset of the Biden administration has actually been funded federally through COVID relief through ARPA dollars. And this field of practice - community violence intervention - has probably enjoyed the most prolific investment in its history. The Biden administration identified $5.6 billion for this body of work - myself and many of my peers and colleagues across the country were able to successfully advocate for that. So to your question about how do we talk to elected officials - first and foremost, our advice is to fund peace, fund safety. It's not a matter of what you're defunding because it's not competitive. We all have a role to play. It's not either-or. Fund peace. If we're seeking safe communities and we're seeking peace, we have to invest in the strategies that help us get there. The other thing we're doing is we've just recently contracted a cost-of-violence analysis to help support our local elected leaders in King County and at the state of Washington level to understand the cost savings of community violence intervention strategies. Every homicide starts at costing a million dollars, and every shooting has an untold number of costs that we can't necessarily predict. Harborview yesterday told me that the uptick in spinal cord injuries that are a result of recent shootings are of great concern - when we think about that in the context of a cost-of-violence analysis - what it will cost for someone to have to live the rest of their life with that injury, what it will cost Medicaid, what it will cost our government dollars to help sustain life as a result of being shot. So when we invest in the community strategies and we think about holistic public safety ecosystems and frameworks that are mutually and well invested in, we reduce ultimately the cost of taxpayer dollars and we reduce the cost of violence overall.

So those are important key points for us to be able to bring forward to the budgeting priority conversations and the legislative - like thinking about what policies do we need to implement to help us get there. Some exciting things like being able to bill Medicaid for community violence intervention are taking hold across the country - recognizing it as a public health issue, as a health equity issue is allowing for that door to be opened. So we're also trying to help demonstrate to our elected leaders and decision makers - A] the cost savings of gun violence intervention strategies be the analysis of what we're really talking about when we talk about the cost of violence so that we can make really informed decisions. And demonstrating the innovations where funding is available, and the moral courage that political leaders have been showing to invest in this strategy. The state of California, at something like $160 million dollars - an unprecedented amount of money - has been dedicated to this work, again, for the first time in history. It takes moral courage, it takes political will. But it also takes showing results in the work, and so we can't take that out of the equation. We need to continue to invest in the work so we can get to a place where this body of work has research and evaluation to back it. And we have to have the courage to recognize that while our police departments are experiencing - not for nothing, there are not a lot of police. There are not a lot of folks attracted to the business of policing. Things are changing. And in these times when, again, it's necessary for all of those things to function together if we're really going to have community safety - I want to highlight again that we're not talking about defunding. We're talking about investing in and funding peace as a strategy that has to work in tandem with those other areas that have been historically invested in.

[00:36:12] Crystal Fincher: Now you talked about - you are a pretty new office heading up, and coordinating, and overseeing the implementation of these initiatives. But it is important in the long-term to be able to evaluate what is working, what is helping, what needs to be modified to be more effective. What types of things are you looking at in the long-term to be able to evaluate the impact of these in the community?

[00:36:40] Eleuthera Lisch: So a couple of things. First of all, we're innovating measuring the impact of coordination, because where so much of this falls apart is a lack of coordination. So we want to be able to contribute to the field of practice and the body of research to recognize how important coordination is. From the actual interventions themselves, we're advancing and - specifically our program has been going through a pilot - starting with building community infrastructure to be able to do the work. So measuring how successfully we've built that infrastructure. Secondly, how receptive and accessible are those services? Because we have to build an infrastructure, but do the people come? If the people come, then we have to get into the granular work of individual change measurement - so are the interventions and strategies, the cognitive behavioral intervention, the relentless engagement, the quality case management, and we call it healing-centered engagement - are those practices demonstrating that young people are more resilient, less likely to be involved in an incident of violence, not getting deeper involved in the criminal legal system, attaching to the positive pro-social things like education and employment opportunities. And we will not know that for an average of five years at least, because a lot of these services are centered around adolescent brain development - which ends in some cases, arguably, as late as 25, 26, 27 years old. When young people are going through stages of development, they go to high school for four years, they go to college for four years. It takes time to make change. And so most interventions don't start to see meaningful change until around the 18-month mark. And in some cases, that's only when they're starting to see the uptake of whatever the dosage or medicine - if you will - that's being offered by the community care. So we need to be brave enough to look out to four and five years and say, we can now substantiate the transformation and change has happened. We're doing all of the steps and we're trying to push that waterline, or that marker, out further for people to understand that to be able to see transformational change, you have to actually take time.

[00:38:51] Crystal Fincher: You talked about the importance of coordination. How was the lack of coordination problematic before, and what benefits does coordination provide?

[00:39:02] Eleuthera Lisch: I think about it - I'm not a parent, so this is probably going to seem super out of pocket - but to me, it's ultimately no different than healthy parenting. If people are triangulating and going to one place, getting one answer, not liking that answer, going to another place to get a different answer - systems start to fall apart. In the context of coordination for gun violence reduction - first of all, we don't want to duplicate services. We want to make sure that people are getting quality care in the right place by the right people, and then that there are enough of those people to meet all of the needs for all the individuals who may need care. And so often, any one initiative can only look at the scope of its own mandate and not necessarily recognize, again, that violence respects no boundary or border - and so they're only servicing somebody while they're in their direct sightlines. But as soon as they are displaced to a new community, they have not had the ability to follow that individual, or to continue to provide care, or to do a handoff to another trusted person within a network that can pick up that individual and support them and continue the care that they may need where they are. So in our case of coordination between the hospital, between our King County Public Health, and our partnerships with the City of Seattle and the way we are co-investing in strategies, the State of Washington's Office of Firearm Injury and Violence Prevention - that we meet every two weeks with - we are all talking about how important it is to be able to ensure that there is a comprehensive web of support regardless of where people live. And so coordination is allowing us to be able to work with the city of Kent and recognize a relationship between central area of Seattle and folks displaced, who are perhaps moving to Kent - and make sure that there's a continuum of care that supports people wherever they are. So at that level, this kind of coordination is important - becomes that much more important too when you rise up into the grass-tops space where we have to ensure that there are shared budgeting priorities and shared policy agendas. And if we are not speaking to each other, that's next to impossible. So when we can convene, when we can compare, when we can discuss competing priorities and finding the middle ground - we are going to be able to provide better quality of care for individuals and ultimately sustain community and public safety at far greater rates for far longer.

[00:41:26] Crystal Fincher: Well, you're absolutely correct that coordination is beneficial, including among jurisdictions and our leaders. Right now, part of the conversation is that Seattle is exploring reducing funding to regional responses in homelessness and other areas. What is the relationship like with the City of Seattle and how is that coordination with the county and the Office on Gun Violence Prevention? Will the City of Seattle contribute to the office's budget?

[00:41:59] Eleuthera Lisch: They do. And I think what's important, first of all, the community organizations that do this work - it's a small handful of folks who do this work. And what's important for us to do as a government, regardless of what the jurisdiction is, is to collaborate with each other to ensure that those community organizations can be successful in what we are asking them to do. And so we've proudly partnered with the City of Seattle since the onset of our pilot - our office is new, but the work started a couple of years ago, so we are maturing some work and formalizing it into this office. But we have been able to work successfully with the City of Seattle, as they have passed funding through us to invest in this regional strategy, and succeeded in helping the state of Washington find their way into that as well. And we are continuing to seek, with our smaller municipalities, an opportunity to braid and blend funding to ensure that the community organizations can do this work uninterrupted. Budget crises are real. And so while it may look like people are not cooperating with each other, I think there's always a route that's happening about how people have to prioritize one thing over another and it's too bad that any of our crises would ever have to compete with each other. But it is - it's real everywhere. Things change. And again, what is important to us is sustaining political will and sustaining funding streams to ensure that the community is best positioned to do their work. To that end, we also have launched - at the behest of the King County Executive and proudly now tri-chaired by Mayor Bruce Harrell and Council President for the City of Renton, Ed Prince - they are tri-chairing our Executive Leadership Advisory Group for this regional approach to gun violence. So the conversation is really happening and they have agreed to work together toward shared budgeting priorities, they've agreed to work together toward joint policy agendas. And we're also weaving together an intergovernment workgroup to support that so that we are talking to each other across departments and across units - and at the King County Sheriff's Office and they have a gun violence unit, and the Prosecuting Attorney's Office has a gun violence unit. We have to be equanimous in being able to speak to everybody. And if we're going to have a holistic approach, we don't want anybody to want to leave the table - so it's incumbent on us to set the right table and to make sure that we are bringing folks into a space where they can see the results, that they can ask the questions or express the concerns, and that we can work together toward finding the solutions. And then the other important part of that table, to be clear, is that the community is at the center of that and the community organizations doing this work - we should be fighting for the people who are fighting for the people.

[00:44:47] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. So as we close, there are a lot of people in the community who see gun violence and who are concerned about it, worried about it, but unsure what they could do to help change things and help make a difference, to help promote peace. What would you recommend for people who are in the community who want to see more of a holistic approach? How would you recommend they take action, or who should they speak with, or what should they do that would be helpful?

[00:45:22] Eleuthera Lisch: That's a great question. First of all, it's nuanced work - it doesn't always have a lot of space for the well-intended volunteerism that so many other work benefits from. But that doesn't mean that there aren't points of entry and places that folks can get involved. What's important to consider is voting matters - and voting toward the values and uplifting individuals who especially will fund peace, who will promote our holistic approaches. I think it's also really important that if folks know that there are individuals in crisis, that they know that they can have a direct role in helping people. One caring adult is transformative in a young person's life. And so sometimes it's not as important to know how to engage with my office - it's very important to know that you can have meaningful impact in the young person's life in your community that you are concerned about. You can be involved at all local levels of mentoring programs. Supporting the community organizations that do this work - invest in them, contribute to them, volunteer with them, show up where they have events, participate in the events that they hold. Another really important thing you can do is if you are a responsible gun owner, or if you are a gun owner because of necessity or crisis in your life - store that weapon. Reach out to the Lock It Up program at King County Public Health and see how you can get access to safe storage equipment and make sure that you are not contributing to the problem. So sometimes we want to know how we can step in and support the solution, and part of that solution is also not participating in things that contribute to the problem. So safely storing weapons obviously is important, but really being actively involved in your community and in the life of the young people that are in your orbit, and in the organizations that do this particular body of work.

And we have a resource page for King County - - RGV, standing for regional gun violence. That resource page has information about all the organizations that are doing this work. It has a link that you can submit a referral for a young person who may need care. It has information about upcoming events that you can get involved with. And we highly encourage folks to take a role wherever they see themselves being comfortable taking a role - that's the other thing is - not everyone's a violence interrupter, not everyone is going to go to work for or volunteer for these organizations, but we can all participate in our civic duties. We can all participate in safe storage, and we can all participate in amplifying the message that community-led solutions are important and that they are a functional part of a holistic public safety framework. We often talk about gun violence being a disease. I want to emphasize, as strongly as I possibly can, that the community is the cure.

[00:48:22] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Very wise words. Thank you so much for spending this time with us today and sharing so much useful and valuable information, and letting us know how we can get involved in community safety. Thank you so much, Eleuthera Lisch.

[00:48:38] Eleuthera Lisch: Thank you so much for having me.

[00:48:40] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is produced by Shannon Cheng. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on every podcast service and app - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at and in the podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.