After the Aurora shooting I blogged about a little-known positive development toward long-term public safety and public health: a funding stream tucked quietly into the Affordable Care Act, that will allow programs like the Nurse-Family Partnership to expand across the country.
There is a movement among public officials, administrators, and researchers toward evidence-based public safety solutions. "Evidence-based" is a fancy way of saying What Works. The idea is that we fund testable programs, measure their results, and then expand and replicate the ones that produce positive results -- like Safe2Tell, LifeSkills Training, Virginia Pretrial Risk Assessment Instrument, and Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care -- and discontinue the ones that don't.
What Works can involve approaches to education, parenting, teaching, sentencing, corrections, probation, prosecution, psychological intervention and treatment, substance abuse, policing, social work, and on and on and on... and usually several of the above in conjunction with one another.
In the immediate aftermath of horrors like yesterday's in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, you don't hear a lot of demands and petitions and vigils for our leaders to devote more resources to evidence-based public safety. The What Works industry has notoriously weak PR. And What Works isn't very emotionally satisfying -- it doesn't promise to stop the next one of whatever just happened, and it doesn't pit you against a partisan, ideological or special-interest opponent.
So it's not surprising to me that, for the past 24 hours, I've been seeing very earnest declarations from many corners placing blame for Sandy Hook on current gun laws (too loose or too restrictive), irreligious education, declining cultural morality, insufficient mental health funding, "a popular culture that treats graphic violence as routine" (thanks Tom Brokaw), gaming, and various combinations of the above.
These are generally quite emotionally-satifying targets of one's anger, and outlets for one's feeling of helplessness. And it's also not surprising that nothing much happens after the initial intensity of those emotions fades. That's a shame in some cases, because some of those things are part of What Works, but the truth is that overall it's probably just as well, because -- no offense -- but very, very few of you have any clue whatsoever about What Works.
What would be nice is if more people, once the emotion fades a little, try to help the What Works movement gain more traction and support. Tell your elected officials that you want more resources put toward evidence-based public safety.
It won't be very emotionally satisfying. But it will actually help ensure that, in the future, tragedy like yesterday's will befall fewer people.