Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order on March 14 announcing the establishment of a statewide Office of Violence Prevention. The office, which will operate within the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, will work to reduce violence and firearm misuse in North Carolina.
The new office will take a public health-oriented approach toward violence prevention and will work with other state agencies, including the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
This new office is part of Cooper's wider goal to limit violence and promote public safety. In the past, Cooper has promoted safe firearm storage and vetoed bills that would reduce background checks.
Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, the state health director and chief medical officer for the NCDHHS, said the move will help to codify collaboration between state agencies on violence prevention.
“A really key piece of this office is we'll be coordinating across other state agencies that are in the work having to do with violence prevention," Tilson said.
When viewed through a public health lens, she said violence prevention can be tackled by understanding risk and protective factors, deploying interventions and spreading best practices widely.
Tilson said a public health approach can also address the underlying drivers of violence, such as poverty and a lack of stable housing.
"It's really trying to think about people, whole people, and what is the support that we can bring to communities to prevent violence in the first place?” she said.
Tilson said the NCDHHS has already been doing work on gun violence, including publishing a report in the fall of 2022. She said the new Office of Violence Prevention will enable the agency to continue and expand its efforts.
Robert Jenkins, a senior implementation specialist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, said a state agency like the Office of Violence Prevention has the potential to make a large impact in addressing problems in the community.
He said state agencies can have this impact on reducing violence by linking research and proven strategies to local communities, providing technical training and supporting funding for programs and policies.
Jenkins said statewide violence prevention efforts also require proper resources and clear strategies at the local level to be effective.
"All violence occurs locally,” Jenkins said. “When I think about an Office of Violence Prevention or even larger efforts around legislatures or federal Congress or federal agencies, I always want to tie it back to, how will this lead to strategies and solutions that make a difference in local communities, because that's where it's happening.”
Within the UNC community, one of those smaller-scale programs focused on violence prevention is Violence Prevention and Advocacy Services. Sloan Thompson, a violence prevention coordinator at VPAS, said that while the organization is focused on sexual and gender-based violence, there is a connection between the work VPAS does and firearm violence prevention.
"Preventing firearm violence will prevent a lot of the worst and most lethal outcomes of relationship violence,” Thompson said.
She said VPAS applauds the new executive order and that violence prevention is often overlooked in favor of law enforcement and violence reporting measures.
The Chapel Hill Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office are both unsure how they will be collaborating with the Office of Violence Prevention in the future.
“We are looking forward to learning more about support and resources the Office of Violence Prevention will offer agencies such as ours," Alex Carrasquillo, the Town of Chapel Hill's community safety public information officer, said.
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