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Full Funding of the National Violent Death Reporting System: An Investment in Saving Lives


Responding to calls from law enforcement and public health experts, the Joyce Foundation in 1999 joined with five other private funders to create the prototype for a nationwide system to collect data on violent deaths. Their goal: help public agencies and researchers understand and develop strategies to reduce violent deaths, most of which involve firearms.

With technical assistance from the Harvard School of Public Health, the pilot program quickly established its value and in 2002 was brought into the federal government with public funding as the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), and began by collecting data from six states.

Housed in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NVDRS is a comprehensive, linked reporting system collecting information on homicides, suicides, accidental deaths and deaths from legal intervention. It is drawn from reports filed by medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement, and other sources.

The program grew over time, adding states as funding increased. The Joyce Foundation supported efforts by the American College of Preventive Medicine and others to educate the public health community and policy makers about the value of the data and the NVDRS program.

With funding approved during the Obama administration, the program reached 42 states and territories, and now, with additional funding from Congress in the omnibus budget bill approved in late March, it can reach all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“Funding for NVDRS means an investment in protecting the lives of Americans,” said Michael Barry, executive director of the American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM). “NVDRS is a cost-effective program that yields high quality data, giving public health and law enforcement officials the ability to analyze trends and devise strategies to address the factors that contribute to those deaths. Fully implementing this system throughout the country is a promising step towards meaningful research and policy interventions to reduce violent deaths, including deaths from gun violence.”

Nina Vinik, director of the Joyce Foundation’s Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform Program, commended the ACPM and other advocates for their persistence on the issue.

“We often say in philanthropy that policy advocacy requires patience and the willingness to tolerate what can be a long journey to your destination. The long battle to win full funding for NVDRS is a classic case.”

Data from NVDRS has been used by injury and violence prevention experts to determine rates and trends for specific types of violent deaths – vital for understanding factors contributing to them. In situations ranging from homicides and suicides related to domestic violence, to mistreatment of elders, or substance abuse, state and local governments have translated NVDRS data into targeted violence prevention actions.

The Wisconsin Violent Death Reporting System (WVDRS), for example, has been used to provide a better understanding of youth firearm suicides, and led to the creation of a statewide suicide prevention plan. The plan increased mental health services for youth and trained providers to counsel clients at risk for suicide, and their families, to reduce access to lethal means, especially firearms.