Chicago police will try to reduce the city’s growing murder rate by partnering for the first-time with anti-violence group CeaseFire, which trains ex-cons to attack violence as if it were a spreading disease.
Chicago-based CeaseFire, whose “violence interrupters” programs have been replicated and studied in several U.S. cities, as well as in Iraq, will receive $1 million from the Windy City’s Department of Public Health beginning July 13.
CeaseFire previously received state and federal money, but not city funding, the group said.
The partnership was proposed after Memorial Day weekend shootings left 10 dead, pushing the city’s homicide count to 200 for the year, the Chicago Sun-times reported. By June 17, the Sun Times said, the city’s murders were running 38 percent ahead of the same period in 2011.
The new funding will boost the number of CeaseFire program workers in Chicago to about 140, up from 100, Dr. Gary Slutkin, CeaseFire founder, told msnbc.com.
Slutkin last weekend was on a U.S. Conference of Mayors panel with mayors from Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Fresno to encourage other cities to support CeaseFire’s model, which can be seen online in PBS’ “Frontline” documentary “The Interrupters.”
Slutkin, an internal medicine and infectious diseases specialist, said CeaseFire takes a public health approach to public safety.
“Violence has been misunderstood,” Slutkin said. “In the absence of a correct strategy, violence will go up, down or sideways in waves. The only way to predictably reduce it is using methods that interrupt it.”
Violence is perpetuated as people consider it the norm, he warned.
“You get a situation where someone looks at someone’s girlfriend, now the expectation is it’s normal to shoot someone,” he said.
He said CeaseFire tries to intervene with the people who are at highest risk for violence.
Slutkin acknowledged a Sun-Times report that six ex-felons have been arrested while working for CeaseFire. However, he said, it's rare. The program sees just a 1 or 2 percent relapse rate, he said, with only two people out of 600 hired over 12 years having been convicted.
Workers go through intensive training, are hired by panels and are subjected to regular drug tests, Slutkin said.
On the street, they work like disease-control workers.
“What we do is figure out who the people are who are spreading the disease, the people most likely to be shooters,” said Amy Ellenbogen, who directs Save Our Streets Crown Heights, a Brooklyn, N.Y., program replicating CeaseFire and serving about 20,000 residents in a 40-block area.
From an eight-member team, four work as street-outreach counselors, trying to get the people most at risk of committing violence to change their focus, perhaps toward getting a GED or job, she told msnbc.com.
“Street outreach is incredibly important, knowing the players and how to persuade them to make better choices,” Ellenbrogen said.
Another four are the interrupters, who step in to mediate potentially violent situations.
“We’ve mediated over 100 incidences” since the team was hired in February 2010, Ellenbogen said.
Like other public health campaign, the program tries to “change the norms of the community,” which means making gun violence not acceptable.
Merchants have signs in window that count the days since last shooting; pizza boxes at a local parlor carry the words “Stop shooting, start living”; neighborhood posters proclaim, “Don’t shoot, I want to grow up.”
Community meetings are held when a shooting does occur, she said. The number of shooting deaths dropped to 13 last year from 25 the year before in the area served, she said.
May 29: Ceasefire director and University of Illinois/Chicago epidemiologist, Gary Slutkin, featured in NBC's Kevin Tibbles' report, describes his organization's approach to reducing gang violence.
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