“CeaseFire” Helps Chicago’s Homicide Decline

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They went around the table rattling off past crimes like addicts dutifully repenting at a weekly meeting. Gangbanging. Gun toting. Drug dealing. The Chicago Tribune says that such admissions were necessary. As the newest recruits in an anti-violence initiative called CeaseFire, these men and women had to buy into the program’s basic concept: Violence, like alcoholism or drug abuse, has become a disease in Chicago, a disease that has taken on epidemic proportions. The group of more than a dozen former thugs and gang members prepared to become outreach workers in an aggressive campaign aimed at reining in street violence the same way public health groups have gone after AIDS and tuberculosis. “To tell people they need to let the street life go, you have to have let it go yourself,” Tio Hardiman, the program’s community coordinator, told the trainees. “We’re trying to change the way people think. What we’re trying to say is it’s abnormal to shoot someone. There’s nothing normal about that.”

Police, civic leaders, and criminologists say CeaseFire is part of the reason the homicide count in Chicago has dropped significantly from last year’s nation-leading numbers. There were 393 homicides through Thursday, down 126 from the same time last year. Stepped-up police efforts are responsible for much of the drop, but CeaseFire has shown a solid statistical impact. Homicides in the nine police districts where CeaseFire has a presence are down 28 percent this year. In the other 16 police districts, killings are down 20 percent. The state increased the program’s funding from under $1 million last year to about $5 million this year. There are now 70 outreach workers, up from 20 last year, and CeaseFire has a presence in 12 different Chicago-area communities and four other cities across the state. “We’re getting in their heads,” said project director Gary Slutkin. “We’re talking to them and getting their heads on straight, getting them to think differently, change their behavior.” He added that, “Violence follows usual epidemiological patterns. When you look at charts, graphs, and maps, it follows exactly like all epidemics. You can think of an epidemic of a flu or tuberculosis, where there are very few cases, then there are more and more. Violence has a contagious nature.”

Link: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-0411070010nov07,1,2641864.story?coll=chi-news-hed

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