Some “foot soliders and lieutenants” in Baltimore drug sales have signed on with Operation Safe Streets, a Baltimore Health Department program that hires ex-offenders to stop the shootings in their own neighborhood, reports the Baltimore Sun. “It’s gonna take [guys] like us in the ‘hood,” said one. “The police can’t do it. It’s impossible.” Safe Streets, modeled on similar programs that have shown promise in other cities, began last June in an East Baltimore neighborhood just blocks from the Johns Hopkins medical campus, rife with open-air drug markets and controlled by the Bloods gang. More than a quarter of the homes are vacant; about one-third of the residents live below the poverty line.
Safe Streets sends four outreach workers to canvass the community, mediate conflicts, and mentor young men at risk of being the victims or perpetrators of shootings. Since June, no one has been killed in the area. The previous year, three people were killed. Sometimes workers sort out fights and disputes they see on the streets. Other times they are called for help. When one person was threatened by a rival gang, the workers invited the warring parties to the office. Thirty people crowded into the program’s rowhouse, talked it out and agreed not to harm one another. “A lot of the shootings can be over relatively minor disputes, because people think that’s what they’re supposed to do,” said Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who sees youth violence as a behavior that can be treated. Operation Safe Streets is a replica of Chicago;s CeaseFire program, which has led to double-digit reductions in shootings and homicides since it began in 2000.