Advocates Say Public Health Approach to Crime Works, Should Expand


Advocates of treating violence as a public health problem and having trained “interrupters” talk directly with perpetrators and victims in high-crime neighborhoods made their case yesterday to the National Forum on Criminal Justice in Chicago.

Gary Slutkin, founder of Cure Violence (formerly CeaseFire Chicago), told the forum’s opening session, “It’s time for [the program] to be institutionalized.” Slutkin said the method had proved successful in studies covering parts of three cities–Chicago, Baltimore and New York. Among other things, the interrupters work to change the “expectation in some neighborhoods that you shoot a gun if someone insults you,” Slutkin said. He noted that the federal government had offered only limited funding to help operate the program locally.

In the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn, N.Y., where the concept also has been tried, average monthly shooting rates dropped 6 percent while they increased in comparison areas between 18 and 28 percent, said Lenore Cerniglia of the Center for Court Innovation, which did an evaluation.

The public health approach also was tried in Kansas City, Mo., where Police Maj. Anthony Ell told the forum it was successful, but “it’s not going to replace what law enforcement does.” Slutkin said the program is active in only about one-fourth of Chicago, which continues to experience serious crime problems. An analysis of CeaseFire in Chicago published on the U.S. Justice Department’s website said the program “was associated with decreases in shootings, killings, and retaliatory homicides, and appeared to make shooting hot spots cooler in some neighborhoods but not others. Overall, the results were mixed.”

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