Something remarkable is happening in one of Baltimore’s poorest, most dangerous neighborhoods, reports the Detroit Free Press. Fatal shootings have slowed significantly in Park Heights, and the neighborhood in the northwest part of the city has twice gone more than a year without a single gun death. That’s even as Baltimore is set to top 300 shootings for the second year in a row. There were 344 homicides in 2015 after the number had dipped as low as 197 in 2011. The drop in Park Heights is credited largely to Safe Streets, a program run by the city’s Health Department that flips the script on the “no snitch” street culture.
Safe Streets hires ex-cons from Park Heights and other neighborhoods to defuse volatile situations before guns are drawn. The idea is to use the people most familiar with violence — those who perpetrated it, served time for it and are now willing to turn around their lives — to reach out to drug dealers and gang members before their beefs end up in death, working along the way to change neighborhood norms away from violence. “I’m a true believer in this program,” said Cheo Hurley of Park Heights Renaissance, a community development agency that sponsors the Safe Streets program there. “Safe Streets is an outside-the-box violence prevention effort. You’ve got to try different ways to make change. This program changes lives. It changes the guys’ lives — they have a job. And they’re saving lives. That’s a double benefit of this program.” The Free Press reported the story with help from a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network.