“Violence is an infectious disease,” says Gary Slutkin of Chicago, a former epidemiologist for the World Health Organization, says U.S. News & World Report. In Chicago, he says, 20 to 30 percent of children have witnessed a shooting. Public-health officials and doctors at big-city hospitals have long seen violence as a health issue; besides the lives lost and the legacy of anguish and fear, medical costs average $39,000 per shooting, Slutkin estimates. In 1995, he joined the faculty at the University of Illinois-Chicago and founded the Chicago Center for Violence Prevention. Its CeaseFire antiviolence campaign is designed–like the fight against AIDS in Africa–to interrupt harmful behavior and change social norms.
“They’re taking on a tough target,” says criminologist Wesley Skogan of Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research, who studies violence in Chicago. Just 5 percent of offenders commit 40 percent of crimes, Skogan says. He has started a two-year study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, to determine how much of the recent decline in violence in Chicago can be attributed to CeaseFire and how much to other programs like the federal Project Safe Neighborhoods and Chicago Police Department efforts.