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CeaseFire: Success Beyond Chicago

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Shooting. Violence. Retaliation. These are words spoken all too often by many of the youth in Chicago's West Garfield neighborhood. Last August, when a young man we'll call John was shot, rivals aligned to retaliate against the shooter. The situation could have easily spiraled out of control if CeaseFire wasn't already hard at work mediating the conflict.

Shootings and killings plague too many of our nation's neighborhoods. But the good news is that CeaseFire, an innovative public health approach to violence prevention that a 2008 Northwestern University study found significantly reduced shootings in Chicago neighborhoods, is moving to cities across the nation. CeaseFire's workers are community members who anticipate and prevent retaliation shootings by reaching out to involved persons and encouraging change.

A December 10 New York Times article, "Gunfire Will No Longer Be Met by Silence," featured the work of Save Our Streets (S.O.S.), the CeaseFire replication site in Crown Heights, NY. In the article, author Tim Stelloh comments that the Baltimore and Kansas City, MO sites have experienced "mixed results," raising an important question: this model is succeeding in Crown Heights and Chicago, but can it work in other cities? The answer is yes, as long as these three elements are present: strong leadership, adherence to the CeaseFire model and consistent funding.

Strong, consistent leadership requires vision -- a strategic approach backed by specific, targeted plans for implementing the strategy. Leadership under the CeaseFire model is bold, assertive and steadfast because the model is under constant scrutiny and reliably has naysayers who aren't yet prepared to endorse a public health strategy that often involves former felons as protectors of community safety.

Being "true to the model" means implementing the model's components within an appropriate geographic area, with the highest risk populations and with the proper number of staff. This includes addressing any language barriers present in neighborhoods by hiring staff with the necessary language capabilities and street credibility needed to reach and persuade those at highest risk of committing violent acts.

Lastly, without consistent funding, outreach workers and violence interrupters cannot be available at times when they may be needed the most. Lack of political will leads to budgetary ups and downs that hinder the success of replication sites, and disproportionally impacts those who live and work in violent areas.

Violence undermines all other efforts to help distressed communities thrive -- we must turn the tide on violence if better education, community development, job creation and health promotion is to take root in neighborhoods that need them the most.

While violence was the norm for many community members in West Garfield, that norm is slowly changing. CeaseFire mediated 498 conflicts in Chicago last year, potentially saving hundreds of lives. CeaseFire resolved the conflict underlying John's shooting by assigning violence interrupters to work with each party. These violence interrupters also reached out within the community to "older brother" figures who could urge the younger boys away from acting violently. It took a month, but eventually the young boys sat down together, and with the help of CeaseFire, worked out a peace treaty. Success stories like this don't happen every day across America, but with CeaseFire's help, they could.