Chicago recruits CeaseFire group to help reduce crime
Ceasefire representative Tio Hardiman, center, Chicago Police First Deputy Superintendent Alfonza Wysinger, left, and Dr.Gary Slutkin, right, announce details of a new pilot program to address gang-related violence in three districts on Chicago. The City of Chicago awarded a one-year $1 million grant to Chicago Project for Violence Prevention. (Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune / June 26, 2012)
The city will give the group a one-year grant for $1 million to hire 40 "interrupters" who will mediate conflicts in the Ogden and Grand Crossing districts, where gun violence has spiked.
"The amount of gun violence in our city is simply unacceptable," First Deputy Police Superintendent Alfonza Wysinger said at a news conference today at the Jackson Park Fieldhouse on the South Side. "We're not talking about numbers. We're talking about people."
The first-ever partnership between CeaseFire and the Chicago Police Department was first announced after a violent Memorial Day weekend that saw about 40 people shot, 10 of them fatally. So far this year, homicides are up 38 percent across the city and shootings up 12 percent.
The agreement, brokered by the Chicago Department of Public Health, will go into effect on July 13, Wysinger said.
Some police officers --- including Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy -- have voiced concern about the partnership, primarily because CeaseFire is known to hire convicted felons to mediate street conflicts. McCarthy has said he supported the partnership but was "not a big fan" of the way CeaseFire works.
"When an event occurs when people are trying to do damage and somebody comes in and tries to interrupt that particular dynamic, and they tell people, 'Well, don't talk to the police. We understand you can't trust the police. But look at us. You can trust us. They're undercutting that legitimacy that were trying to create with the community," McCarthy told an audience on June 12 at the Union League Club of Chicago.
Traditionally, CeaseFire worked as a parallel entity to the police department. They've insisted in the past on working separately from the department because the gang members and other criminals with whom they work to resolve conflicts don't trust the police.
But Wysinger said it's important for CeaseFire and the police department to set aside their differences and work together to reduce shootings and homicides.
"What we're trying to do from this point forward is to not look back at the way things were in the past," Wysinger said. "This is just one of the tools that we're putting down in our toolbox to help tamp down some of this violence."
CeaseFire officials said the group won't be doing anything different from what it has done in the past -- and they don't plan on acting as "informants" for police officers.
The group's effectiveness will be evaluated through the police department's CompStat system, a data-driven approach championed by McCarthy that measures successes and failures of crime-fighting strategies in each district.
Ceasefire's executive director, Tio Hardiman, said 40 of their workers will be assigned to the Ogden and Grand Crossing police districts. CeaseFire will be "targeting" individuals believed responsible for much of the violence, Wysinger said.
This is the first time CeaseFire has received funding from the City of Chicago. Previously, it was largely funded through state and county sources.