Starting later this month, CeaseFire will join with the Chicago Police Department to help the city in its efforts in getting a handle on gang-related violence and curb the recent uptick in murders. The partnership will mark the first of its kind between the two groups and will be the first time CeaseFire receives city money. Previously the organization has gotten funds from the county and state.
The city announced that CeaseFire and the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health would be a part of an initiative to deal with gang violence. Police officials said that Chicago has a “unique” gang model compared to other big cities, with around two dozen gang organizations and some 600 factions that have grown out of them.
The pilot program is part of the mayor’s overall goal of snatching communities back from drug dealers and gang bangers and returning them back to the respective community. He has also put addressing crime prominently on the city’s public health agenda.
“Our goal is to increase the quality of life by reducing and preventing exposure to violence in the home and community, and this new partnership between CPD, CDPH and CeaseFire gives us an opportunity to build upon our violence prevention foundation to make Chicago a safer city for all of our residents,” said CDPH Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair.
Tio Hardimon, director of CeaseFire Chicago, told the Chicago Citizen that the $1 million the city is giving his organization assists with helping to quell gang conflicts and violence starting July 13 in the Grand Crossing (3rd) and Ogden (10th) Police Districts. He explained that he will use the money to hire new workers, often called violence interrupters, who would be trained to step in on known gang beefs to settle issues and prevent actions, including retaliation shootings.
Murder is up 35 percent in Chicago, garnering the city national attention. Since Memorial Day there have been nearly 200 shootings with at least two youth under the age of 10 among the dozens of casualties.
The city is reeling over the recent shooting death of 7-year-old Heaven Sutton who was struck by a gunman’s stray bullet near her home in the Austin community on June 27, after spending the day selling snow cones and candy there. Sunday the mayor spoke out in a written statement after police captured a 26-year-old suspected gang member in the case.
“No parent should have to endure this type of pain,” Emmanuel said. “We cannot lose another innocent child to violence and I will continue to fight to make sure the Chicago police has the resources it needs to stop the violence.”
Hardimon is confident that CeaseFire can help to make a difference. He said his organization has previously played a “valuable” role in reducing shootings and homicides in certain neighborhoods.
He said compared to January to June 2011, due in part to CeaseFire, there have been 20 fewer shootings in Roseland, 18 fewer in South Chicago, Logan Square has a decrease of seven shootings and there have been 10 fewer in the Auburn Gresham area.
Critics of the non-profit organization include faith and other community stakeholders who point out that CeaseFire reportedly had a number of convicted criminals among its staff. Police Supt. Garry McCarthy spoke at a community forum in Chatham this past weekend and attempted to clarify reports that he was “not a fan” of CeaseFire and how it operates, and that he further was not pleased to hear of convicted felons being on its payroll.
“I believe that there are some very successful ways that street workers, Interrupters, can be used, as far as working hand-in-glove with the police,” McCarthy said. “Those guys have credibility amongst folks in the streets.
“When we look at CeaseFire, there has to be distance from the police but it has to be working with police. We don’t want to put those CeaseFire workers in a bad position by having the bad guys thinking that they’re snitches. So I want to get this right; and it’s too important not to get it right,” said the police chief.
Hardimon said he fires workers who get involved in criminal activity. He also understands the superintendent’s concerns.
“I appreciate the fact that the superintendent understands the level of work that CeaseFire does in Chicago and how we can complement what the police department is doing without compromising the integrity of the staff,” said Hardimon.
Hardimon said even critics of his organization would have to unite in order for any crime fighting to have a chance to work.
“We all need to get past our differences and get these homicides under control in Chicago before we reach an all-time high,” he said.