City & Ceasefire Partnership: Long Overdue

Why did it take so long for the City of Chicago to formally partner with the urban anti-violence group Ceasefire?

As reported in the Chicago Tribune, Ceasefire will received a $1 million grant from the City of Chicago to mediate potential conflicts in two high crime police districts on the west and south sides of the city.

For those that don’t know about Ceasefire, or haveĀ  not seen the award winning documentary The Interrupters, the group employs ex-convicts (usually those that were once high level street gang members) to mediate individual disputes before they erupt into violence. Ceasefire’s primary objective is to prevent shootings and murders from ever taking place by disrupting the conditions that lead up to the violence outburst.

Ceasefire is a national organization with several local chapters including the one in Chicago. Each has their own success stories, and like any organization, there have also been a few “bad apples” that worked for Ceasefire only to use the operation to return to street crime.

Overall, the group appears to make a difference in the homicide rates in the areas in which they are active. More research needs to be done to confirm the data, but the initial findings are encouraging.

Police leadership and beat officers are not thrilled about working with Ceasefire. Many of these officers have had violent encounters with some of the very ex-felons who work for Ceasefire. Police also recognize that Ceasefire is an extra-judical operation that neither assists police in gathering intelligence or evidence nor has any law enforcement capability itself. The CPD rank and file worry that Ceasefire will get in the way of their ongoing community efforts and could undermine their ability to create relationships with neighborhood residents.

Let’s be clear, the CPD has some valid concerns about Ceasefire. However, we need to put Ceasefire in context. The organization is not a substitute for the police, nor is it a silver bullet to stop homicides. It is simply a supplemental tool for local governments to use among many others in their fight against street crime.

Let’s also not kid ourselves about the CPD’s relationship with certain communities. Many residents of dangerous neighborhoods do not trust anyone let along their local police. Sometimes that lack of trust is justified. In 2011, the FBI broke up an operation in which two Chicago police officers were alleged to be part of a criminal conspiracy that funneled guns, drugs and cash to the Latin Kings street gang operation. Those officers were alleged to have used their badges, CPD issued firearms and uniforms in the thefts. Earlier this year, the FBI busted two CPD officers including one sergeant, Ronald Watts, for stealing $5,200 from someone they believed to be a drug money transporter in exchange for not arresting him or breaking up the drug ring. While most CPD officers are brave, courageous and heroic; those few ugly souls have left scars on some communities that have undermined the trust essential to urban policing.

Ceasefire’s role is to save lives that would otherwise be lost to senseless murders and put a wet towel over potentially explosive interpersonal conflicts. If Ceasefire can succeed in that fundamental goal, it can change the environment in which cops, social workers, community leaders and city officials operate in their efforts to bring peace to neighborhoods.

Fewer murders mean fewer crimes for police to respond to and fewer cases for detectives to get inundated with. This would free up those cops and detectives to work on existing cases and give the beat cops a chance to work on their prevention strategies. If the beat cops are constantly running from one crime scene to another all shift long, when do they have time to talk with the mini-mart owner or the church pastor?

Social workers spend a lot of time working with witnesses to murder, trying to help them deal with the mental health consequences of seeing such a thing at a young age. Fewer murders would allow those social workers to spend less time with new PTSD patients and more time counseling parents and teens on essential everyday functions.

Tamping down the violence would allow for the city to come in with economic development operations. Investors and small businesses won’t take a chance on a community where shootings are an everyday occurrence but they will take a risk if basic security is in place.

Community leaders like pastors and community group presidents are often toiling in darkness trying to improve communities. Their unnoticed work often gets undone and overshadowed when a murder sparks revenge killings. Preventing violence will allow more of the community leader’s work to grow roots and their peaceful, productive messages will have a chance to sink in.

Chicago’s alarming homicide statistics are complex. Ceasefire has had success mediating individual conflicts that spark wider gang retaliations. Many of those situations started with simple insults, teen egos run amok or disrespectful comments. In those situations where the violence has its roots in depressed economics and a corrupted community culture, Ceasefire can be a very powerful tool.

There are neighborhoods in Chicago where the violence stems from a vast black market drug, gun and sex trade which traces its sources back to violent Mexican and international cartels. I’m not sure how much success Ceasefire will have mediating those conflicts where huge sums of money are often the fuel for confrontations. It is also true that Latino street gangs are notoriously difficult to penetrate for outsiders, even those with neighborhood affiliations. However, if anyone can get in to mediate confrontations, it is Ceasefire because they can recruit former members who have credibility within the gang.

State and county governments have been willing to give Ceasefire funding at various levels. Up until today, the City of Chicago had not invested anything into the program. Why did it take this long in a city with such a complex murder problem?

I understand that police had serious reservations to address and that a funding mechanism with accountability takes time to craft. But its not like Ceasefire was created 6 months ago, nor has Chicago’s murder rate just recently made the news. This has been a Chicago problem for decades and Ceasefire has been around since its creation in Boston more than 15 years ago.

As a Republican, I believe public safety is government’s number 1 priority. Anything it can do to save lives should be done even if it requires working with those who used to be the biggest dangers to peace and prosperity. And as much as we scrutinize every penny of government spending, we advocate sparing no expense in securing people and property. Ceasefire is a program worthy of investment and worthy of taking a risk on.

Ceasefire is no silver bullet, but it is a grassroots organization made up of people from the neighborhoods most afflicted by violence. It gives ex-cons an opportunity to not only find employment after prison, but also a chance at personal redemption by working to improve the very communities they helped to destroy. It gives police and social workers a better environment in which to do their essential work. It gives community development projects time to work. It’s long past time that Chicago gives Ceasefire funding and a chance.

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