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CeaseFire could fight inner-city violence

Initial results in Chicago show 45% fewer shootings

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It's called CeaseFire, and it's worked so well in Chicago and other big American cities to reduce street and gang violence, the provincial government is eyeing importing it to Winnipeg.

The Selinger government on Wednesday brought CeaseFire's architect, Dr. Gary Slutkin, to the province to explain it to about 50 inner-city community workers, justice officials and police officers who are part of the city's Gang Action Interagency Network (GAIN). Premier Greg Selinger learned of the program and met Slutkin during a recent government trip to Illinois.

What separates CeaseFire from other crime-prevention programs is it's based on a public-health model. Slutkin, a professor of epidemiology and international health at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and executive director of CeaseFire, came up with the idea in the mid-1990s after treating infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS in San Francisco and in Africa.

Slutkin, who is also speaking in Ottawa and Calgary, said CeaseFire works because by recruiting people in the community to work as outreach workers, it attacks violence more as a disease than as a law-and-order problem.

"We're seeing it as an infectious process that people pick up from each other," he said. "It's a behaviour that other people model, and it needs to be interrupted and dealt with through behaviour change and health methods.

"That's what we've demonstrated and proven can be done."

The initial results of CeaseFire, an initiative of the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention, showed an average 45 per cent reduction in shootings in five Chicago neighbourhoods. Some neighbourhoods are now showing reductions of up to 67 per cent. Kansas City and Baltimore are two other cities that have adopted the program.

Slutkin said a similar program can work in Winnipeg and be tailored to particular neighbourhoods like the North End and the inner city, where aboriginal people have a disproportionate contact with law enforcement.

"Only an aboriginal can interact with an aboriginal just like an African American with an African American and so on," he said.

CeaseFire community workers are part of the community and have a connection to what's happening to act as "interruptors," Slutkin said.

"Interruptors can intercept whispers of what is going on in the neighbourhood. For example, if someone was angry at someone else for looking at his girlfriend, or if someone owed somebody money or had been disrespected and someone was going to shoot or knife somebody else, we'd be able to pick up those whispers and be able to tell that person to not do it."

Leslie Spillett, executive director of inner-city agency Ka Ni Kanichihk, said for a program like CeaseFire to work in Winnipeg, it would need dedicated funding for a long period of time.

She said many existing programs only see year-to-year public or foundation funding.

"You cannot do this work on a year-to-year basis," she said. "This is a large investment, a large investment of resources."

Slutkin said the program not only reduces violence but also the costs of paramedic and hospital care for the victim, police investigations, court prosecutions and prison sentences for the accused.

"When there is a knifing or a shooting, it's extremely expensive to the taxpayer," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 30, 2011 A5

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