Monday, November 29, 2010

Cease Fire: Proactive Program

How does one break the cycle of gang violence and serious street crime?

Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who formed CeaseFire, a highly successful anti-gang program based in Chicago, devised a comprehensive approach. According to Dr. Slutkin, violent behaviour is learned by modelling and unconscious copying, and sustained by peer pressure. The unfortunate result is that minor grievances are settled by the barrel of a gun. These volatile situations are further compounded by the expectation of peers to “do something” to save face and “honour.”

"Dr. Slutkin’s solution is a public-health approach, in which eradication of violence is modelled along the same lines as the eradication of polio or other diseases. The key is to stop transmission of violence, while inoculating the community to develop resiliency or immunity against the “disease.” It requires the co-operation of government, police and grassroots organizations. Most importantly, affected communities are not passive onlookers. Rather, they take a central role in improving their quality of life."

CeaseFire was launched in West Garfield Park, Chicago, in 2000 and quickly reduced shootings by 67 per cent in its first year.

"The program has five core components: community mobilization, youth outreach, public education, faith-based leader involvement and criminal justice participation. This includes a cadre of outreach workers who focus on changing the behaviours and attitudes of high-risk individuals, and “violence interrupters” who call for truces and a stop to retaliation. Many are former gang members who are eager to help young people avoid a life of violence. Conflict mediation is central."

Sheema Khan believes the program has strategic potential in some communities in Canada and throughout the world. has an extensive network of professionals willing to engage communities in comprehensive social outreach.