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CeaseFire: Tackling violence prevention

13th November 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Zoe Sullivan
Contributing Writer

The football field at the Samuel Green Charter School on Valence Street was abuzz with playing children, media crews, and blue-shirted sports heroes. Football legend Marcus Allen ran drills with boys and girls, while Wimbledon winner Monica Seles talked with others. As he remarked on her athleticism, Allen introduced one girl to Olympic gold medalist Dr. Edwin Moses, Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy.

Allen, whose mother hailed from New Orleans, explained that the youngster dreams of becoming a track star. “She doesn’t even try to run and she runs,” Allen told Moses. This scene preceded a more formal presentation in the school describing how sports can reduce community violence. While the emphasis was on the positive role sports can play in young people’s lives, the message was clear that this is a strategy aimed at reducing violence. As such, it joins another high-profile violence prevention initiative launched this spring, CeaseFire.

In April, at the behest of the community group Solutions not Shootings, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the Urban League of Greater New Orleans launched CeaseFire. The program originated in Chi­cago, and it uses a public health approach to “interrupt violence.” The program trains people to act as “violence interrupters” and actively works to diffuse violence and solve conflicts in high-crime areas. Ryan Berni, spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office, told The Louisiana Weekly that the program not only aims to prevent shootings from happening, but that it also urges community members to respond when shootings do occur “to say that the shooting must stop, and that shooting is not acceptable in the community.”

The Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA uses a different approach to violence reduction, focusing on involvement in sports as a way of offering young people mentoring, positive goals, and, often, “a safe haven,” Moses told The Louisiana Weekly. Funded by Mercedes-Benz, Laureus USA partnered with Coaches Across America to bring additional coaches into schools and neighborhoods. A press release about the Green event stated that 3,250 New Orleans-area children would benefit from the coaching support. 30 communities will participate including Gentilly, Algiers, New Orleans East, Broadmoor, Gretna and Marrero.

Both programs have research to back up their claims of efficacy. The Department of Justice commissioned a study of CeaseFire, which was conducted by academics from Northwestern University. The Laureus Foundation co-funded a study with the Ecorys Research Programme on the outcome of sports initiatives in the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy. The Italian segment of the program features midnight basketball in a low-income, remote neighborhood of Milan. “The report shows that on average across the four programmes analysed, sport provides a return of 5.02 Euros for every 1 Euro invested through savings related to reductions in crime, truancy, and ill health.”

While the coaching program is just getting under way and has no results to report yet, CeaseFire, although only fully operational for approximately four months, can cite outcomes. Johnetta Pressley of CeaseFire told The Louisiana Weekly that roughly two-thirds of the people who have gotten involved in the violence interruption work are now employed, thanks to her organization’s efforts. “And two-thirds of them are in some kind of school. One of them actually went to college,” she went on. “We are taking folks who otherwise might be contributing to this disease and helping them do something different,” Pressley said.

Along with these outcomes, Pressley explained that approximately 1,500 people in the Central City area have participated in events that CeaseFire has organized. Asked whether these are one-time occurrences, Pressley told The Louisiana Weekly that several community members have become regular volunteers and some have requested signs for their property to show their disapproval of violence.

CeaseFire focuses on a very specific area within Central City. The area’s boundaries are Claiborne Ave., Thalia St., O. C. Ha­ley/Dryades, and Washington. The Mayor’s Office supplied The Louisiana Weekly with statistics showing a clear drop in shootings and killings between April 2012, when the program was launched, and October. No data was included that preceded the start of the program, making a comparison impossible, however. Additionally, Berni acknowledged that there was no evidence to confirm that CeaseFire was the cause of the decrease. Asked about stability in the program’s funding, Berni said that the program was funded through the end of 2013 and is a priority as part of the Mayor’s NOLA for Life initiative.

The Department of Justice study into Chicago’s CeaseFire program found that while crime rates fell overall in Chicago and across the nation starting in 1991, CeaseFire had a clear impact. “In summary,” it reads, “the hot spot centered in CeaseFire beat 612 remained visible during the two years following implementation of the program, but it grew smaller, and the cooler areas of the CeaseFire beats grew more quickly than they did in the comparison beats. While the level of shootings before and after implementation was higher in the CeaseFire beats than in the comparison beats, the decline was greater in the program area by several measures.”

The report also acknowledged, however, that pressure for results from policymakers often trumps the kind of longitudinal study that provides greater certainty about program impacts.

This article originally published in the November 12, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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