Guilford County Commissioner Skip Alston is making it his mission this summer to convince the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to approve county funding for a new Cure Violence initiative meant to reduce gang violence in local high crime areas.
That program, which originated in Chicago, uses former gang members, and others with relationships to gangs, to help convince active gang members to pursue a better path in life.
According to the proposal being debated, Guilford County would pay $300,000 – which would match another $300,000 from the City of Greensboro – to establish a local Cure Violence chapter.
The initiative has been implemented in other places such as Durham, North Carolina, and New Orleans, as well as in other countries.
Cure Violence uses an analysis of crime data to identify areas of a community with the most violence – especially gang-related violence – and sends workers, known as “interrupters,” into those areas to make a direct pitch to gang members or others committing violent acts.
Advocates of the Cure Violence program say the strategy has been shown to reduce “street and youth violence” in many communities. The group says it is now in operation in about 20 US cities and 10 countries, where interrupters and support staff attempt to bring about a reduction in gang beatings and shootings, spousal abuse and other violent crimes.
Some Guilford County commissioners already openly support the initiative, but others say they still have questions about the program.
Alston said the matter is so urgent there’s not much time for debate.
“It is an exemplary program and we need to do something to address the issue in our community,” Alston said this week.
He said Guilford County and City of Greensboro officials have been in discussion with Durham County officials to learn more about the program and its effect in that city, and he added that so far he’s been impressed by what he’s seen and heard.
“It’s called Cure Violence because it looks at violence as a disease,” Alston said, adding that the interrupters attempt to halt the spread of the disease and cure it. “Durham praises it and says that, in some areas, they’ve seen about a 40 percent reduction in shootings.”
“They try to get them to talk things out rather than shoot it out,” he added.
He also said Cure Violence frequently uses former inmates who have turned their lives around to act as interrupters.
Alston said he’d like to see much of the Durham model used in Guilford County. For instance, he said, as in Durham, the county’s health department would be the group’s main point of contact with county government.
Alston said that, given the rash of violence, especially in sections of Greensboro in recent months, it’s critical that area leaders take action and do so now.
“Time is of the essence,” Alston said.
He said Guilford County needs to take this step as one part of an overall comprehensive plan to fight violence.
“It’s not the be-all and the cure-all,” Alston said of Cure Violence, adding that in some cities it hadn’t been as effective as it had in others.
“But at least it’s a try,” he said. “At least we can do something other than count the bodies. Right now, nobody is doing anything but holding funerals.”
Alston said the problem is especially tragic since so many of those who die from gang violence are in their teens or early 20s.
“They have their whole lives ahead of them,” he said.
Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said he’s looking into the matter and weighing the potential benefits while taking the cost into consideration.
“It’s an interesting piece,” Branson said of the program.
He said he was interested in getting feedback from the county sheriff, local police chiefs and others in law enforcement.
Branson said he and Alston had spoken some about the proposal.
“He’s wanting to push it out there pretty quick,” Branson said. “He says: ‘You can’t put a price on human life.’”
Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes said this week that he’s also studying Cure Violence’s effectiveness. He pointed out that, under the initiative, law enforcement agencies such as the Sheriff’s Department aren’t really called on to participate other than to provide crime data that helps the program know which areas to target.
The sheriff said that, though Cure Violence might do some good, no single solution is going to be the answer to gang violence.
“There may be four parts to the solution and this could be one of those four,” Barnes said.
Barnes added that one consideration is whether the same amount of money might do more good by putting more law enforcement officers on the streets.
He said he and his staff had been speaking with leaders in other communities with the program as to how well it was working there.
Some leaders say it has clearly helped reduce violence in their cities and counties while others say the program hasn’t been very effective in theirs.
It’s interesting to note that in Chicago in the first weekend in August – where Cure Violence got its start – there were 66 shootings with 12 people killed. That story got prominent play earlier this month on many national newscasts.