SHAW – Statistics say a small percentage of the population commits most of the homicides. If you can find the potential murderers in that one percent, you might be able to cut back on the number of homicides.
That’s the main idea behind Operation Ceasefire, a program that has reduced the murder rate in cities throughout the country by ensuring those who might commit crimes get the services they need to stay free from crime.
“A lot of these dudes that are doing the crime, they didn’t want to do it,” Darren Seals told about 65 people at a meeting on the Ceasefire in St. Louis program held Wednesday at the Tower Grove Baptist Church. A former offender who was shot four different times from 1989 to 1992, Seals works to intervene in the lives of potential killers through his organization, the Sankofa Unity Center.
“I talk to guys every day. There’s no support system,” Seals said. He said he takes a different approach, making sure to check in with the people involved in the program. “It’s every week. What you doing? You got a job?” he said.
Leading the meeting were representatives from the Tower Grove Heights Neighborhood Ownership Model, the Tower Grove East Neighborhood Model, the Shaw Neighborhood Ownership Model and Board of Aldermen President Lewis E. Reed.
Reed said the issue is personal because his older brother and a nephew were homicide victims.
“You cannot arrest your way out of a problem,” Reed said.
Various groups work together to get at-risk people back on a productive track, Reed said. It might be through job training, having volunteer lawyers help people through legal problems and helping with mental health problems.
“It’s connecting the people to the resources and showing them a better way and a more productive way of living,” Reed said. “The system begins to operate better around that individual.”
Evidence and statistics show that this community-based program works, Reed said. Where it’s been tried, gang and youth violence has gone down sharply, he said.
But agencies will have to change the way they do things, Reed said. “Number one, the departments, the police department, the court system, everybody will have to have an appetite and a will for change,” he said.
The current phase is informing neighborhood groups of the concept, Reed said. “The thing that I’ve learned about government is this. When the people engage, it changes the things dramatically,” he said.
The originator of the concept was the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, whose work in the early 1990s helped bring about a sharp decline in violent crime in Boston. After 73 youths were killed in 1990, Brown and other clergy founded the TenPoint Coalition in 1992 to involve the community. After that, the youth homicide rate dropped to zero between 1995 and 1998. The city’s homicide rate dropped by 79 percent and fell to a 38-year low in 1999.
Brown has founded a group called RECAP (Rebuilding Every Community Around Peace) to help cities around the country have the same success.
Reed said he had lunch with Brown on Jan. 17.