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Passage of Cure Violence brings hope for cutting homicide rate

CITY HALL – The final passage of a bill granting $5 million for the Cure Violence program in St. Louis brought cheers at City Hall and hope for real cuts in St. Louis’ homicide rate.

The Board of Aldermen voted 26-0 on Friday for the measure, which would fund three years of work by contractors who intervene in neighborhood conflicts before they become deadly. Proponents say the method has brought sharp reductions in shootings and homicides where it’s been tried in other cities.

The bill’s sponsor, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, said it represented a new approach to dealing with rampant shootings here and the city’s reputation as one of the 10 most dangerous cities in America.

Reed spoke emotionally of all the funerals he had attended and bereaved families he had spent time with.

The Board of Estimate and Apportionment unanimously approved the bill on Thursday. The board, which consists of the mayor, the comptroller and the aldermanic president, must approve money measures.

“This shows a high level of commitment,” Reed told members of the Board of Estimate. 

Comptroller Darlene Green said people in the city had been talking about the crime issue for a long time. 

“We want to do all we can,” Green said. She noted that the estimate board had already allocated $1.5 million for alternative violence prevention – probably Cure Violence – and that this year’s city budget included $500,000 for a similar purpose.

That cash “will go a long way to curb the violence we have in our city,” Green said. “It’s really important to do that and to take the proper steps. And it costs money.”

Mayor Lyda Krewson said that it was good the city was funding Cure Violence, but added, “We have to continue doing the things we have been doing. We have to continue doing summer jobs for young people. We have to continue doing recreation programs. We have to continue doing recreation programs. We have to continue supporting our police officers. This is in addition to that.”

In Cure Violence, highly trained members of violence outreach groups go out into the neighborhoods and try to change the behavior of people who may enter a life of crime or be involved in a shooting.

 The only debate during discussion on the bill at Friday’s Board of Aldermen meeting concerned whether the board’s Health Committee or its Public Safety Committee should handle the program.

The bill said the Public Safety Committee should administer the program with the health department. First Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus said the Health Committee should handle it. Although she supported the bill, Tyus said she thought it might be good to change it.

Tyus said that as the chair of the Engrossment Rules, Resolutions and Credentials Committee, she wanted to make sure everything was done right. 

The idea behind Cure Violence is that violence spreads like an epidemic and that, like an epidemic, it can be interrupted.

But 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro, who heads the Public Safety Committee, said, “Go walk through some neighborhood and see if you survive and tell me it’s not a public safety issue.”

Twenty-fourth Ward Alderman Bret Narayan said it didn’t matter. 

“I don’t care what committee you put it in, you have to save a life,” Narayan said. 

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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