Operation Safer Streets: Reducing Crime Rates (Facts and Statistics)
The Safe Streets anti-crime program works like the plot of an action movie: send former felons-turned crime fighters into the blighted inner-city neighborhoods they know to turn it around, one life at a time.
In Baltimore, the program deploys ex-convicts as social workers, interacting directly with youngsters at risk, to reduce violent inner-city crime. It is modeled after Chicago’s CeaseFire/CureViolence program, which seeks to reduce or stop gun homicides of which there were more than 320 in that city in 2018. In 2015 Baltimore notched 344 homicides, an indication of the deterioration of relationships between residents of downtrodden neighborhoods and the police that flared into widespread riots following the death of Freddie Gray.
Safe Streets started in 2007 as a cooperative effort of the Baltimore Department of Health and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. It was expanded to four more neighborhoods in 2018 and transferred to the office of the mayor. Each site in Baltimore has an annual budget of about $500,000 that pays caseworkers and creates programs and opportunities for those affected. Also in 2018 the mayor’s office announced a partnership with a program called Roca, which employs a similar one-to-one approach.
The effort seeks to save lives by intervening in gun and gang violence in a public health approach, treating violence as an epidemic, rather than continuing a traditional law enforcement approach to the problem. An analysis of violence in the affected neighborhoods showed that gun violence had declined by as much as 40 percent and the efforts were having a positive effect on neighboring regions.
Why a Safer Streets Program is needed
Nearly 40,000 Americans died by firearms in 2017, with about 60 percent of them suicides and over 14,000 homicides. Statistics from the Centers for Disease control show that African Americans are more likely to be victims of violent homicide with a firearm, and that has resulted in an overall decline in the population’s life expectancy. In the past 15 years, white Americans have lost 2.24 years of life expectancy while African Americans have lost nearly twice as much, 4.14 years. The data show the African Americans dying more frequently by age 20. Whites who die by gun are more likely to be older and do so by suicide.
Baltimore has the fifth-highest concentration of African American residents among cities in the U.S. with about 65 percent, behind Detroit, Jackson Mississippi, Birmingham Alabama, and Miami Gardens Florida. Chicago is about 30 percent African American. Despite its size, Baltimore’s homicides pushed the city’s violent crime rate above that of much larger cities in 2017 with 342 homicides, or a rate of 56 murders per 100,000 people. Chicago, with a population of 2.7 million, had a rate of 24 per 100,000. It’s worth noting that it’s not unusual for smaller cities, such as St. Louis, Missouri, to outstrip larger cities in terms of crime. St. Louis, with 300,000 residents, had a murder rate of 66 per 100,000 in the same year.
How a Safer Streets Program Works
This public health approach to violence is a relationship-based model of intensive involvement. It matches street savvy caseworkers with individuals deemed at risk: a survey of participants determined that nearly half of the Baltimore youth targeted for help had been shot at one or more times. Caseworkers are trained in conflict resolution and help their clients repair relationships within their families as well as to finish their educations and get jobs. A study of the program’s effectiveness showed that it had changed the attitudes of the youth involved so that most deemed violence as an ineffective response to conflict.
The public health approach involves:
Disrupting the cycle of violence;
Changing the behavior of targeted individuals and groups, and
Shifting the expectations and behavior patterns of the larger community.
The program (originally known as CeaseFire until 2012 and often confused) is based on an approach developed by Chicago-based Cure Violence. That organization was started by epidemiologist Dr. Gary Slutkin at University of Illinois-Chicago School of Public Health in 2000. Cities around the country have adopted the techniques and adapted them to the local community’s needs.
There is another program that also goes by the name CeaseFire which was created by John Jay College criminologist David M. Kennedy and implemented in Boston in the 1990s.
Other cities where similar programs have been deemed effective include:
Phoenix, Arizona (Operation Safer Streets), initiated in 1990;
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Operation Ceasefire), implemented in 2014;
Camden, New Jersey (adopted in 2014);
Kansas City, Missouri (CeaseFire), created in 2008;
Boston, Massachusetts (CeaseFire)
New Orleans, Louisiana (CeaseFire), created in 2012.
Some cities have instituted CureViolence programs at hospital trauma centers to reach those most closely affected by gun violence. Other communities integrate the principles into prison and post-prison programs as well. In order to be effective the CureViolence program says cities who adopt its practices must do more than identify and affect individuals who are at risk; cities must include “implementing components” to accurately collect data and track effectiveness as well as providing workers with support, training, and technology to successfully execute their tasks.
In 2009 the Department of Justice analyzed results and found that violence, particularly retaliatory gun violence, was reduced in targeted areas by 16 to 35 percent.