Cure Violence program takes public health approach

Cure Violence program takes public health approach

It is a program that has been discussed by St. Louis politicians for months, and now, one city leader is looking to put significant dollars behind the idea of Cure Violence. Meanwhile, MetroSTL.com has gone looking for answers as to exactly what Cure Violence does.

In an effort to combat the city’s rising homicide rate, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed introduced new legislation Friday that will request $8 million dollars, from a 23 million dollar budget surplus, to fully fund Cure Violence across the city of St. Louis. Reed announced his decision to introduce Board Bill 105 via Twitter Thursday afternoon.

The extra money will help will implement Cure Violence in neighborhoods with a high crime rate.

Cure Violence works to address the issue of violent crime as a public health crisis, treating it like a disease. The program touts up to a 70 percent decline in shootings and killings in areas worldwide that have adopted a public health approach to violence prevention.

“We need something that works and something that works today,” Reed said in an interview with MetroSTL.com. “We need something that has the data behind it, something that’s been tried in other cities that has been proven to work, and we need to implement it here and not just on a test basis. We need to wholly commit to it and put every component in place,” Reed said in an interview with MetroSTL.com

Once funding is secure, the city will select a nonprofit organization to partner with. Cure Violence will then set up different sites in some of the most violent neighborhoods across the city for its staff to work out of.

“We’re pushing to have the entire north Saint Louis completely covered, and it will be nice to get some places in south Saint Louis covered also,” Reed stated.

Each site will cost the city roughly $325,000 to operate each year.

The Board of Aldermen allocated $500,000 to fund the program earlier this month, but the additional funding from Board Bill 105 will allow a complete roll-out of the program across the entire city of St. Louis.

“Ideally, St. Louis needs more than one site,” said Marcus McAllister, an international trainer and implementation specialist with Cure Violence. “We’ll start off with one site. It’s a start in the right direction, but they need multiple sites. They need at least two or three, in my opinion.” 

“We’re not going to let more money stop us from launching at least one site,” McAllister said.

According to McAllister, most sites have teams with eight to ten people and cover an area with a specific radius.

McAllister said Cure Violence used a non-traditional approach to address the issue of violence. That approach includes the hiring process for what they call “violence interrupters” – the people who engage with residents on a regular basis.

“The team we hire can do things that others can’t do because they have their ear to the street,” McAllister said. “They know how to intervene and stop something before it gets out of hand.”

Cure Violence hires as violence interrupters people who are familiar with the area and can connect at-risk residents with relevant community services. McAllister said he was confident that Cure Violence would make an impact on the shootings, killings and crimes across multiple areas.

“We have a proven track record from cities that are just as violent, if not more violent, than St. Louis,” McAllister went on to say.

David Bocage is the Director of Cure Violence for the city of New Orleans. He works closely with the New Orleans Health Department and program managers in collecting and sharing information to ensure the program runs smoothly.

New Orleans adopted the CeaseFire prevention program in 2012; that program later changed its name to Cure Violence.

Bocage said his staff of 15 consisted of outreach case workers; hospital crisis unit workers who respond to shootings; and violence interrupters who interact with families and individuals before situations escalate to violence. 

“Most of our staff that are hired tend to come from backgrounds of criminal activity. They tend to be ex-offenders, and they are just as much of the developmental process as the youth and the young adults that we’re trying to engage in,” Bocage said.

“It’s transformative on different levels. From the government, of course from the individual, [and] the community,” he said.

Cure Violence New Orleans costs a little over $900,000 a year. That includes staff salaries, program needs, outreach materials and daily operations.

Between 2017 and 2018, Bocage said, violent crime across New Orleans dropped more than 50 percent.

“The more you can educate the populace before the program is implemented, the better,” Bocage advised, and added, “Make sure that you customize it based on the needs of the community.”

In three steps, the Cure Violence Health Approach seeks to detect and interrupt violence transmission, change individuals’ behavior and change community norms.

Cure Violence has been implemented in major cities including New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Chicago. All have reported a major decrease in violent crime.

“This is something that should’ve been in St. Louis years ago,” McAllister said. “But now finally it’s come to this point, and regardless of how it got here, we’re here now, so let’s make it happen.

“There’s too many babies being killed.”

Board Bill 105 will be introduced and assigned to a committee on Friday, Sept. 13, at the Board of Aldermen. 

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